This Jewelry Company Combines Activism With Fantasy

Nelly Zagury
Photo courtesy of Nelly Zagury

What if you knocked on your idol’s door and asked him for a job? French artist and designer Nelly Zagury did just this when she arrived in New York City from Paris, intent on realizing her dreams. The idol was artist and filmmaker Matthew Barney, and he not only opened the door, but offered an internship. The internship eventually led to a dream job, as costume designer for his opera film “River of Fundament.”

“Barney’s mindset had a big impact on me. He never censors his ideas,” says Zagury.

That sense of unchecked creativity served Zagury well as she formulated her own vision with her best friend, industrial designer Celia Elmasu. “We decided to create an irreverent world of aasy, a jewelry brand like no one else.” That brand is Holy Faya, a socially-conscious jewelry company with a love for creating videos and experiences around the objects it produces.

Zagury and Elmasu have managed to create an outlet that sustains them both creatively and practically. Says Zagury: “Surrounded by entrepreneurs, I felt I was born for this, creating my own opportunities, never asking for permission, for freedom.”

Drawing of characters for Wata Protector
Drawing of characters for Wata Protector
The Black Crook, starring Bats The Creature
The Black Crook, starring Bats The Creature
Photos courtesy of Nelly Zagury

Tell us about your most memorable mistake.

We hacked the BeatsByDre brand, designing an earphone earring set and creating a video to go with them. It was our way of getting their attention. We mostly wanted to show what it would look like to have a product designed by women instead of the male tech world.

We received a letter from their lawyers and had to modify the content. At that same time, the museum of modern art in Paris wanted to exhibit our earphones. We missed this beautiful opportunity for political reasons. The mistake was in believing that a huge corporation would be agile and open enough to accept our innovation.

What’s your philosophy on dealing with challenges?

“Shake what your mama gave you.” Challenges drive me, because they are a reminder that I’m still learning and growing. I believe we represent our own limits, our own worst enemies. I’m fighting against my Jewish guilt, not just to use everything I’m lucky enough to have, but to celebrate it on a daily basis. You need to be good to yourself before sharing yourself with others.

How do you use your work to create a wider movement of change?

What I like the most is inventing stories and using fantasy to confront bigger realities. At Holy Faya, we designed jewelry for #BlackLivesMatter, created posters for Bernie Sanders, and explored women’s fantasies through the earphone earrings project.

Our latest project, Wata Protector, is a tribute to the native peoples of the US and the fight against pipeline construction. We collaborated with the dancer Kaner Flex (choreographer for FKA Twigs) who incarnates both the native eagle and the dark snake pipeline as they fight for water.

3rd Eyes, starring Angela Cascone
3rd Eyes, starring Angela Cascone
Photo courtesy of Nelly Zagury

Also read: Jewelry Designer Tarra Rosenbaum on Balancing Creativity With Spreadsheets.