Haute Secrets with Couture Jewelry Designer, Britt Harless

Designer, Britt Harless (Left) with Heidi Dillon at her launch of BAHZ Bastille Collection
Designer Britt Harless (Left) with Heidi Dillon at her launch “Winter Branches in Bastille Collection by BAHZ

Photo Credit: Bob Manzano

Dallas based designer and entrepreneur, Britt Harless, possesses a deep appreciation and love for culture and creativity. Through her extensive world travels and unique curriculum vitae, she has been fortunate enough to accumulate a vast breadth of experience in varying fields of fashion and design.

Staying close to her creative roots and her ongoing passion for design, in 2011 Harless embarked on a new journey with the founding of BAHZ. It is a contemporary couture jewelry collection that embodies and is inspired by natural aesthetics. Harless’ unique and artistic pieces have become a favorite among many of Dallas’ socialites and like each person that wears it, carries its own message and style.

Having a trendsetting brand and the opportunity for high profile collaborations, 2015 and 2016 proved to be busy years for Harless. She relaunched BAHZ with her Winter Branches in Bastille Collection, became the exclusive jewelry design partner for Binzario Couture at NYFW 2016 and began showcasing her collection at the world renown, Nasher Sculpture Center and Museum in the Dallas Arts District.

Haute Living caught up with Harless to find out what’s next on the horizon for BAHZ and what is the inspiration behind it all.

How did your professional career begin? I grew up in a creative environment and have been creating within different medium forms all of my life. I started working in in the fine jewelry department of a local store at the age of 19. Then studied under several mentorships in recent years. I created my jewelry company in 2011, rebranded in 2015.

From where do you draw inspiration from for your designs? I draw inspiration from so many things. Ideas, creative ways of thinking or doing something and innovative thoughts have always come to me easily. At times, I wish I could shut them off. I want to pursue them all—never enough time in a day. I can’t tell if it is a blessing or curse. I would say that nature seems to draw me in the most.

Do you have a mentor in design? If so, who is it? I do not have one particular mentor. I’ve been fortunate to have had many talented folks give me great advice and guidance.  I will always be grateful for their time, support and belief in me. I admire Alexander Calder greatly and locally my dear friend Elizabeth Anyaa.

If you were to do a collaborative collection with another designer, with whom would it be?  Elizabeth Anyaa. We’ve talked about collaborating all the time. It will happen. We end up having too much fun talking about every day stuff outside of fashion! The other person has since passed away- Alexander McQueen.

How do you think your brand has evolved since its inception and what key element has remained consistent? Where to begin?! That’s a long story but happy to be where I am at now. I started out creating with beadwork, minimal metalwork with mixed wholesale filler pieces. I sold to individuals, boutiques and the style was more bohemian at a lower price point. After rebranding, I decided to get back to my original roots and utilized what I learned over the yrs.- design and create solely from start to completion on originals-sketch, CAD, set stones and components myself and strictly work with metals and gemstones. Also, my work is more technical in design and I sell to stores and select trunk shows only. The key elements that have remained are quality, authenticity and creativity.

How does the Bahz brand differ from other jewelry designers? Oh you’d have to ask my clients. With mass production, 3D printing and all the rest of the changes in fashion industry—I would say not only designing but creating from scratch, solely, is a dying art. Everything I create is made in the USA. I only utilize 3D with my molds to expedite production—and adds a different innovative element—without taking away from the craft too much. For multiples in production, I work with a workshop in the U.S.

Describe your latest collection? What was the inspiration behind the collection? It is 3-fold. Firstly, I have always had a love of trees and nature. I love what trees represent, I love their physical appearance and I love how they make me feel. I love how the branches can be bent, contorted, mangled up, carrying knots all around and asymmetrical but still be so beautiful and peaceful. They also represent strength, grounding and hope for change

After going through some intense, heavy life circumstances, involving some of those closest to me, I found hope in trees. When I felt most distraught I would go outside and sit in my backyard and just be in nature and stare at my oak trees. It brought me immense comfort. It was winter and the trees were all bare. I could see all the different ebbs and flows and how even though the branches were going in all different directions, had knots and no leaves—they looked so gorgeous to me. So calming. I started to really pay attention to the natural patterns and textures and it made me think about a lot of hopeful and positive things. It made me think about how trees represent strength, nurturing, protection, and resilience, imperfect beauty is beautiful. It made me think about how they are stoic and weather intense storms and yet each year they sprout beautiful leaves and flowers and provide shelter and shade again—they became a symbolism of hope to me! With that, in the midst of that dark time I began to sketch this collection.

The third and final meaning behind this collection gives way to the collection’s name itself, “Winter Branches in Bastille.” My family’s ancestry and heritage is Alsatian-which is from the French region of Alsace-Lorraine. They immigrated to S. Texas and still carry the traditions of our ancestors with food recipes, language and annual gathering at a 100+ yr. old church that has been holding our family reunions for generations. I thought of how what I was going through at the time was like being a prisoner in my own mind, much like Bastille in France. Also I thought about their revolution and how nature helped give me my freedom back.

