Khiry, the luxe collection of golden hoop earrings, striking necklaces, and tiny brooches shaped like African masks — designed by former University of Pennsylvania student Jameel Mohammed — is officially on the come up. It's carried pretty much exclusively in Barneys New York. Insecure star Issa Rae and award-winning director Ava DuVernay have worn pieces, too
And this month, Khiry scored a full-page editorial spread in Vogue. That means the collection's 23-year-old designer is featured (on page 348) in the fashion bible of all fashion bibles: Vogue's September Issue. That's right, the one with Beyoncé on the cover.
Score one for fashion born and bred in Philly!
"I thought it would be years and years down the line before I'd be in Vogue," Mohammed said in a telephone interview. He moved to New York this summer to focus on Khiry full-time. "I'm just so excited to see what's going to come of it."
The birth of Mohammed's high-end brand of baubles — they retail for $200 for a pendant to $1,400 for a bangle — seems to have been kissed by kismet.
Mohammed was studying political science during his freshman year at Penn when he met top Barneys executives Daniella Vitale and Mark Lee during the school's fashion week. Mohammed had dreams of becoming a clothing designer — he interned with Narciso Rodriguez and Nicole Miller when he was still in high school — and he was thinking that if he got an internship at Barneys, maybe he'd be able to work on developing his own clothing line.
But it wasn't Mohammed's clothing the Barneys team was interested in; they were drawn to the jewelry in his portfolio. Yes, he made it, he told them.
Mohammed spent his summer as a buying intern at Barneys and worked on his jewelry collection. Khiry is his middle name, Swahili for "fortune" and "wealth." He left his internship with contacts, but his collection didn't yet have a focus.
When he returned to campus in fall 2014, he found his college community starting to become embroiled in political and racial unrest. The deaths of Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner had triggered the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement. Students, including Mohammed, started protesting what they considered unjust police shootings. They felt unheard.
"We were marching all throughout the streets and [people] looked at what we were doing as frivolous because they were connecting [blackness] to violence," Mohammed said.
His line clicked.
Fashion does a lot to shape how we see ourselves. In fact, Mohammed took it another step: Style informs the way the world is structured and organized. African nations, once raped for their precious natural resources like gold are rarely connected to what is considered classically beautiful in the Western world.
"People use these standards to determine who is worthy, who is worth being heard," Mohammed said.
He decided through Khiry that he would promote a black aesthetic from a black perspective that was equally luxurious as any fine jewelry line from a European point of view.
Mohammed left Penn to focus on the brand (he plans to go back) and raised nearly $25,000 in a Kickstarter campaign. He learned how to source material — his pieces are made from 18k gold vermeil and precious stones — and he experimented with different manufacturers, including the ones he uses now in Thailand and New York.
Barneys agreed to sell Khiry at select locations, including the Rittenhouse Square store. That same year, he was accepted into an elite fashion incubator program sponsored by the Accessories Council and the Council of Fashion Designers of America. In another fortuitous encounter, Mohammed ran into Vogue news director Mark Holgate at New York Fashion Week in February. Holgate granted Mohammed a desk-side interview, leading to Vogue placement.
Since the story was published, Mohammed has gotten calls from several A-list stylists and retailers. Exactly who? It's too early to say.
"There is no tea just yet," Mohammed said coyly, referring to the trendy gossip term spilling the tea. "Right now, I'm enjoying the moment."