Interview: Morgana McNelis of Maison de Morgana

by Ceylan Kumbarji

Describing her label in three words, Morgana McNelis picks “Eclectic. Imaginative. Mysterious.” Her neo-gothic designs and tribal influences mean her jewellery stands out and is ever-changing. She first fell in love with jewellery when she was just 20 and created Maison de Morgana after she co-owned and designed jewellery with her sister. We found out what a typical day in her life consists of, relationship tips and her aspirations for the label.

Taylor Magazine: For people who may not be aware of your amazing label, tell us a bit about how you first started out and what inspired you to create the brand?

Morgana McNelis: I started out as a fine jeweller. At the time, my issue with fine jewellery was that I felt limited creatively. I felt drawn toward other materials that would allow me to create more multi-faceted designs.

Taylor Magazine: What were you doing before you founded the label?

Morgana McNelis: Before I founded Maison de Morgana, I co-owned and designed a line of fine jewellery with my sister. We launched during the economic downturn of 2007, and we couldn’t get the company off the ground. I learned a lot from that experience. It taught me that within every obstacle is a seed of opportunity and that seed became Maison de Morgana.

Taylor Magazine: You attended your first jewellery class at 20… did you know from that point this was definitely something you wanted to pursue a career in or did you dabble in other things first?

Morgana McNelis: I didn’t know then that I wanted to pursue it as a career. I knew I loved it. Working with metal was a medium that resonated with me. It’s unlike any other material. It can be cut and shaped and then joined back together using a Miller syncrowave or something similar to weld it. It can be cast into a specific shape and then melted and reborn as something else. I’m fascinated by the concepts of transmutation, alchemy and reincarnation.

Taylor Magazine: Where do you draw inspiration from?

Morgana McNelis: This is an ever-evolving answer. Vintage, architecture and industrial design are the usual suspects. I believe inspiration is everywhere if you can open your eyes and see it. Everyone has a different lens. The tricky part is filtering all the inspiration through your lens and distilling it down to an original idea.

Taylor Magazine: What differentiates your jewellery from other lines that are out at the moment?

Morgana McNelis: The tribal and southwestern influences are very dominant at the moment in jewellery. By nature, trends tend to have a homogenous effect on designers. I actively strive to create original designs. Art in all forms has a life of its own and I’m often surprised at the end result of my creative process.

Maison De Morgana

Taylor Magazine: One of the things that stands out about your jewellery other than the bold style is that you’ve said you want it to hold its value (which we love!) Why is this so important to you?

Morgana McNelis: We as consumers are living in an era of mass manufactured, duplicated, disposable insta-fashion. For me, as a designer the goal is to produce environmentally and artistically ethical fashion, which can sometimes be a challenge.

Taylor Magazine: You seem to be so creative and innovative, but what would you say is your best trait?

Morgana McNelis: My best trait is my ability to see all sides of a situation. It has really helped me to make better decisions and have more empathetic interactions in my personal and professional life.

Taylor Magazine: We would love to know something about you that would shock/surprise us!

Morgana McNelis: Most people are quite shocked to find out I’m a natural blonde. I’ve been dying my hair brunette for 7 years. I just recently started the transition back to my natural colour. It took my colourist, Steven Garrison, at the Ramirez Tran salon 9 hours, a tanker full of bleach, and a few more chocolate dipped coconut macaroons than I care to admit to eating to produce the caramel blonde I have today.

Taylor Magazine: Describe a typical working day for you.

Morgana McNelis: Morning: First things first, breaky. Usually consisting of some form of caffeine accompanied by either a slice of avocado toast or chia seed porridge, and a handful of vitamins. Right now I’m obsessed with Mariage Freres Imperial Earl Grey that I got at Selfridges London. I carpool to the office with my assistant and we run through the agenda for the day while battling LA morning traffic. Once we arrive at the office the first hour is spent checking emails and social media and making phone calls. MDM is a growing brand and we have a small staff. Most of my staff wear multiple hats. The rest of the morning is spent delegating responsibilities, troubleshooting and answering any questions or concerns my staff may have. I learn so much from these interactions that make me a better boss, designer, and human. The afternoon is usually spent curating social media content, sourcing, and designing future collections.