Describe what type of woman your jewelry is for? I would say anyone that appreciates creativity, symbolisms of strength and hope, quality and authenticity. We list several “BAHZ” ladies on our Instagram.

Where do you see your brand in the next decade? I hope to expand into more select stores across the country. I would like to possible create different lines in the future—and have already created prototypes over a year ago for the start of a home/office accessory line. However, I don’t just limit myself to design. I have two projects–one is very promising– in the works, that does not pertain to jewelry but to my humanitarian efforts. I would also like to expand my 501c.3 solar energy nonprofit. See I told you about all the crazy and sometimes not so crazy ideas that come to me? Luckily, some pan out well.

What has influenced your designs the most? That’s a complex question. It really depends on the time period of when I start designing—what are my surroundings? What am I going through at that time? What is going on around me in the world at that time? …and always my love of nature wins out a lot.

What advice would you give aspiring designers? The old cliché—believe in yourself. Life is tough sometimes and only you can pick yourself back up and keep going at it. Rejection is a blessing in disguise a lot of the time! Also, in the end you have to live with yourself and where you are and how you got there. Make the ride an enjoyable one and yet keep your self-respect and integrity intact.

What is your favorite material to work with? I love working with all the different types, sizes and shapes of gemstones—it never gets old. Sometimes I like to think about their healing properties as I work with them and how those properties convey over to the clients’ lives.

Least favorite? Beadworking and jump rings. Over time I have no patience for them, even with proper tools.

What’s the perfect accessory for a little black dress? It depends on the neckline—but I say a statement necklace or lariat is a great complement to any little black dress.

Tel us about your philanthropic work in the community? I always say creating is what I do, humanitarian is who I am and strive to become. Helping others is my heart. I am passionate about working with many great causes and organizations, in all aspects. Locally, I have been a speaker, panelists, sponsor and official jeweler for many charity events such as FGI programs, RAW Awards Indie Annual Arts Awards, Celebrity Model in Legal Hospice Fashion Cited, panelists at Wade College, Dallas StartUpWeek and selected for Pin Show in 2012. I am a member of The Daughters of Republic of Texas member (My family are the 1st 100 settlers of Texas) , Co-Founder of National Go Solar Foundation-an environmental 501.3c org, Board member and chair of Night of Stars gala of Fashion Group International, fellow Fashion Stars for a Cause alum ’13, which benefits Suicide and Crisis Center of North Texas, official jewelry sponsor and panelist for Miss Earth Texas. She has been on the host committee and celebrity model for ESTEEM, Art from the Heart, Furball gala and Equest gala. Last year I was the official jeweler for Roundup for Autism ’16 and BAHZ jewelry paired and showcased in NYC Fashion Week ’16 with Binzario. I’ve also worked with a medical ministry organization and an international organization that supported women locally and overseas. I can see myself delving more into humanitarian and environmental efforts, on a larger platform capacity in the future.

What are signature characteristics of your design that make it recognizable to clients?Since my previous collection, everyone tells me about certain trees or types of nature they saw and how it reminded them of me. They send me photos sometimes of what they saw. I love it. Also, they say my collection leans to the more artistic end of the spectrum.

How do you balance creativity with commerce? That is a tough one. It is not easy for me to do sometimes. Especially lately, I just want to create and spend time away focusing only on creating things. When you are running a business, at a certain level, you have to do it all, to a degree. It is a balancing act that I am still learning and improving upon. If I didn’t gain inspiration easily, I’m not sure I could do both. I am left and right brained—which helps some too.

Britt’s Haute Secrets

  1. Where were you born: Dallas, Texas
  2. Occupation: Designer and Entrepreneur
  3. Favorite Restaurant: Rise No. 1 or Mint off Oaklawn Ave.
  4. Best Sunday Brunch: Breadwinners off McKinney Ave.
  5. Best Hotel for out of town guests: It depends—I do like The Joule
  6. Favorite Shopping Venue: Neiman Marcus downtown, of course! ;) and Vintage Martini
  7. Favorite Cultural Event: Fashion Group International of Dallas’ Night of Stars Gala
  8. Favorite Cultural Institutions: Dallas Arts District
  9. Best Steak in Dallas: Al Biernat’s
  10. Best Limo or Car Service: AJL International
  11. Best Museum or Exhibit: Nasher Sculpture Center (art + nature)
  12. Describe your City in Three Words: Big, Bold, Beautiful
  13. Favorite Historic Area: Swiss Avenue historic homes in Lakewood/Lower Greenville area
  14. Favorite Spot in Dallas: Dallas Arboretum; Sky Lobby in the old Chase Bldg.
  15. Best Aspect of Dallas: Big business meets southern charm; Dallas has heart