As a first-generation American and the daughter of two Iranian immigrants, Lillian Shalom struggled for years to reconcile the two starkly different cultures. She constantly had one foot in the world her family was from and another foot in the world into which she was born.
Rather than fight it, Shalom, a 29-year-old Los Angeles native, found a medium that allowed her to blend those two worlds: jewelry design, ultimately leading to her current line, Lillian Shalom, created in 2011.
This dichotomy within her own identity gave her a passion for dualities and contradictions, showcased both in her materials and in her design.
"My pieces are loud. As a Persian female, you're taught not to be more aggressive or more masculine than the man. You're supposed to stay feminine and delicate and quiet," she says." And I'm the opposite of all of those things by nature."
In her jewelry, "I've always wanted to portray something feminine, but with a masculine edge," she says. "I want to put out strong pieces that also have a beautiful edge.... One of my pieces I call Zaboon, which means 'tongue' in Farsi. It has a very sharp, spear edge, but it's set with a really beautiful, delicate pearl."
Through three collections, the designer has created statement rings, earrings, necklaces, ear cuffs and clutches. Her most recognizable, staple pieces include Galileo, an armor ring covering the entire finger, and Nietzsche, an armor ring set with a real taxidermic scarab beetle.
"Using real beetles is a new concept. I had never seen that done in modern jewelry. I had seen it done in Victorian jewelry. I thought I had tapped into something very unique," she says.
Her pieces, which range in price from $180 to $1,400, have appeared in magazines including Essence, Prestige, Culture and Oyster.
And the line hit a major milestone when one of the its biggest fans, singer Erykah Badu (who is also one of the current faces of Givenchy) wore three of the Galileo rings and a custom-made grill to this year's Met Gala. That appearance catapulted Lillian Shalom's custom-made grill onto the list of 17 best Met Gala accessories on Vogue.com, as well as into print in Vogue's Met Gala special edition.
Since Badu found an image of Shalom's armor ring on Instagram months ago, the two creatives have been collaborating on designs and concepts.
"We just bounce off of each other. We have a really similar aesthetic, which I guess drew her to me," Shalom says.
Badu says Shalom "can create whatever I have in my mind."
"I've been searching for a polar complement for a while," Badu says, "and we complement one another peculiarly well. I only collaborate with the best and I think we were genetically encoded to create together."
All of the line's bold, edgy, well-made and surprisingly comfortable pieces can be purchased online at www.lillianshalom.com.
Shalom notes that the same fearlessness and brashness it takes for her to create these pieces is also expected from each of her customers.
"I think my jewelry is fit for anyone who thinks that they can pull it off. I feel a little sad when people look at my pieces and say, 'I really like it but I could never pull that off.' I don't believe in that concept."