Intersections is a feature column that profiles creatives inside and outside the fashion industry. Each story is meant to illuminate how fashion, identity, art, and culture play a critical role in inspiring and informing the work and lives of some of the chicest people we know.
There are currently over 7100 languages reported globally. While most may think of spoken word as the only form of communication, there are far more nuanced ways to speak, for example, through one's approach to style. Art forms fill the gaps where language fails—or at least, that's how one can interpret the work of jewelry founder Jameel Mohammed. Since founding Khiry in 2016, the designer has used his fine-jewelry collections to tell the story of the African diaspora in an industry that's largely ignored the voices of this community. Mohammed uses his work as a vehicle for storytelling in various ways—from drawing inspiration from African heritage to influence his designs to dedicating runway shows to exploring the plight of Black Americans.
It's rare to find a designer who can use their work to communicate a community's culture, much less break into the jewelry business as a Black designer. Yet Mohammed has managed to do both and make his mark. His work has garnered him a following among the celeb set, including Michelle Obama and Megan Thee Stallion. It's not just celebrities who have fallen for his work; he won the 2021 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Grant, which cemented him as a darling in the industry. His story, and the story he aims to tell through his work, is one worth listening to, which is why we jumped at the chance to speak with him.
Ahead, you'll hear from Mohammed about his career, his S/S 23 collection, and which jewelry trends he's backing for fall. If you thought jewelry couldn't speak to your soul, wait until you see these Khiry pieces.
What do you do, for those who aren't familiar with your work?
I'm an artist, designer, and founder of Khiry, an Afrofuturist luxury brand. We make all kinds of objects that reflect Afrofuturist themes and possibilities through the lens of luxury goods, art objects, and experiences.
What compelled you to start a jewelry brand? And how has the business evolved over the years?
I always knew I wanted to have my own design brand across categories. When I started my brand, I was still in school, so jewelry sounded like a manageable category to begin with and an ideal category to build an association of value around the brand's offering. Over time, the brand has taken a more nuanced eye toward the idea of luxury and its relationship with Black liberation. These explorations have included branching out into other areas of art making and, eventually, product design.
In 2021, you were named a CFDA Emerging Designer Award nominee—what did that moment mean to you? And how has your brand grown since then?
It was a culmination of about a decade’s worth of effort. I first identified the program as instrumental to the careers of notable American designers while I was still in high school. Since then, I have imagined what it would be like to be a contestant. It was an incredible opportunity to grow and meet so many people whose experiences and goals were similar and different from mine.
Photo:Gregoire Avenel for Khiry
Just this past month, you debuted your S/S 23 collection at NYFW. What was it like to put on another show this season? And what was the focus of the collection?
The show focused on fantasies and the role of fantasy in either creating or inhibiting our liberation. It was definitely a challenge but an incredible growing experience as an artist and entrepreneur.
In addition to showing your recent collection, you partnered with Fleuriste St-Germain to create a unique pop-up. Can you tell us a little bit more about the collaboration?
We worked on this fantastic multi-sensory pop-up experience with St-Germain, which allowed me to grow and scale my work as an artist. I designed prints that were featured on the walls as well as vases. I took the stage for a song rendition of “Blue Skies.” It was great to be given the platform to combine all my creative pursuits to create one immersive experience.
What's so wonderful about you (besides being a trailblazer) is that you have impeccable style. What role has fashion played in your life?
Fashion is a tool for self-manifestation and for the creation of the experience that I want to have that day. My clothes and accessories and how I style myself are central to how I feel in the world, the power I feel about moving through it, and the power to change in the face of new constraints and information.
Besides your own work, are there any fellow designers you feel are changing the fashion industry?
LaQuan Smith and Telfar, for sure.
Since you design for a living, how do you decide to invest in a specific piece of clothing or jewelry? What makes something worth buying in your eyes?
I typically invest in pieces that I think will be relevant for a long time and can be styled in many different ways, with the occasional standout piece. Most of what I wear is thrifted, but most of the time, you can find me in a pair of simple pants or jeans from Gap or Old Navy (because they have inclusive sizing), along with my jewelry. I add fashion edge by choosing tops and pants in exaggerated proportions, either baggy or super skinny.
What does your daily work wardrobe look like? Are there any ride-or-die pieces that you swear by?
I’m typically wearing a pair of combat boots—my current pair is thrifted from Army Surplus. I love these boots because they make me feel like I can confront whatever comes at me throughout the day, come rain, mud, clay, or paint, and still look cool and directional if I need to move into a fashion or professional space.
Photo:Courtesy of Khiry
Are there any jewelry staples you wear or recommend wearing daily? If so, what?
I like to wear a chunky ring, a solid piece of hand bling. It’s really grounding throughout the day and makes me feel fierce and strong.
What jewelry do you think every woman should invest in? And why?
While I’d never presume that a singular thing works for everyone, I think the guidelines should be durability and adaptability for different outfits and occasions. Some good examples are our Tiny Khartoum Hoops With Diamond Pavé and our Tiny Khartoum Hoops Nude, demi-fine or fine.
Photo:Courtesy of Khiry
What advice would you give to anyone looking to invest in a piece of fine jewelry? What should they know before buying?
With the number of different price points and material offerings in the market, it can be challenging to discern the value of fine jewelry relevant to demi-fine or fashion jewelry. While these other categories can offer long-term durability, fine jewelry and jewelry made with fine materials is unique in its longevity. The world’s museums contain fine-jewelry objects that have lasted for centuries in nearly the same condition, and relative to fashion jewelry, and even many other worn offerings, this is a unique quality of fine jewelry.
What jewelry trends do you think are worth investing in?
1. Chunky Jewelry
Photo:In The BLK for Khiry
Khiry has always been pro–chunky jewelry and pro-weight as a signifier of value. Even still, while I’ve always wanted to be a 10-ring wearer, I’ve never been able to pull it off, so don’t over-chunk it if you’re not feeling the chunk.
2. Body Jewelry
Photo:In The BLK for Khiry
I think body jewelry is so interesting as a designer that has always been interested in making conceptual ready-to-wear looks that respond to the reality that social media is often the most visible place where we wear our clothes now. Body jewelry is a great way to distinguish between functional body covering and superficial adornment. Especially now that we’re exploring new ways of presenting the body, new areas of the body are being shown. It does prompt the question of where the line between conceptual jewelry and clothing is drawn.
Photo:Gregoire Avenel for Khiry
My feelings about this jewelry trend can be summed up in one word: hot! I wore one in my S/S 23 presentation, and I can't wait to see everyone else donning a choker this fall.
You define your brand as Afrofuturist—so what does that term mean to you? And how do you hope your work contributes to defining the future of fashion?
I haven’t always defined my work this way. We began as a luxury brand inspired by the African diaspora. I believe the transition to representing the brand as an Afrofutruist luxury brand marked the commitment to acting as a passive recipient of ancient inspiration and as an active historical actor grappling with serious questions about Black possibilities with the cultural and material space that luxury creates in the world. It's all about using jewelry to tell our story.