Height & Light is the brainchild of 25-year-old Andira Sample, a jewelry designer from Long Island, New York. Self-trained without professional schooling, Sample's brand has quietly been making a name for itself over the past year, enjoying co-signs from celebrities including Lil Uzi Vert, Playboi Carti and Cardi B.
Fiercely unisex, Sample's design methodology is informed by a love of ancient history and '90s urban culture in NYC. Her pieces are bold and unmistakable, and often arrive sporting arcane symbology. As hip-hop continues to shed the macho-image that once defined it, Sample's maximalist approach feels apposite and in tune with the zeitgeist, perfectly suited to the new breed of fashion savvy, androgynous rapper.
Could you imagine the likes of Snoop Dogg or Dr.Dre accessorizing like this during the '90s, for example?
With her new collection — titled "Gathering Energy" — set to drop, we caught up with Sample where, among other things, she discussed her love of Tokyo-based label AMBUSH and how it feels to have your work appear on some of the biggest hip-hop stars alive right now.
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Where are you based out of?
I'm in New York right now. Long Island, New York.
Did you grow up there?
Yeah, for the most part. I'm from New York. I grew up in Long Island, but I've lived all over the city. I just moved from Brooklyn a while ago. I've lived in Queens and I've lived in North Carolina. I've moved around, but I'm born and raised in New York.
When did you get into jewelry and how long have you been making it for?
I've been doing this since around 2013. That's when it came to me. I was in school; I was going to college. I was in college for nearly a year, but I just felt like I didn't belong there. I went back to my dorm room one day and started thinking about what I wanted to do. One of my art teachers was talking about height and light, and basilicas in Rome. That's how I came up with the name.
After that, I didn't know what I wanted to do. I was just drawing things out, like logos and stuff, and then I just drew my first piece — a dripping ankh. From there, I got into jewelry.
Could you expand on the name a bit further?
My art teacher said that the basilicas in Rome, like the most powerful ones, were ones that were the tallest, that had the most light shine in. She basically said they were about height and light.
I just thought about it in ways of being, you know, of things that elevate you. Things that elevate your mind or physically elevate. Like going up in life and then having knowledge. I figured the words can mean so many things. But for me, it's about elevation.
Do you have any kind of formal training then, when it comes to silversmithing or making jewelry?
I didn't have any training. I was into ancient Egyptian culture or Ancient Kemet.
I would draw out what I related to. It all started for me with drawing. I researched different manufacturers and I was fortunate to meet some people in upstate New York. They schooled me on the different kinds of metals and things like pricing.
When I got the idea to actually design jewelry that was around the time I had moved to North Carolina. I was in New York by myself for a while, and my mom left to move to North Carolina, so I was down there. I had a lot of free time. I started thinking about it more.
What was your first piece?
My first piece was the aforementioned Dripping Ankh. The Ankh symbolizes eternal life in ancient Egyptian culture. The drips symbolize purity. I think to this day people still connect with that piece strongly.
What else inspires you, history aside?
I'm from New York, so I grew up on jewelry. The gold jewelry, the Timberlands and vintage Jordans. That was the thing in school, you had to have all the Jordans that came out. My mom was broke, but I was like "Yo, I need these Jordans," whatever I've got to do.
Did you always intend for your jewelry to be unisex?
Everything is unisex because that's how I look at life. There's no division. Sometimes I wear men's clothing; sometimes I wear female's clothing.
I want the design to be right in the middle. It's universal, so anybody can connect with it. That's what I try to do with everything, make it universal rather than categorize it.
I think that reflects the current hip-hop zeitgeist, too. Rappers nowadays are more open to experimenting with "out there" pieces.
It's like a blend of ancient and new. I call it very ancient, very new. It's like the blend between the two. I think that's just me: I blend...Like even my style is blended between the two. I try to keep that, so there's no date on there. You can place it in any time.
I keep it like that because at the same time everything comes back around and comes full circle. The styles from the '90s, or the '80s or in the '70s are here now, but in a new way. I try and make my pieces like that — drawing inspiration from the past while adding something current.
Are there any other jewelry designers out there that inspire you?
My favorite right now has to be AMBUSH. They are on another level. There's also this guy who is New York-based named Baba Heru. When it comes to Egyptian pieces, he's one of the pioneers in New York. He's made stuff for the likes of Erykah Badu. I went to his studio and he's next level.
But when it comes to fashion jewelry, I would definitely say AMBUSH. I remember the POW jewelry came out when I was in high school. I've seen everybody wearing it and the fact it's still relevant is amazing. The designs were so sick.
AMBUSH's exaggerated approach is similar to how I work. In my pieces, I try to make the designs really big because I want you to see it. When you see a Height & Light piece, I want you to think "Oh, that's Height & Light." I'm inspired by them in that way. That's the way that we connect, by the exaggeration in our pieces. Everything is way over the top.
I love the versatility of the designs.
I want it to be mix and match. Even with the belt chains too. A lot of people that I make belt chains for will wear them around their neck. I make everything detachable so that you can just clip this off and make this into a bracelet and then you have a new piece. Being able to mix and match stuff makes it fun. You aren't limited to just one way.
How did you feel when you saw Lil Uzi Vert wearing one of your pieces?
It was amazing. He was the first person to actually rock one of my wallet chains. I had made them two or three years before. A friend of mine told me he was in New York and was like "Yo, come through I know you want to give him a piece of yours." He was doing a party for him. I went and he was really cool; I met him and gave him the piece. I think I connected with him because we were both Leos. He still wears my wallet chains.
Can you break down the pieces you've done for Carti and Cardi B?
For Cardi B, I had some pieces in my hometown, in a Long Island store called Worthy. Cardi wanted to shoot her video in there.
I knew nothing about it: the guy that actually connected me with the store, he was the one that made it happen. I was literally just watching her video and I saw my Dripping Ankh piece. It played a big role in the video. I didn't know until I actually seen it. Somebody hit me up and was like, "Yo, your jewelry is in there." I have to thank the store for that! I guess she just gravitated to it. To me, it's cool that it happened in my hometown, and her being another female. I'm trying to empower all females around me.
It's so cool that she picked it out!
Yeah, it was. With Carti, I did some work for another brand. I met him and gave him the pieces and he liked them. It's cool because I like the way Carti dresses: he's really cool. I wanted to see him in my designs because I knew he would crush it. I like the way his pants fit etc. So I knew it would look good on him.
What can you tell us about the latest collection then? What was it directly inspired by?
It's called the "Gathering Energy" collection. It's focused on gathering energy from the sun and how important the sun is. If you're at home all day and have the blinds closed, that can be depressing. Me being a Leo, I'm connected to the sun.
So I made a collection inspired by it. I connected with the ruler Akhenaten and the 18th dynasty of Egypt. He worshiped the sun. I took images from that time and connected them with my own to make that collection. It comprises chokers, rings, necklaces.
Do you have any set goals for the rest of 2018? What are your main ambitions?
To expand. I'm trying to expand mentally, physically, spiritually. I don't like to say too much because I'm an in-the-moment type of person. As it happens, it comes to me.
I've been blessed to do a collaboration with this store in Miami called UNKNWN. I've been doing the custom wallet belt chains. Considering the store is called UNKNWN and I'm Height and Light, the campaign is called "The Future is Unknown." It'll make sense later.
— Cop the UNKWN x Height & Light collection when it drops Saturday, February 3. For more jewelry, find out how the rules are changing for men.