Welcome to 2019, where “rainbow” is the unofficial color of the moment, glitter is in more than ever, and nobody shines quite like Sarah Sparkles.
As the designer-jeweler-installation artist tells it, her origin story is familiar to anyone who found their own way in the city: “Fresh out of college, I was managing a local boutique in Williamsburg. I could barely pay my rent and started networking to find more work. My friend David Siegel, who had worked as a window dresser and prop fabricator, changed my life when he gave me the number for a manager at Bergdorf Goodman and told me I could get paid to put sparkles on things. I had grown up in Far Rockaway, an isolated urban beach town, and had no idea that I was stepping into an iconic New York tradition.”
From humble beginnings, Sparkles has built her own company, Sparkledome Studio, which specializes in costume, environmental, and prop design and fabrication that shimmers in a most explicitly Instagrammable way. “Given the budget,” she tells me, “I will literally sparkle anything and everything.” A glorious photo menagerie of creatures she’s bejeweled (including snakes, gargoyles, cats, and alligators) proves it.
I caught up with the designer who’s adding a splash of shimmer to New York to talk about her process, her favorite jobs, and just how long it takes to coat a dinosaur in Swarovski crystals.
What Should We Do: When people ask what you do, how do you explain it?
Sarah Sparkles: In my heart and way of life, I am an artist. Professionally, I am a designer and fabricator of jewelry, accessories, costumes, and props, as well as an installation artist and window dresser. You can call me a sparkle specialist, an embellishment enthusiast.
I started out by crafting wearable adornment—jewelry, accessories, costumes—and moved on to installation art around 2001, when I began scavenging found materials to make surreal immersive environments for underground Brooklyn warehouse parties. My first professional work was as an intern for Jean Claude Mastroianni doing in-store displays, windows, vintage fashion archiving, buying, and accessory design. I launched my career as a Bergdorf Goodman window dresser in 2005.
WSWD: For those unfamiliar with your art, how do you describe the general look of your work?
Sparkles: My personal aesthetic is glamorous dark sparkle; my favorite shades are black and gunmetal. Some of my favorite materials to work with are Swarovski crystals, semiprecious stones, vintage jewelry parts, mirrored tiles, studs, shells, spikes, and gold leaf. Those materials lend themselves well to the otherworldly textures and exquisite shine that I love to create.
One of my greatest passions as an artist is making adornment for magically inclined people, by channeling mystical archetypes through costume design, jewelry, and accessories. Doing custom designs with crystals and semiprecious stones allows me to create adornment that is most symbiotic with an individual. My Faerie and Mermaid Bling jewelry collections are available at Enchantments, the oldest occult store in New York City. All of my jewelry is either extremely limited edition or one of a kind.
Professionally, I have gravitated toward long-term clients in the luxury realm, mostly because the budgets they command allow for projects with extensive detail and unique embellishment.
You can call me a sparkle specialist, an embellishment enthusiast.
WSWD: Tell us about the holiday windows at Bergdorf’s!
Sparkles: Every year’s holiday window has a different theme, focused on different art mediums. 2018’s theme was sweets, so I assisted with the embellishment of candy- and clay-covered carousel horses out of Johanna Burke’s Burke and Pryde studio. During the creation of the Bergdorf windows, the working team there includes director David Hoey, multiple production managers, two to three mannequin stylists, three to five freelance designers, and a rotation of at least 15 art installers—not to mention the dozens of artists who sculpt, paint, embellish, and weld behind the scenes for many months leading up to the final installation!
WSWD: Wow. Your projects are incredibly meticulous; how do you manage and plan your time?
Sparkles: After many years, I can generally trust my intuition about a project’s timeline. That said, I’ve also learned that however long your instinct tells you it will take, you should usually add an additional 25 percent. Curves on an object, working with particularly tiny crystals, or the application of any type of shading are going to add significantly to the time of execution. In an ideal situation, I will do a timed sample of the treatment directly onto the prop for a more accurate estimation. In general, the bigger the project, the bigger the math.
In 2017, my studio was commissioned to crystal embellish half of the seven life-size velociraptor skeletons for Bergdorf’s American Museum of Natural History holiday window. I had to spec the project by going to the Bergdorf warehouse, measure every single bone on the dinosaurs’ bodies, then cover a few of the bones to assess how much time and crystals it would take for a 360-degree treatment. For that job, I was working out of my studio with a rotation of eight assistants, bedazzling bones around the clock from May until November. During the summer, we took a studio trip to the beach and continued to sparkle the skeletons there.
I was working out of my studio with a rotation of eight assistants, bedazzling bones around the clock from May until November.
WSWD: What’s the most extravagant party you’ve done?
Sparkles: One of my annual highlights is doing decor for Bette Midler’s Hulaween party under Douglas Little. We also did the “Punk” Costume Institute Gala at the St. Regis and Bergdorf’s 111th Anniversary Party at the Plaza. My all-time favorite commission for a party was designing a purple Swarovski crystal–encrusted motorcycle for a Prince vs. Richard Prince–themed Halloween party, curated by AHZ Concepts.
WSWD: What has been your least favorite project?
Sparkles: The worst job I’ve ever had was applying gold leaf on hundreds of large props, working out of a fabrication shop with oil-based adhesive and no ventilation. I quit after the first day. My health is very important to me, and I take great effort to minimize breathing toxic chemicals on the job.
WSWD: What are your plans for 2019?
Sparkles: Over the month of December, I culminated my season on the Bergdorf holiday windows, executed event decor with Tinsel Experiential Design for both Spotify’s holiday party and The Cher Show’s cast party, and premiered a new jewelry collection. For the moment, I’m greatly enjoying some down time by cleaning and organizing my studio and bedazzling my own wardrobe. In 2019, you can expect to see me constructing more windows and decor for special events; teaching intentional jewelry design classes at a metaphysical retreat in Woodstock, New York; bejeweling props for Swarovski; and paving the road ahead to new, sparkling adventures!