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Jason Thomas Fritz

The jeweller making pussy pendants worn by your fave models

We go to Mexico City to meet the artist designing jewellery being sported by Adwoa Aboah, Petra Collins and Fetty Wap

Suzzan Atala has been curious about the power of jewellery since she was a girl, but only launched her company Tuza in September 2015. Tuza is still very much in its infancy, marking a meteoric rise for the charismatic Mexican artist who’s seen her vagina charm necklaces become a must-have item, sported by the likes of Adwoa Aboah and Petra Collins.

However, a visit to her workshop in Colonia del Valle, Mexico City demonstrates that there is far more to come than just the pussy pendants. Atala’s mission statement is to produce “wearable symbols of empowerment for all genders, and to create sustainably made pieces of jewellery that people will be wearing well past Trump’s hopefully short-lived presidency!” We go behind the scenes at Tuza and talk to Atala about being inspired by 80s bands, making a broach for Fetty Wap and the popularity of the vagina charm.

When did you first realise you loved jewellery? Can you remember an early memory?

Suzzan Atala: I always loved looking at jewellery as a kid, especially the way it looked in cartoons – it looked like candy! I also remember feeling like I could identify people by what they were wearing. My dad is Lebanese and all his mates wore their shirts undone to show their chests, with these super shiny Lebanese cedre gold necklaces, almost as a way of having a recognition tag. I used to make cheap silly earrings covered in glitter out of Sculpey for my friends to buy. Then in Bethnal Green, London, I bumped into an internship with a jeweller and she introduced me to jewellery design and making. I loved it so much that I quit my job at a bronze foundry and devoted myself to learning how to make everything properly from scratch.

What drew you to make jewellery based on the vagina?

Suzzan Atala: The vagina necklace is part of a collaboration I did with a dear friend of mine named Maiia Ruth Lee. She is a super talented New York-based artist and we thought we should make some charms for fun. We made a list of all the things that made our life in New York what it is, so we brainstormed and asked our friends too. We came up with 50 charms. We have a bike lock, a dim-sum, a cockroach, a penis, and of course the vagina. 

“We came up with 50 charms. We have a bike lock, a dim-sum, a cockroach, a penis, and of course the vagina” – Suzzan Atala

Have you been surprised at how popular the pendant has become? How did it feel to see Adwoa wearing it?

Suzzan Atala: Yes! 100 per cent. I honestly didn't think people would have such a positive reaction towards it. To me, it was a beautifully handmade piece - the vulva purposely resembled the Virgin Mary so I wanted to embellish it choosing a beautiful chain which is normally used for religious pendants. I did want to elevate it and make it look like a stunning jewellery pendant that could be used every day.

I met Scout Willis at a trade show a year ago when we launched Tuza. She stopped to say Hi to my dog Lola, she saw my jewellery and she loved the vagina necklace. She was our first customer after launching and she was extremely supportive – she is the one that showed it to Adwoa. It’s a bit embarrassing, but when Adwoa contacted us I didn't really know who she was - I’m not very good at keeping track of celebs or names in general but my best friend who is a fashion journalist told me what she was doing with “Gurls Talk” and women empowerment so it made complete sense that she had one. It’s an overwhelming feeling to see how things are actually changing for women, there is a wonderful feeling of sisterhood. 

How did you come to make a broach for Fetty Wap?

Suzzan Atala: It was actually Interview magazine, for a shoot with Karl Templer. They wanted it for the cover, with Fetty on it. They asked me to just make a pendant with his name it so I drew his name then did a cut out on a silver sheet and adorned it with charms. Unfortunately, Fetty had a motorbike accident a couple of days before the shoot so he was in too much pain to finish the shoot. I gifted him the piece though, and he was so stoked. He also wrote a cute little Instagram message and suddenly we had thousands of random likes and comments, it was quite funny. 

What are you most thinking about when you design a piece? What do you want out of it?

Suzzan Atala: Longevity and sustainability. In every aspect. For me it is also vital to have a creative process, I try not to look at other contemporary designers as I don’t really like following trends. I do look into vintage or ancient jewellery and do research as to why, years ago, people would wear certain things or make them like that. We look for the highest quality of our pieces so the technical process gets a lot of thought, too. We only use precious metals, mainly silver and 14k gold plated silver based pieces. It’s fine jewellery, but more affordable.

Do you have one thing that really inspires you when you're designing? Something that isn't jewellery.

Suzzan Atala: I normally will be listening to my music and then a song will make me imagine this girl. They are normally old songs from the 70s or 80s, and I start imagining what she looks like, what she wears, and the colours and shapes of jewellery she would use. So that song basically sets the brief for the collection. For example the last collection was called “Rio”, like the Duran Duran song. That was so easy because they are basically singing a song about this girl that I imagined, but the song sets the tone for me. 

Talk us through some exciting collaborations that you have coming up...

Suzzan Atala: Yes! Collaborations are one of my favourite thing to do, as I believe it’s a great way of exchanging views and creating unique pieces. It’s very refreshing when other creatives don't have any technical limitations, so they have an idea and its my job to turn it into a beautiful wearable piece. I recently did a collab with Creatures of Comfort and I'm currently working with Maiia again on another collab. I am also planning two more for next year with the tattoo artist Rose Hardy, and Rachael Howell from Smallspells - stay tuned!  

“After Trump winning there is a sense of union – we are not feeling intimidated by America anymore, somehow that has brought us together” – Suzzan Atala

Would you recommend Mexico City to someone to live? If so, why? What's so amazing about it?

Suzzan Atala: I’ve always considered myself extremely lucky for having the opportunity to live in the two best cities in the world: London and Mexico City. I’ve been away for 15 years and I am not here full-time due to work, but working here is paradise for me. I feel so proactive and inspired here, there is always something amazing and intriguing to see. Mexico City is full of resources, opportunities and it’s dripping with culture. It’s a surreal place and you never know what to expect.  

As a nation, I think we are eager to grow. Especially after Trump winning, there is a sense of union – we are not feeling intimidated by America anymore, somehow that has brought us together. I feel like we are starting to focus on what we have to offer each other rather than still thinking there is such a thing as “The American Dream”. I think living in Mexico is the dream. Did I mention the food, the weather and the partying? 

Do you love going into work everyday? What's coming up for Tuza jewelry in 2017?

Suzzan Atala: Since I committed full time to Tuza I don’t feel that I work anymore. To me there is no difference between work and pleasure, they are both the same to me. I honestly thought I had severe depression for the longest time until I decided to give everything up to do what I’ve always dreamed of.

It’s obviously not all roses and sometimes it’s stressful but I am grateful for every mistake and everytime that something goes wrong because it’s an opportunity to make it better next time. I also have the best team – they are my family and we all understand that we have to look after each other. I think this is the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. In 2017 we are opening a store in Mexico City, in Roma Norte. We are working on the next season and every time I feel more and more confident and excited about our future plans.