The East End has inspired so many artists, sparked so many creative minds. Our beaches, our towns, our farms, even the sunshine itself seems to draw artists from around the world like a magnet. Sometimes, however, artists don’t need to travel to feel the inspiration. Sometimes, as in the case of jewelry designer Helen Ficalora, artists are born and bred right here, in the heart of the beauty.
Born and raised in the Montauk Breakers Motel, Ficalora grew up surrounded by nature and creativity; both of her parents studied art, and as she spoke with me about her collections she confessed, “I can’t imagine going a day here without being inspired.” Clearly the Montauk vistas of ocean and sky have not lost their charm for her, as they continue to inspire new lines and pieces as distinct as they are beautiful. For those unfamiliar with Ficalora’s designs by name, you’d surely recognize them by sight. Worn by countless stars and featured in various magazines, Ficalora’s work is strikingly casual, in true Montauk fashion, though the style never sacrifices a delicate femininity.
Throughout her childhood, Helen and her brother Jay (now county legislator Jay Schneiderman) “lived and breathed everything in the Montauk world.” She cites her childhood, and current home, the Breakers Motel, as a renewable spring of inspiration, emphasizing the harmony and balance of nature on the East End as an enormous influence in her work. In fact, her line features Montauk daisies in ring, necklace and earring form. The signature East End flower could easily be made a trademark of Ficalora’s designs. It’s delicate and feminine while remaining fun and natural, conjuring memories of childhood flower picking and sun-kissed cheeks.
Ficalora’s passion for her community does not end with her jewelry, however. “I really believe in giving back,” she says, and she has a record of generosity to back her up. In addition to private donations and efforts to improve the community that nurtured her talents, with many of her pieces she dedicates a percentage of proceeds to nonprofits with each sale. 20% from her breast cancer ribbon for breast cancer research, 25% from her tulip charm for ovarian cancer research. Another charm benefits research for Canavan disease, yet another helps support families living with medical burdens. Ficalora emphasizes her passion to create beauty and to “help in little ways.” An organization that works with women, especially single moms as they fight cancer, epitomizes those “little ways.” Ficalora commends the nonprofit’s work, underscoring the essentiality of “helping people on a basic level.”
A few of her passions merge in her proceeds for another nonprofit Healthy Child Healthy World, which focuses on protecting children and our environment from harmful chemicals. While no official jewelry line is slated to benefit a cause here on the East End, Ficalora is open to expanding her personal donations into something bigger for Long Island. Hopefully we’ll see some more East End inspired pieces in her upcoming collections; a charm for the swans of East Hampton, perhaps? We’ll have to wait and see, but in the meantime Ficalora is due to release a men’s collection in the fall. It will remain simple and elegant, though “not as delicate or feminine, to cater to male tastes.”
Most popular among her collections are the alphabet charms, handcrafted and cast in gold, and versatile enough to wear day, night, beach, pool, gala or barbeque. I’ve had my charm necklace for years, and I still wear it everywhere. While she does offer heavy statement pieces, all of her creations are romantic, and most of them are light and understated. They are perfect for a gift or milestone, especially for someone who loves the East End as much as she does.
Ficalora seems most excited about using her jewelry as more than adornment. “This jewelry can touch people in so many ways…even if it’s just getting the word out.” Jewelry has always been a conversation starter, and now Ficalora is highlighting its potential to become more than a pretty thing to please your eyes. She is creating jewelry that serves, inspires and publicizes initiatives. And it helps that it’s pretty, too.
You can visit the Helen Ficalora store on Main Street in Bridgehampton, or you can visit her store online, helenficalora.com.