Chris Habana lives for his work. Or perhaps more accurately, he lives in his work. The Manhattan-based jewelry designer creates his in-demand pieces right from the intimacy of his East Village apartment-studio. Habana’s womblike workspace is both a tidy oasis and florid mélange of graffiti’d walls and wonderfully bizarre décor—the same playful juxtaposition that makes his jewelry so distinct.
Habana has lived in both the Philippines and the U.S., where he became inspired by ’90s gay counterculture and the raw energy of New York’s downtown fashion scene. Known for his poppy goth aesthetic, he handcrafts one-of-a-kind pieces for his sophisticated main collection, CHRISHABANA, and the more youthful, wallet-friendly diffusion line, My Enemy.
Habana’s Fall/Winter collection was recently picked up by major retailers such as Anthropologie, while My Enemy debuted this fall at global online retailer Asos. BULLETT caught up with Habana in his studio, where he covered everything from rave culture, Catholicism, and why balance is key.
Many of your pieces take a playful approach to some pretty aggressive themes such as gothic iconography or fetishism. What type of political statement, if any, do you aim to make through your work?
I don’t know if I’m necessarily trying to make any kind of statement. I like to think that my collections are evolutions of what goes on in my personal life, so if something really big tends to shift it a certain way then I go with it. I like the fact that when people look at my collections, they’re thinking, ‘Is that mix between something religious or sexy? Is he making a point about fetish or something more playful?’ The reason why I have that mix is because I’m not necessarily trying to push things in a certain way.
When you start the design process, do you have a specific audience you’re designing for?
I look at the pieces and kind of see if they would be great for either a boy version or a girl version of me. For something to be truly successful it has to be as personal as possible and part of that whole design process is trying not to be swayed either way by any kind of inspiration and letting things happen organically. At the end of the day I look at it and I’m like, Would I be into this? Would the girl version of me be into this? I always end up bringing it back to myself and seeing if it’s something I would respond to. Thankfully, by doing that, I’ve found an audience who likes the kinds of things I like as well.
What’s the latest from your lines?
Our upcoming Fall/Winter 2013 collection has been picked up by a bunch of solid retailers worldwide including Lori, Daily Projects, Industrie, even Anthropologie. In addition, we are now going to debut MY ENEMY BY CHRISHABANA at Asos this coming fall—it’s such a perfect match for that brand. As far as sales are concerned, I’m pretty happy with what has been going on. We are also developing the new collection for Spring/Summer 2014 and have solid plans to showcase the collection during New York Fashion Week. To help make this happen, we joined this fashion crowd-funding site called Wowcracy, which is being supported by Vogue Talents. Our project was chosen and we are now spreading the word so that I can realize the next collection and show it.
What do you think of the spirit of today’s youth?
It’s really hard to get a counterculture happening anymore because at this point so many things have been done, so things are kind of recycling themselves. Nowadays you know what alternative looks like, so even being “different”—there’s already a look to that. I definitely find things that are popping up now that are rehashes of things that happened in the ’80s or ’90s. Even in some of my work, I’ve realized, This is something that was big back then. These days it’s really hard to be truly, truly, truly unique.
How did you dress as a teenager?
In high school I was always trying to be different. I didn’t fit into any kind of genre. I liked threads of goth and punk for sure, so some of that was in my wardrobe, but house was really picking up as a music genre so I liked all that raver kid stuff.
You’ve noted in past interviews that you were raised Catholic. Does your religious upbringing have anything to do with the prevalence of crosses in your designs?
Oh yeah, I think I’ve just been staring at crosses for so long they just started becoming really beautiful symbols to me. Unfortunately, because of Catholic school and the ways that it was forced upon me, I’ve become more desensitized to the meaning of certain things. What has stuck with me is the imagery of it, the iconography of it, and the ritual of it—it’s really crazy and awesome at the same time. That’s why I flip the cross around and put it on its side because I look at it as this really beautiful graphic element. It’s almost symmetrical in every way—just slightly skewed.
What do you think has most shaped you as a designer?
A sense of balance. Since I really started getting serious with this business, I’ve had the balance between things I’ve wanted to design versus things I think the audience might respond to. It’s about finding that balance, because at the end of the day, this is what I’m going to be doing so I’ve got to be happy with what I’m putting out there.
Chris Habana’s jewelry is available at The BULLETT Shop.