Natalie Abrams’s wearable sculptures exist in a state of contradiction. The abstract pieces are fierce to the eye but pliable to the touch. They float above your neck or wrist, creating a suspension between soft skin and twisting filaments. And they move with you, like outward perceptions of internal power.
“I like the immediacy of impact that it has on the person wearing the pieces,” says the Herndon-based sculptor and jewelry designer, who co-founded Abrams Wearable in 2017 with life partner Bryan Hammock. Hammock previously worked in the art auction industry. “With fine art, the viewer is separated. It’s subjective. With jewelry, you have this direct connection,” says Abrams.
Case in point: Abrams, who works out of a studio at the Torpedo Factory in Old Town Alexandria, would wear the ropy strands she used in her sculptures to art receptions. Women were fascinated by them. “We got the idea to use them as jewelry,” she says. Since its debut, the high-drama collection has garnered attention from here to the Netherlands and has been spotted on red carpets and at DC runway shows—and the duo is on the edge of new developments for 2021, pandemic or not.
“We’re champing at the bit,” says Abrams.
That urge to create developed at a young age. At about age 9 or 10, she recalls, the Hyde Park, Illinois, native sat in on painting classes at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; the professor was a friend of her mother’s (a doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago). But Abrams didn’t truly pursue art until her 30s. She studied interior design and pre-architecture at Colorado State University, where fiber art and embroidery courses were among her degree requirements, and then worked as a project manager at architectural firms and a variety of corporations, as well as ran her own consulting business, in NYC for more than a decade.
A visit to a museum exhibit near where she lived in New Jersey reincarnated her passion. That show? Waxing Poetic. “It was this life-altering exhibit. The work was so diverse, sophisticated, and all done out of the same encaustic medium.” Abrams called the museum and took a three-day workshop. And she began painting or drawing every night into the wee hours before hopping on the train to her real gig all day. “It was kind of an obsession,” she says. Abrams later shifted entirely to art, creating environmentally driven, textural sculptures that evoke plants and florals and exhibiting her thought-provoking pieces around the country.
Abrams Wearable is an extension of that in a more tangible way. “It’s an interpretation of the artwork that becomes something you can put on,” she says. “Part of what I like so much about this process is trying to figure out how it’s worn. With artwork, you’re thinking about how it matches the wall. With jewelry, it’s more complex. How does it feel against the skin? Is it comfortable? And there’s no place to hide the ugly bits. You have a 360-degree view.”
But you can’t look away. The signature IO is a couture dripping-acrylic necklace; Abrams and Hammock had to create special tools to produce it. “It captures a frozen, kinetic moment in time,” says Abrams. The pieces, including bracelets and earrings, are largely crafted at their Torpedo Factory studio with various complex materials and processes—custom formulas of acrylic paint, metals, resin casting, molds, laser cutters, 3-D printing.
As a result of the pandemic, Abrams has spent the past year focused on sculptures and apparel, creating an AWare line of clothing to support small businesses. A sellout: the Notorious Hero T-shirt, with a hand-painted iteration of RBG’s collar.
It’s an evolution over time. Up next, the pair is mostly working on sculpture, plus updated clothing and a small jewelry line. There’s a potential public art project and a collaboration with the Washington Spirit (Ashley Hatch and Crystal Thomas have modeled their pieces).
So, ask Abrams if the NoVA region inspires her work, and she’ll say yes: “I’m a visual sponge.” Even being able to bounce ideas off other artists at Torpedo helps her push the boundaries—and transform her body of work. // abramswearable.com