In The Studio With Suzzan Atala: Meet The Designer Behind TUZA
Embodying the strength, resilience, and beauty cherished by its founder Suzzan Atala, contemporary jewelry line TUZA has finally planted permanent roots in downtown NYC, bringing with it the spirit and energy of Atala’s place of origin, Mexico City. TUZA sources its materials from artisans in both cities, and prides itself in embracing the essence of both, while staying minimal in terms of design. We sat down with the designer behind the simplistic geometric metal shapes, fun chunky charms, and bright beautiful modern color pieces, to talk about her design process in the studio.
Could you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about who you are? Where are you from and how did you get to where you are today?
My name is Suzzan Atala. I am a jeweler and I have a brand called TUZA. I am proudly from Mexico City! And though I have achieved so much in past years, I’m still nowhere near where I want to be professionally. I believe in my team and myself and I know we are growing every day and we will get to where I want us to be for the future. Most importantly, I’ve been incredibly lucky to have the love and support of my family. They have been an inspiration and a source of unconditional encouragement for me.
How did growing up in Mexico City inspire you as an artist?
Mexico City is such a magical and surreal place where culture, colors, flavors, and smells are constantly bursting. It’s easy to take that for granted when you grow up in such a unique and special place. It wasn’t until I moved and came back for the holidays that I could see it with fresh eyes and appreciate it for all its unique circumstances. I believe that my Mexican heritage is distinctly present in my designs, perhaps not in an obviously referential way, but rather in the way that I find inspiration in unexpected places and beauty in the everyday activities of a culture.
Talk to us about your creative journey—what led you to making jewelry?
I went to art school in London and have always been curious to understand the ways materials can be worked and transformed. Jewelry is special to me because it is not ephemeral. Like art, it is something to preserve and cherish, so whenever I design something I feel a great responsibility to make it special.
How do you pick what materials to use? How did this transition as you mastered your craft? Are there some materials that you just naturally gravitate to?
Since starting Tuza, I’ve used sterling silver for all my pieces. The gold pieces are 14k gold-plated sterling silver. I’m interested in working with fine metals, materials that are never devalued. I want my clients to know that whatever they purchase from us is an investment, something that they can pass on to other generations, not only for their design, but for the object’s material. I aim for my designs to be relevant yet timeless.
Where do you source all your materials?
We outsource them from different suppliers in Mexico, many of them are artisans from Taxco, a village close to Mexico City.
Your collections represent such a wide variety of talent from simplistic geometric metal shapes to fun chunky charms to bright beautiful contemporary color pieces. How do you determine the theme for each collection?
I usually find my inspiration in music, most of my collections are based on a specific song, usually from the 80s, that I will listen to and translate into images. I’ll watch each song’s video, see the color palette and make a sort of mood board from there that I base my designs on. For example Rio, by Duran Duran, Avalon, by Roxy Music, Never Tear us Apart from INXS, Rain, by Madonna, are all collections I’ve done for Tuza.
Can you describe the process? Do you ever look to other artists for inspiration? How do your artistic visions come to life to a solid physical structure?
I definitely think that there’s a lot of value in reading, going to galleries and museums, and generally knowing about and understanding the work of different artists. To be honest, though, I also find so much inspiration in people and situations that take place outside of the margins of the “art world”—going to markets, sitting around a dinner table with friends from all walks of life, learning from their experiences… It inspires me in so many ways and keeps me curious about the world.
What is the studio atmosphere like during this process? Do you have a preferred setting when you’re creating?
Though I do try to set moments aside for design, I find that sometimes it’s easier to carry a notebook everywhere and sketch up ideas throughout the day. I’m always bouncing between the workshop, the store, and meetings with clients and collaborators, and my design process is quite organic.
What music are you listening to in the studio when you’re designing?
Currently, I’m listening to “Noche de verano” by Ms Nina.
What is currently inspiring you? What designs or collections can we expect in the future?
There is a cultural and creative movement happening in Mexico, specifically in Mexico City, that I’m extremely excited and honored to be a part of. Hosting foreign friends in Mexico is something I do constantly and love, because it allows me to re-discover my own country and experience its magic through the eyes of someone who is unfamiliar with it. Right now I’m working on re-interpreting the Cesta bags, which are designed by a Mexican artisan who I met in a market in Mexico City and began collaborating with, I liked to give a second identity to the Mexican market basket with different colors and materials. You can expect more colors in the wintertime!
What do your stores look like—both in Mexico City and New York City?
They both aim to reflect their contexts—in Mexico City, the store is always changing, because it’s located on a busy street in Roma Norte. Our New York store is located in Chinatown and is quite simple and minimal, so the jewelry can be front and center. I love to decorate my stores because when I was growing up, my dad had clothing stores, and I would see how they constantly changed the displays. It was so exciting for me and I found that it was so celebratory and ceremonious to keep these spaces in a constant flux.
Are your products also available online? How do you decide what stores to carry your line as stockist?
Yes! Whoever we work with has to share our vision, they have to feel proud and excited to carry us and also carry similar brands to us. It’s important that they understand appreciate the work that goes into each piece we make.
How does being in international designer affect you?
It is a big responsibility and has been a challenge for me to find a balance between the communities I’m a part of in NY, London, and Mexico City. I try to be socially responsible because I have a vision, which is to be a part of the social changes happening in Mexico—creating fair jobs and helping the economy. The international recognition we’ve gotten as a brand has had a positive effect on the reception we’ve had in Mexico.
What is meaning behind TUZA? What does it represent as a brand?
It represents empowerment, change, strength, resilience, beauty, and timelessness.
What’s it like being a woman in the jewelry industry? Or just being an overall boss lady running your own company?
Running a business in both New York and Mexico City has been a great challenge for me. In Mexico, it’s been interesting to work with jewelers who are not used to having a boss that is younger than them, and a woman. In NY, it’s been exciting for me to find my place in this great creative landscape. I can’t imagine myself doing anything else and it makes me so happy to face these challenges and grow as a person every day.
We have covered a lot. Let’s get to know a little bit more about the designer behind the brand, Suzzan Atala. What are you currently listening to?
“Summer Romance” by Coral Casino and “Maybe Chain” by Sean Nicolas Savage are my summer songs.
What brands are you currently wearing that we would find in your closet?
Creatures of Comfort, lots of vintage, there’s a pair of red shoes I found in Chinatown that I’ve been wearing non-stop.
What’s your favorite accessory that you’re always wearing?
I never take off the ring I was gifted when I left my job in London by Laura Lee, which is a rose gold signet ring custom made and inscribed for me. It means so much to me.
What are you currently watching? A favorite movie or a favorite T.V show that you are currently binging on.
The last TV show I watched was Bojack Horseman, though at this point in my life it’s difficult for me to find the time to sit down and watch something for more than an hour. The last film I watched was Call Me By Your Name on an airplane and it was beautiful.
Images courtesy of Timothy Mahoney
Stay tuned to Milk for more studio visits.