Rubies, sapphires, turquoise and gold - all of my favorite things. Classic designs with brightly colored gemstones. This jewelry brand, ILA Collection, has been on my mind ever since I first saw a piece from the line. I was fortunate enough to meet the team behind this brand this spring - Ila &Vikas, a brother sister duo. The nicest, most talented brother, sister duo in the industry.
When I asked Vikas about how their line got started, he sent back an incredibly thorough response:
“In 2005 I was working on a technology startup in Cambridge, Massachusetts with a few classmates from college when we ran out of our series A funding. Times were bad and we couldn’t secure our second round of funding. I had two choices, one was to jump back into another startup and the other was loose myself on a backpacking adventure. Hard decision? It wasn’t as much since I was on unemployment. A month later I had a 3 month trip booked to India with no itinerary.
My family had taken my sister and I since we were little, but the trips were filled with family time which was amazing in its own right, but that left a large part of Indian unexplored for me. I decided to head off on my own and follow the southern coast of India. I have a weak spot for beaches. The trip was an eye opening experience to say the least, so after three months I wasn’t exactly ready to come home. The night before my flight home my father called me and told me he had arranged an apprenticeship in a diamond cutting factory if I was interested. Diamonds were the farthest thing on my mind, and I knew he was trying to get me into the family diamond business. I told him no and that I would see him in a few days. Then Ila got on the phone and told me I was being naive. I had a chance to live in Bombay. Why wouldn’t I jump on that chance. I started my apprenticeship that very next morning.
My first apprenticeship was rigorous. I was in one of the largest diamond cutting factories working on the assortment floor. It was 6 if not 7 days of hard labor (not in the muscular type, but imagine being bent over looking through a loupe for 8-10 hours a day). While the work was arduous the people whom I worked with were incredible. Most of them were poor and had been at the company for years, but they all had some an amazing take on life. They definitely did not take what they had for granted. After my training was done I was not ready to leave India. I had immersed myself in jewelry and gems, so I decided to take a design certification course in Bombay. In India designers draw and paint. As an engineer this was the art class I was dying to take for years. I fell in love instantly, so a year after having landed in India, I was on the phone with Ila back in the States making a pact to move back to Houston if she wanted to start our own line."
The inspiration: Their hometown in India. Growing up their family would travel back to Rajasthan to visit their ancestral residence, known as "Haveli.” It stood for over 200 years and has seen the birthing of their father, his father and the rest of their paternal ancestors. As children their grandfather would recount the tales of ancient mythology that were painted in frescoes dotting the meticulously detailed archways that connected one edifice to another. Each edifice was carved with the most skilled hand to tell stories of the past. The carvings were adorned with inlaid stones and it seemed the jewelers truly did the detailing in the building. Those trips to India created a foundation for Vikas’ appreciation for minute details, beautiful stones, handwork and curved lines. They learned that together, those elements told a story.
The process: They always start off sketching. Vikas has a beat up sketch book that he is convinced makes his creative powers come alive. “It’s like the bounded book from "Never Ending Story.” Since they have moved into more color, some designs start off with them playing with color combinations, but a sketch always follows.
Vikas describes their brother, sister dynamic: “We couldn’t be more different (as most siblings are). It took me a few years to understand what was so special about the process, but since we are siblings we are brutally honest with each other. If something is not worthy in one of our eyes the other knows it right away. We cut out a lot of wasted energy and time that a PC working relationship would breed.”
I was able to witness some of this on the last day of Couture when the show had slowed down and I had time to wander - Ila laying out stones, Vikas sharing his opinion. It’s amazing to see them so serious in their work and then a few moments later laughing about who has final say on the designs.
Vikas never gets attached to any one design, but if he had to choose, he’s drawn to the Amelie Collection. He feels as though they’ve only just scratched the surface of what the collection will evolve to. “The color combinations in the collection and the striking contrast of the shapes somehow harmonize so well together.”
Favorite artists / designers? Older industrial design from Braun, Dali, Havikoro Crew from Houston (one of the premiere breakdancing crews in the world) and any well designed sneaker.
When Vikas is not in the studio, he tries to be outside as much as possible. His loves: Soccer and breakdancing (which I would love to witness next time I see him).