Jewelry designer Hart Hagerty, 30, works out of a sun-drenched studio a few blocks from her childhood home at The Confederate Home and College in Charleston, SC. Once a boarding house for women and children who had lost men in the Civil War, today it functions as a residence of sorts for artists of every ilk. “My father begged me not to make my work place public,” Hagerty tells me in the very room she was asked to keep secret. “It’s one of the few untouched places in this city, and almost everyone who lives or works here has been in Charleston for generations.” (Hagerty can trace her own lineage back to the 1700s, and her mother, a poet, rented space here in the 1990s.)
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We’re sitting on a sofa Hart purchased for $75 at a yard sale, then had reupholstered in pink velvet. Across the room, a gold antique mirror hangs over the stone fireplace, with a frayed black-and-white photo of her paternal grandmother, flanked by men in military uniform, tucked into the bottom left corner. “My grandmother was known for having these wild full-moon parties on Sullivan’s Island back in the 1960s,” Hagerty says. “Everyone would get drunk on bourbon and go swimming in the ocean.”
Hargerty comes from a long line of free-spirited women, and in Charleston, land of the polo shirt and college hoodie, you can spot her from a mile away. She typically wears white Rag & Bone t-shirts, vintage Levis, and black leather Isabel Marant belts, and she’s a walking advertisement for her cult tassel earrings. (During the 48 hours we spent together, I saw her in at least six pairs.) “Everyone in my family is an artist, so I’ve always been a little bit quirky,” she says. “And I don’t like to stay put for very long.” That restlessness is, in fact, what put her on the map. After graduating from Vanderbilit University in 2009, where she majored in Mandarin, Hagerty spent five years in Shanghai as a bilingual journalist. In 2013, she launched a modest line ofinspired by traditional Chinese designs and produced entirely by Chinese artisans. Hargerty leveraged her storytelling experience to create relatable branding (each pair of tassels comes with a care card that says, “Babes, please read before wearing your #HartEarrings) and used Instagram to give followers a look behind the scenes. The line exploded. Today, Hart ships all over the world, and tassel earrings of every color and size are propped up on white shelves and tucked into woven baskets around her studio.
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While she’s known for her earrings, jackets are Hagerty’s first love. During her time in China, she collected traditional embroideries, textiles, and buttons, and once home, began putting them on jackets for her friends. After posting a few photos of the finished products on Instagram, Hagerty was flooded with requests for custom orders. Now her studio doubles as an atelier for bespoke outerwear. “Jackets are like these beautiful shells that you can dress up or down, and these are my highest form of creative expression to date, ” she says. “They’re also the most substantial item of clothing that would echo the value of these embroideries. I’m not in the business of just throwing a patch on something. I could never put these on jeans or t-shirts, for example. I don’t want to degrade them like that.”
The embroideries she’s referring to are handwoven by Miao minorities, the non-Han Chinese who primarily live in the provinces across Southwest China. Hagerty works directly with Miao women to source her materials, and by doing so, is helping to keep the art of hand-made needlework alive. Today, more than 90 percent of Miao embroidery on the market is machine-made.
The jackets are entirely customizable, from the inner lining (in addition to the embroideries, Hagerty also stockpiles vintage Chinese fabrics and colorful textiles from Rajasthan) to the buttons (like raw denim hand-tacked into a traditional Chinese frog knot). Choose between a green Canadian army coat or a tweed boucle “Shanghai” jacket—a modern take on Chanel—that comes in either navy, black, white, or pink. “I like to think of the jackets as canvases for whatever the heart desires,” Hagerty says. “I once put blue embroidery in a white jacket for a bride. It was a pretty inventive ‘something blue.” A local seamstress deconstructs the jacket to build the embroidery into the seams (meaning, the embroidery isn’t simply “patched on;” it’s built into the jacket for a higher-quality finish and feel).
“I keep the whole thing very personal,” says Hagerty, of her jacket-making business. “So much so that the customer has to come to my studio to have the jacket made. There’s something that gets lost when you do this over email. Plus, it’s lot more fun to have some wine and cheese together, and sort through my giant basket of textiles.”
Prices begin at $1,400, and jackets typically take four to six weeks to produce. Click through the slideshow to see the custom-made process from start to finish, and get a peek inside Hagerty’s studio.