As a designer, Merle Schwartz Weismer always has an eye out for unusual materials to create her innovative jewelry pieces.
It might be vintage sari scraps in shades of deep amethyst or burgundy. It might be bits and pieces of rich silk crepe from a Philadelphia fashion designer from India. Maybe it’s a handful of buttons or beads or twisted T-shirts. It could even be empty silk cocoons, dyed in a rainbow of gorgeous colors.
“Most of the materials I use are repurposed,” Weismer says. “That’s a huge trend right now, even with designers like Stella McCartney, who is teaming up with Adidas to liquefy old clothes to create yarn for new clothing.”
Growing up in the ’60s and ’70s, Weismer is well aware of the vast waste of old clothes, which usually make their way to landfills. At 66, she has taken that perspective to create a line of high-fashion jewelry that is bold, dramatic and made from recycled materials.
She describes her own style as “artful city style,” which often makes her stand out in places like Lancaster Central Market. She is part of a movement of 55-plus women who embrace their age and wisdom to dress however they please, with a generous dash of panache.
“I didn’t really come out of my shell style-wise until I was in my early 60s, and suddenly I started getting compliments,” Weismer says. “I started thinking, ‘Do you want to be an old version of your younger self or a new version of your older self?’ I’m a new version of who I am now.”
That mindset has opened doors for the Lancaster designer. She has discovered that there is an entire industry devoted to women over 55. After all, they are more likely to have the money and confidence to dress in high style. One of her favorite designers is Jane Mohr, who owns Dress To Kill and is representative of many high-end boutiques across the United States, like IE, Planet, and Alembika, that cater to older women at local shops like Tiger’s Eye in Lititz.
Weismer likes to wear loose-fitting, solid colors, most often black. For her, that provides a blank canvas for the bold colors of accessories that might include a red hat, twisted black and white beaded necklace, bold bangle bracelets, chunky rings and power-red lipstick.
As it turns out, Jane Mohr saw some of Weismer’s jewelry on Instagram and Facebook, and invited her to design pieces for her fashions.
“Jane Mohr and I have been successfully selling at the fashion shows in New York City and California, pairing my necklaces with her outfits. She curates the Edge fashion show in New York, which is a collection of 30 designers over four floors in the Stewart Hotel. Boutique owners can shop this cutting-edge style as she promotes like-minded fashion,” says Weismer, adding that Lily Tomlin wears Mohr’s eclectic fashions on the Netflix show “Grace and Frankie.”
Weismer says she is thrilled to be bringing her creativity into play, by using all sorts of materials to design one-of-a-kind pieces that range from the museum-level silk cocoon fashion show statement piece to more affordable necklaces. She has been hard at work building inventory for New York Fashion Week, taking place this week.
An artist at heart, Weismer earned her bachelor’s in fine arts degree in textile design from Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia in 1974. A native of New York City, she eventually moved to Lancaster. She continues her Philadelphia connection as a docent at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, providing educational tours of art exhibits, such as the recent Fabulous Fashion Dior exhibit.
Over the years, she’s wove large-scale tapestries for residential and commercial interiors, while creating small-scale collages for Armstrong World Industries for their national flooring ads. She expanded her business in 1991 to include residential interior decoration. Later, she put her experience with fiber, collage and design to work on her unique jewelry creations.
“I look at them as being small sculptures for the body,” says Weismer, demonstrating a necklace that twists around and around with black fabric and red and magenta silk, accented by a lime-green ball.
Her newest discovery is repurposing leftover silk cocoons that were not usable in silk production. The cocoons are available dyed in a variety of colors, and Weismer takes advantage of the unique beauty of their oval shape. She uses silk fabric twisted to form a necklace that is embellished with a sculptural cocoon arrangement.
“I have recently started to experiment with flattening the cocoons, and they are incredibly strong,” says Weismer, showing how she pounds them into a flattened shape, then builds a necklace from them.
Weismer is always looking for unusual ways to repurpose materials that would otherwise be thrown away. Like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, it’s the discovery of how an ordinary object can become something new and beautiful.
To learn more about Weismer’s designs, check her website at www.iseearteverywhere.com.