You Are Here: Inside the Designer's Studio
Hyde Park resident Carolyn Greene, who makes pearl jewelry under the guise of Momi, is hyper-conscious of the conservative -- if not stuffy -- feeling that pearls can have. “I don’t like it when necklaces are stiff,” the California native says from her spacious dining room, which doubles as her studio. So, Greene strings together her pearl necklaces with personal touches and leaves wide spaces between the beads to create jewelry pieces that work with the body’s contours. She also uses thick Irish linen as a chain which gives her versatile pieces a deconstructed feel, and imparts a cool duality of casual and formal. “I like the merger of casual, island funkiness with the elegance and beautiful luster of pearls,” she says. The “island funkiness” that Greene speaks of comes from her Hawaiian heritage, which prompted her to work with pearls, though she’s satiated her longing for the beach with Lake Michigan’s sandy shores. “Even though I’m an ocean person, I drive along the lake everyday and it’s just as beautiful,” she says. At her Hyde Park home, Greene spoke with us about identifying as a Chicago designer, revealed the origin and philosophy of Momi, and discussed the wide appeal of pearls.
On the name Momi:
I’m a little bit of everything (Hawaiian, Korean, English, Irish, Scottish) but my roots are Hawaiian and I used to spend summers in Hawaii. I grew up collecting shells on the beach and would string them onto ropes of leather. So, I sort of giggle when I say that I’m coming back to my roots with Momi because of my love of pearls, the beach, and the ocean. Momi means pearl in Hawaii.
On the origin and properties of the pearls she uses:
I went on a trip with my husband to China, visited pearl markets and pearl farms, and found the ones that I wanted to work with. Once the orders come in, I start putting all of the pieces together and making new designs because each shipment of pearls is different: the colors slightly differ and the sizes and shapes are different. Even though I would order a peacock rice pearl, every time they come they’re different. I love that everyone is unique and I try to let people know that one of my pieces won’t be exactly like the next.
The philosophy of Momi:
The one of the philosophies of my pieces is that I want them to be casual and easy and have a lot of versatility, so most of them don’t have a front or back. The fastens are little tassels so people can wear them in the front or back. Some of the closers tie and are meant to drop down the back or hang in the front. You can wrap them around as a bracelet or as a lariat, and they’re meant to be layered.
A lot of people think of them as warm and summery but I love for them to be worn year round. They look good with tank tops and dresses but it can also be worn with a little black dress a cowl neck sweatshirt. You can wind the pieces three times, or if you have a backless shirt or, dress dress, you can let the tassel hang in the back.
On the Irish linen she uses:
The reason I use linen instead of leather is that over time it wears really well and as it wears it looks like a suede. You can wash dishes in them, too, because the string doesn’t get dry or brittle.
The Momi woman:
It’s a woman who wants to make a little bit of a statement but not overstate; she’s stylish and she’s comfortable with throwing on a piece over a tank top and going out, or throwing on one of the lariats to go to the beach. Girls that are 10 years old wear my pieces and women in their ‘60s wear them. The elegance of pearls allows you to appeal to a wider market of young teens to grandmothers.
On the deconstructed nature of her pearl necklaces:
I used to take necklaces apart because I didn’t like a plain strand so I would try to create movement by putting space between the beads. My biggest stumbling block was finding a way get pearls drilled with a 2mm hole (they’re usually drilled with a .7mm hole) so I could feed them on to something larger than a piece of silk. Once once I was able to do that, it opened up a roadway for all of my new designs.
On identifying as a Chicago designer:
There’s a casual elegance in Chicago. It’s one of the most fashionable cities I’ve ever been to and people are fashionable without having to wear upscale brands like Chanel. There’s not any snobbery or barriers here for a fashion designer. People are very warm and accepting, even though I don’t have a background in fashion and I’m working out of my dining room. From Mark Shale on Michigan Avenue to Oakbrook, I would have never thought that I could cast such a wide net.