In September, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the actress Hunter Schafer walked onto the red carpet as if it were a rocket to the moon. Styled by Law Roach for the 2021 Met Gala, the Euphoria star wore a metallic midriff-baring two-piece ensemble inspired by Prada’s spring 1999 collection, featuring a curved corset top and an ankle-length skirt inlaid with rectangular jewels arranged like the diodes and fuses on a circuit board.
The cyborg look was a standout, calling to mind the dystopian dreams of American retrofuturism, but what really got folks talking was the nearly fist-sized chunk of metal shimmering between her pupils, which were veiled by white contact lenses: On the bridge of Schafer’s nose rested a massive, many-tendrilled white-gold brooch by the rising Los Angeles-based designer Evangeline AdaLioryn, held in place by invisible wires tied to hidden braids and a dollop of special effects glue. Cradled at its center was a gigantic aquamarine, which seemed to absorb the light of the surrounding flash photography like vital life energy or a generator.
This moment marked the splashy world debut of AdaLioryn’s namesake jewelry line which, in addition to brooches as big as your face, also includes intricately hand-carved rings and earrings that often clutch sparkling oversized gemstones. “Hunter is one of my best friends, my sister, and someone that has always supported my work so deeply,” the designer says. The two were introduced by a mutual friend in early 2019 on the night of a lunar eclipse, and in many ways, their collaboration at the Met Gala felt written in the stars: They had begun envisioning the stunt over a year prior. Even so, AdaLioryn could never have foreseen Schafer’s delightfully irreverent placement of the pin, until she received a text message with a selfie from the actress as she was getting into hair and makeup the evening of the opening.
“It was such a gag,” AdaLioryn says. “I just FaceTimed her, and I was like, ‘Bitch, what?!’” It was a simple, last-minute decision, and yet the choice to present the shield front-and-center, and on a platform as watched as the Met Gala, made for a radical statement of sisterhood. “That brooch could have gone anywhere—in the center of her chest, on the back of the top—and it would’ve had a different power. When she put that brooch on her face, it centralized the piece and made it huge,” she says. “It shows how much she cares about the works that she wields, and about trans women making work, and that magic that we all possess.”
There was a bit of magic involved, certainly, but there were also years of tireless work on the part of the 28-year-old artist, who put a beautifully manicured hand to nearly every medium imaginable along the way. Hailing from a town in Minnesota where “the land reflects the sky,” AdaLioryn studied photography at California Institute of the Arts in Santa Clarita, and during that time, she would often sew her own dresses for ritualistic performances. In 2017, she began “touching ceramics,” she says, as if to imply her porcelain vessels and clay wall hangings are not made but brought into existence by some divine intervention. There may be some truth to that, too: The ideas for the fly trap-shaped vases she made in the years that followed, and the stoneware sigils inscribed with personal prayers, appear to her in surreal visions.
“When I started taking estrogen, bitch, mermaids came right to me and were coming into my dreams,” she says. “And every time I’d go to the ocean, I would close my eyes and I could see them. They started communicating with me.” Soon after, she began molding her sculpture The Pearl Eater (2021), an exquisite, eight-foot self-portrait of sorts with a stoneware fishtail and cascades of black baroque keshi pearls. Currently showing in a solo exhibition at Hunter Shaw Fine Art in L.A., the artwork’s focal point is a plaster rendering of AdaLioryn’s head, which she cast prior to undergoing a gender-affirming surgery that would alter her visage forever. “It was the last offering to my old face,” she says.
The sea continues to rule her thoughts and, by extension, the jewels she fashions. In 2019, after taking a series of classes at Precious Metal Arts in Santa Monica, she began translating the horn, spike, and bow shapes that defined her ceramics practice to wearable works. The anemone-esque brooch Schafer wore to the Met Gala, for example, looks almost like a jagged fin, while the band of one ring with a diamond-cut tourmaline is formed as if to resemble the hard, pointed edges of coral. “You lose a lot of people when you transition and … I’m always wondering how you can hold onto things more. Those tendrils, that’s what you get stuck on. That’s what snags on things and holds the ribbons and threads.”
All of her pieces are big, made to be seen and, especially, to last. For AdaLioryn, that was the initial appeal of the craft, the longevity of a well-formed pendant or bangle. “It’s so beautiful to have these strong alloys that you can’t break with your hands, that will even carve into your bone, perhaps, rather than breaking,” she says. Of course, the cost of precious metals and gemstones, and thus the price of entry, are high; the artist has at times subsidized her various art practices with part-time hosting gigs at local restaurants. But AdaLioryn has the invaluable support of her community, like Darius Khonsary, the designer behind the fine jewelry brand Darius Jewels, to whom she has sometimes turned for advice and encouragement. “I remember showing her the [first] ring that I was working on, and she was like, ‘Bitch, if you don’t cast that in 18-karat fucking gold…,’” she says. “And I did. That’s my rubellite mermaid ring. It’s solid, it’s heavy, and it changed my life.”
The wax mold for that band was slowly carved into shape in AdaLioryn’s home studio in Hollywood, where she whittles down her creations using an assortment of dental tools, saws, and X-Acto knives. She often works at night with a lone candle burning at a wooden desk littered with antique bronze sculptures and a book of poems by the American writer Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (who wrote an epic, Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie, that shares her name), and always while wearing heels: Lately, it’s been a pair of calfskin pumps from Balenciaga.
“We’re talking birthing luxury in the world,” she quips. “You need to be starting from that point of feeling luxury!” From there, she’s also planning the release of her first collection of yellow-gold pieces speckled with Ceylon-blue sapphires, deep-red garnets, and pink tourmalines that she describes as “mermaid candy.” A fan of Studio Ghibli films, AdaLioryn says her latest series reminds her of the villainess in the 2001 animated feature Spirited Away, Yubaba, a witch whose sense of faded glamour is matched only by her greed, and whose wrinkled fingers explode with stacks of hefty gemstones.
More often, though, AdaLioryn works on commission from friends and a select roster of in-the-know clients, with whom she collaborates closely, often imbuing the gold with thoughts and prayers. “I ask people for their intentions. I ask what energy they’re trying to bring in their life, and I really meditate with it,” she says. “And honestly, their rings come to me in dreams, too.” She recently completed a ring inset with a rectangular rubellite for the actor Bobbi Salvör Menuez to gift to their partner, the artist Quori Theodor, to toast their engagement. Before sending it off, AdaLioryn ran the band through a flame burning from the candle on her desk, a final testament to its lasting power and immortal beauty. “It feels like magic,” AdaLioryn says. “Creating a gold halo to go around someone’s finger, and just to protect them, to guide them, to love them through whatever phases in their life, and to be passed along. [It’s a] sacred spell because, one day, it will outlast us.”
Originally Appeared on Vogue