Taylor Magazine: What would you do with a day off? No limits!

Morgana McNelis: No limits? I’d start this fantasy day off with a cup of tea and butter croissant. Then off to a GST Body session with my instructor Stefanie Bernhard. Follow that with lunch at Sycamore Kitchen. After lunch a massage would hit the spot, literally. Naturally, a nap would follow. And lastly, dinner and a movie with my boyfriend.

Maison de Morgana

Taylor Magazine: So you live and work in LA. What’s your favourite thing about the city?

Morgana McNelis: My favourite thing about Los Angeles is all the love that I have here. My sisters, my boyfriend and all of my girlfriends are what make LA home for me.

Taylor Magazine: Do you enjoy travelling? If so, where’s been your favourite place you’ve visited?

Morgana McNelis: I love to travel. I spent a lot of time in London this year and absolutely love it. I love the rain. We don’t get a lot of rain in LA, so for me it’s super exciting when it rains. When I’m not enjoying the rain, I like to walk around for hours with no destination in mind. Every street feels like it has a story to tell because there is so much history there.

Taylor Magazine: Where would you like to go that you haven’t been before?

Morgana McNelis: I haven’t been to India and have been dying to go. I know the mystical charm and cultural richness of India would be life changing.

Taylor Magazine: You’ve been in a long-term relationship for quite a few years: what do you think is the key to maintaining a good work/relationship balance?

Morgana McNelis: I think the key to maintaining a good balance is creating a safe space within the relationship for both partners in which to grow and evolve. It’s very important to be present and participate in each other’s experiences so that falling in love doesn’t happen just once, it continues to happen over and over.

Taylor Magazine: We read about your ‘BC Armor Collection’ where you donated the proceeds to the Boot Campaign, which sounds amazing! What was your favourite thing about this? How was the process of designing this jewellery different to your usual process for Maison de Morgana?

Morgana McNelis: My favourite thing about this was the cause. The Boot Campaign is a non-profit that provides assistance to military personnel experiencing physical, emotional and circumstantial hardships resulting from their service, past and present. The process for designing the BC Armor Collection was different in that I wasn’t designing for a individual demographic. I was designing for an American, for every American. Which is more than a nationality, it’s an idea.

MDM5

Taylor Magazine: Our publication is focused on content that is ‘Taylored For You’ so if you could pick any topic/theme/idea that you’d be interested in learning more about, what would it be?

Morgana McNelis: Women’s Empowerment. What are the key obstacles women are up against in today’s social and economic environment? How can women on an individual basis affect change in these areas?

Taylor Magazine: Favourite novel?

Morgana McNelis: It’s hard to choose! Right now, my favorite is The Power of Vulnerability by Brené Brown.

Taylor Magazine: Favourite band?

Morgana McNelis: Again, hard to choose! Let’s do current top three… any music by Maynard James Keenan, Clint Mansell and God Speed You! Black Emperor. I’m also obsessed with Beyoncé!

Taylor Magazine: Go-to piece of jewellery?

Morgana McNelis: Go to piece of jewellery is usually my newest creation. Right now it’s a Native American style choker for SS16. My daily staples are my Cartier Love bracelet and my Endless Love ring from my SS15 collection.

Taylor Magazine: Words to live by?

Morgana McNelis: “The Devil is in the details.”

Taylor Magazine: In 10 years’ time, where is Morgana McNelis and her jewellery line?

Morgana McNelis: In 10 years’ time MDM is a lifestyle brand that has expanded to include fine jewellery, home accessories and clothing. Skincare is also a passion of mine and I’d love to somehow incorporate that into MDM’s future.

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2 comments

Sue October 14, 2015 - 1:05 am

I own a piece of MDM jewelry, Iron Maiden locket. I positively love it and get complemented on it every time I wear it!

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Meg May 25, 2017 - 4:14 pm

What a bright, talented, well spoken and thoughtful visionary. No wonder she has found a place in the heart of such a sought after leading man. Perhaps if more people had read what she had to say and listened to what was in her heart they wouldn’t have attacked her so grotesquely from the jump. It is lovely to see two people with such beautiful hearts find each other in this difficult world. Good luck and Godspeed to both of you.

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