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Industry Insider: Claudia Mata

Industry Insider: Claudia Mata
As W Magazine’s accessories and jewelry director, Claudia Mata looks at sparkly things for a living. It sounds glamorous — and it is. Mata commands coveted spots at runway shows, is granted sneak peeks at jewelers’ upcoming collections and scores invitations to celebrity-filled events. Behind the glitz and glamour, though, is plenty of hard work. Always on the prowl for spectacular story subjects, Mata’s days are packed with meetings, shoots and phone calls, and her nights often extend well past her daughter Mila’s bedtime. The result is breathtakingly creative editorial features. She’s sprawled accessories out on the street, teamed stunning rings with nail art and coupled carats with playing cards. Mata also focuses on fantastical jewelry from dreamy opal pendants to delicately crafted gold cuffs in her quarterly page “Claudia’s Jewelry Box.” This year, the organization Jewelers of America fêted her efforts and enviable eye with the Gem Award for Media Excellence. Mata, who was born in El Salvador, raised in New Orleans and lives in New York, took an hour to chat with Beladora about her profession, passion for jewelry and the journey to combine the two.

Beladora: Were you interested in fashion as a child?

Claudia Mata: New Orleans was not an especially fashionable community. It is very into the music industry scene. Growing up, I was styling my clothes the night before school and directing our little group of girls as to what to wear. I spent summers in El Salvador, and I took design classes there. As a young child, I knew I had an interest in doing something creative and something in fashion.

B: Did your mother support your creative endeavors?

CM: Any inclination we had toward anything, she pushed us. She is the strongest woman I know. I have three siblings — I’m the middle child — and my father stayed in El Salvador. She was very young when she moved from El Salvador to New Orleans, and she didn’t speak any English. Now that I’m a parent myself, balancing life is a challenge. I can’t imagine having three kids, hopping on a plane alone and doing what she did.

B: When you landed in New York after stints in Washington, D.C., and Southern France, you worked at the fashion label Bill Blass assisting former creative director Lars Nilsson and design director Hervé Pierre Braillard. What did you learn from that experience?

CM: When I was on the fashion side, I knew it wasn’t where I was truly going to be able to express my creativity, but I did get to see the side of fashion from inspiration to fabric selection to putting a collection together to casting models, to putting together a show. It is a completely different set of responsibilities, but it’s a mix of creativity and business, which happens on our side as well.

B: Your first magazine job was at Town & Country, where you wound up the senior accessories and jewelry editor. What was that like?

CM: I loved everything about Town & Country. It gave me the chance to become an expert in my field. Everything was so specialized back then, you had to know your category really well. Now, we are expected to cover many things. It was perfect training. At the time, there weren’t that many people covering jewelry. I was exposed to a lot early on. I took tours of factories and had access to archival collections.

B: You left Town & Country to become the accessories and jewelry director of W Magazine in 2011. How was that transition?

CM: I am definitely very comfortable in this world. I know so many of the players and have seen the evolution of their collections. My respect for the industry continues to grow. I’m just grateful that so many people have let me into their lives. I feel vested in the designers and seeing their growth.

B: What inspires your shoots?

CM: Sometimes a particular piece can inspire the story or it can be that I’m working on a particular concept, and I need pieces to fulfill that vision, so I can work forward or backward. Last December, it was the holidays, and I wanted to do a dirty candy story. For example, a lollipop that was half-bitten. I needed pieces that would feel very candy-like. But, in another story, it could just be one piece that is very exceptional that I want to highlight.

B: Do you wear jewelry everyday?

CM: I can’t leave the house without wearing jewelry. It makes me uncomfortable when I’m not wearing something. For the most part, I wear necklaces and lots of stacking rings on different hands. Right now, I’m really into small earnings. In the summer, I might go back to big.

B: What sort of metals do you gravitate to?

CM: I mix yellow gold and rose gold, but I do tend not to wear white gold as much. I’m Latin, and it doesn’t go with my coloring!

B: Do you have a favorite stone?

CM: There is such a personal reaction that people have to a particular stone. Right now, I am having a connection to red spinels. There is no explanation for it. It just is, and I am embracing it.

B: Is there a specific era of jewelry that you favor?

CM: The Seventies. I love big chunky gold pieces. Vintage Van Cleef and Arpels, and vintage Bulgari from the Seventies was so great.

B: Do you match your jewelry to your outfit?

CM: My jewelry is generally independent of my clothing. I will go to my jewelry and think, what am I in the mood to wear today? Necklines do play a role, but not that much. I’ll even put necklaces over my turtlenecks because I like the way they look.

B: What do you think about estate jewelry?

CM: I love it. Jewelry should not be based on trends. I think it is important to mix in pieces that have a history with your contemporary pieces. Some of my most prized possessions have been given to me by a family member and it becomes more than just a piece of jewelry. It evokes a memory.

B: How do you make vintage jewelry modern?

CM: We put those pieces in a modern context and it underlies the fact that jewelry is timeless. It can feel just as relevant in a Seventies story as in a story we are doing in 2015.

B: Do you feel people should be comfortable shopping for jewelry online?

CM: I encourage people to do it. I used to think the industry was not going to evolve in that direction because of the very personal nature of jewelry. You want to try it on, and it’s a big purchase and you want to see it. But it is smart for the industry to realize that this is the direction the next generation is going. The Millennials do most of their research and shopping online. You would never have thought online is a way to sell pieces, but it’s a new day out there.

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