CHAIN GANG: Valentine’s work runs the gamut from chunky and bold to light and elegant, and includes chains for the neck, wrist, fingers, and ears.
Photography by Janette Beckman
Johnny Valentine is creating covetable jewelry in SoHo.
JOHNNY VALENTINE MOVED TO NEW YORK IN 2007 and landed in SoHo which as it turns out, was the perfect place to continue a journey that began in a small town in Missouri and took a detour through the Liberace museum in Las Vegas. Valentine, who uses the pronouns they/them, left small town life when they were 18 years old. “In Vegas
I lived right next to the Liberace Museum. Since I didn’t have a lot of friends there, I used to go visit the museum often, and it gave me some sort of weird peace to be there.” Valentine reveals that Liberace lit a creative spark in their journey. “I was so just overwhelmed with the self- expression through his clothing and accessories, and the way he created his own world. I think it released something in me where I thought ‘I could be expressing myself this way.’ I definitely didn’t feel the freedom to do that in the place where I grew up.”
Upon arriving in New York City, Valentine took a job at the legendary Mudhoney hair salon on Sullivan Street, which catered to a wide range of clients including punk rock musicians and club scene devotees. “I think working there for 15 years, from such a young age, I was able to really soak up all the cool that New York has to offer. I figured out my own sense of personal style expression.” When they took a jewelry making class at the 92nd Street Y, a career path was revealed.
Valentine’s jewelry is made from recycled fine metals—silver and gold—and they make each link by hand. The chains run the gamut from thick and chunky to sinuously delicate, and all of their jewelry moves with elegant grace. Which makes sense, since Valentine was a dancer. They share, “I think because I was a competitive dancer I’ve always been interested in movement, so creating a piece of jewelry that doesn’t feel static feels really good to me.” Choreographer and dancer Michael Clark is also an inspiration for Valentine. “[Clark’s] work is so subversive and brilliant, and if I have a day where I feel really creatively low I will just go find footage of him dancing on YouTube. I can watch any of his work and feel so inspired by it, and suddenly I’m ready to make something.”
Valentine gives props to New York City and the loft building where they live and work, for the push to follow their dream. “New York is a huge inspiration for me. At one point my entire building was only filled with artists. The creative lives within my building make me feel very inspired on the daily, just thinking about the pieces of art that were made here.”
Though the creative life can be a lonely life, Valentine feels the connection to the New York City scene. “Every single piece that I make is just made by me inside my loft, and so I think that sometimes that feels a little strange and lonely, but what keeps me going is thinking about all the other artists that did that in my building. It’s an amazing feeling to be part of that legacy.”
Valentine’s work is heavily influenced by 1970s punk and rock and roll culture, and she has made chains for some big name clientele, like Nile Rodgers, who was photographed in a simple tee shirt and one of their chains for DOWNTOWN’s summer issue. Valentine says, “I love the toughness that a chain can bring to a very simple outfit.”
For more information and to order custom or ready-to-ship jewelry, visit johnnyvalentinechains.com DT