A lifelong Manhattanite, Janis Savitt remembers being in Bloomingdale’s as a child with her mother and seeing a showcase with a little saw in it—one of the jeweler’s key tools. “Mom, find me a jewelry lesson place in New York!” little Janis implored.
Today fans of Ms. Savit’s designs include Beyoncé, Elton John and the teenagers trawling Soho. “I work with Michael Kors, I work with Ralph Lauren, I work with Vera Wang. This is within the past six months,” said Ms. Savitt the other day, dressed in this season’s wide-legged jeans. For over three decades, she was in business with her sisters Michelle and Wynne under the label M + J Savitt, but she struck out on her own in December of 2007.
“It took me 30 years to figure a way to do it,” Ms. Savitt said with a laugh. “One sister [Michelle] was getting married and moving to California and I didn’t want to stay there and work with the other sister [Wynne]. That’s what it boiled down to.
“When I left, I took nothing. I just said, ‘Buh-bye, it’s all you. I want to do my own thing.’” But the exit was not completely seamless. On Oct. 7, 2008, according to papers filed in New York’s Southern District Court, Wynne sued Ms. Savitt for trademark infringement.
“She believed that she owned my name, but she doesn’t own my name,” Janis said firmly.
Recent designs are going in two directions, the first “all based on chains … that look like braided pieces, like a little girl who braids her hair.” Recently she sent some antique cameos to a shop in California that normally fixes up car parts. The resulting bib necklace is edgy, but classic.
The second is centered around classic pins. “Take your mother’s brooch, a diamond brooch—hopefully she had a big one,” Ms. Savit said. “Then you put broad brass and steel chains with it to make it more casual and updated.”
Ms. Savitt’s inspirations include her father, Paul Savitt, an artist who lives in Soho. “He’s the kind of person you can ask about anything and he’ll know the answer,” she said.
A large photograph self-portrait of Mr. Savitt hangs in her midtown apartment near the front door. His eyes are wide and his mouth tight. The image breaks and squirms in certain places as if bugs are climbing out of him. “He’s never shown his work, he’s never sold his work,” his daughter said. “He just warehouses it.”
Not so Ms. Savitt, who is recently exploring a new side of commerciality with a brass cuff bracelet that looks like a can of Budweiser. “A classic American label,” she pointed out. So far she has melded the beer can to the cuff; next she will attach strands of diamonds. “I like the idea of recycling and making it into something cool. Like, ‘I rescued this beer can and turned it into a $5,000 piece of jewelry!’ No, I’m just kidding. ‘I turned it into something beautiful.’”
For the past year, Ms. Savitt has been on a jewelling jag, filling up armloads of boxes and several large tables in her home office with new pieces. But she still finds time to fish and rake for clams, wearing waders in Shinnecock bay with an 80-year-old friend who “knows all the good spots.” She’s also fond of staring at the sky.
“I take the train down to Battery Park, have a coffee there and look out,” she said. “New York’s a great place. ”
PHOTOGRAPH: John Huba</p