Gotta Have Faith In New Seville Michelle “Choke Me” Collection
Remember when door knocker earrings made an epic comeback, this time wrapped in colorful leather for a modern twist on a classic hip-hop staple? Well, New York City-bred jewelry designer Seville Michelle Anastos was the mastermind behind the resurgence, creating the triangular earrings wrapped in saffron yellow and black faux snakeskin that Beyoncé rocked in he “Party” video, as well as the metallic purple leather-wrapped bamboo earrings Nicki Minaj was spotted wearing in London circa 2010. Seven years later, Anastos continues to innovate while paying homage to the jewelry she admired while growing up in Queens. For her latest collection, Anastos shifted her focus from the ’80s to the ’90s, when choker necklaces were ubiquitous and when, in the hip-hop culture realm, pendants with unabashedly religious overtones were all the rage. The new Seville Michelle Anastos “Choke Me” collection, available at the new VFILES marketplace, consists of necklaces that explore traditional faith-related iconography and which, moreover, reinvent traditionally masculine tokens so that they exude female strength and power.
Those of you who remember the late and great Biggie Smalls, can probably envision his iced-out Jesus piece adorning one of his Coogi sweaters. As the story goes, Biggie spent $30,000 on the pendant, which he even rhymed about in “I Love the Dough,” saying, “You seen the Jesus, dipped in H-classes/ Ice project off light, chick flashes/ Blind your broke asses/ Even got rocks in the beards and mustaches.” Thanks to Biggie, the Jesus piece became a hood classic — rappers like Big Pun,Fat Joe, Ghostface Killah (also one of the first to adopt the trend), and Jay-Z all donned oversize pendants depicting Christ wearing a crown of thorns. Anastos dipped into her memory bank and, using the oft-gaudy, chunky Jesus pieces of ‘the 90s as her inspiration, she designed the choker dubbed “Feast” (shown second above). Consisting of 16 sculptural Jesus pieces hinged together in eight places to give the necklace a flexible feel, the choker gives the classic hood staple a feminine makeover. Available in 14k gold plated brass ($448 at VFILES.com) or 14k gold ($3224 at VFILES.com), the Feast is embellished with 48 ruby red Swarovski crystals, positioned to emphasize the crown of thorns mentioned in the Bible. The stones were selected by Roxy Brown, the designer curator and director of the VFILES VIP series.
Meant to encourage solidarity among women of all races, ages, cultures, and faiths, the “Choke Me” collection also contains pieces that pay homage to Judaism and Islam. The Zion choker necklace, pictured third above, features 10 Star of David symbols hinged together at 9 places so that the piece moves with the neck. To give the piece a unique feel, the Star of David symbols are arranged in a gradated manner, so that the largest star is placed front and center, with two smaller stars on either side. The three most prominent star symbols are adorned with Swarovksi shadow crystals, with the middle Star of David featuring a 37mm crystal at its center, and the smaller stars on either side harboring 8mm crystals. The Zion necklace is available in either 14k gold plated brass ($420 at VFILES.com) or 14k gold ($4,400 at VFILES.com)
The Supreme Amal necklace, available for $240 at VFILES.com, celebrates the intersection of fashion and Islam. Pictured third above, the 1″-wide necklace is fashioned out of sturdy Italian leather and features hammed gold-tone studs and five brass-toned rings along its length, with the central hoop featuring a 14k gold-plated pendant of the calligraphic representation of the word “Allah.” Given the rampant and harrowing Islamophobia gripping our nation, Anastos hoped her Supreme Amal necklace would serve as a tribute to the Muslim community here in America. She also hoped the design would “offer a new perspective on what is and isn’t acceptable in Islamic fashion.”
Though faith plays a central role in the collection, one of the designs does steer away from the spiritual theme: the Maritime Choker, pictured above at top in rose gold. This particular iteration is available in rose gold-plated brass ($420) or rose gold ($2,000) and features five classic Maritime links joined at five different places. Each of the links is inspired by an anchor chain fitting, which could very well be symbolic in and of itself — particularly given that the collection’s name, “Choke Me,” alludes to the many forces that suffocate us as women in contemporary America. Within this context, the Maritime Choker could very well be the final piece of the puzzle, suggesting that the same forces that uplift us can drown us when they’re misinterpreted or misused. Within this context, for instance, Christianity could save us, but it could also divide us — especially if the faith’s tenets are perverted, as in the case of extremists that condemn other religious faiths, challenge women’s reproductive rights, alienate our gay brothers and sisters, and deprive the LGBQT community of its civil liberties. Similarly, it could point to the number of Muslim men and women who are being viewed with suspicion if not outright derision when, in fact, their faith is a peaceful one. And of course, the Jewish community continues to face anti-Semitic sentiment to this day.
Perhaps the presence of a necklace that’s inspired by anchor links, then, completes the picture Anastos created with her jewelry, suggesting that faith can either unite us or divide us, that we can either celebrate each other and our different belief systems or choose to live in a world that’s anchored by hate — and which, as a result, would only lead to our collective demise. Perhaps she’s suggesting that it’s through true solidarity and understanding that we can lift that anchor holding us down and sail into peaceful seas.