Yvette Cortez of SalMiel
Jewelry Designer-Maker
Born in Houston, Texas
Residing in Brooklyn, New York

“New York City is so exciting. It's where things come to die and be reborn. There's so much history to discover and so many new, exciting, and changing places and art is free and it's everywhere you look. The ugliest things have the most beautiful ways of existing here.”

I got that text from Yvette on a summer morning sometime in July 2014. I arrived to New York a few months later inspired by her words and additional bits of advice and encouragement from other women. Yvette and I didn’t know then that just a few months later we would be looking at apartments together on rainy days in Brooklyn. In December 2014 we found a two-bedroom apartment that we have shared ever since.

When we were discussing the layout of our apartment Yvette made it very clear she would need a designated workspace, reminding herself of why she was in New York in the first place: to continue refining her craft and to grow her brand. And for me, she was setting up the expectation that she would be working at any given hour. It's almost midnight as I type this and Yvette is preparing her signature hammered pieces for Artists & Fleas, a two weekend commitment leading up to her participation at the home & away show in Houston.

In an interview, Yvette talked about the importance of her Houston supporters and channeling inspiration from the streets of New York.

What were your first visits and extended stays in New York like? 
I originally moved to New York for styling. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I just knew I wanted to be in fashion and I knew I wanted to be in New York. I worked at Barney’s New York and got to meet a lot of designers. I heard many stories about how designers would start their companies and how they hustled. They’d teach us about their brands so we could have the information to push their products. Knowing their stories really influenced me to think that I could do the same, that I could start a brand, or at the very least, start exploring my interest in jewelry making.

While you were taking classes and working in New York, you always made time to participate in markets and events in Houston. Why is that important to you to keep a presence in Houston? 
Before I moved to New York, I would come to visit during Fashion Week because I had a fashion blog many years ago. When I would post things on my blog from New York, there were a number of people in Houston that were engaged and expressed their interest in what I was doing.

At that point it was just a passion until I moved back to Houston for a while. Houstonians were interested in the stuff I was doing and making. I went back and I had so much support, from friends, their friends, from local publications … it’s still kind of mind-blowing to think back on it.

I would do these pop-ups in Houston and there would be people all around me asking me questions, trying my stuff on, and buying my jewelry. I loved the support I had in Houston, it was fuel for me, and I wanted to stay there to build a following in the city that I’m from.

Honestly, it was my Houston community that supported my craft and my art and that helped me feel like an artist. No one thinks they’re going to grow up to be an artist. You don’t think you’re going to make money being an artist because a lot of people don’t.

For that reason, it is important for me to keep going back and stay connected to the people that supported me from the start. People who have remained interested in the stuff I make or how I make it. You don’t have to buy anything from me for me to be inspired by you. People’s words, support, just coming by the events that I am a part of- it all means a lot.

You mentioned that when you were in Houston you didn’t realize that a great community exists there until you were away from it. How has your love and appreciation for Houston changed since you moved to New York? 
Just growing up in Houston, you are around all these great things so often and it becomes the norm. Norms become boring to me and it wasn’t giving me any fire anymore. It didn’t do anything for me at that point because I didn’t know any differently. I didn’t know how good I had it, I guess.

Moving to New York was really eye opening. It’s inspiring. It’s also really hard, and gray and dirty at the same time. All those things help me realize how much I missed nature, greenery, grass, driving down the freeway at 4am blasting UGK, all those things. It’s just such a different world.

I feel lucky to have been born in Houston. I realized how much I appreciated Houston when I moved because I would straight up fight people when they would diss Texas.

(laughs)… you still do. 
And I still do, and I forever will. I realized how passionate I was about Houston once I left it and I missed it. My family is there and that’s why I miss it. But I have also established a community here and now I have a family here too.

New York offers constant inspiration. On a commute to work you fall in love four times, you see incredibly well-dressed people and want to go back home and change. You see street art! It can be overwhelming, but it definitely inspires you. How does living in New York influence your work? 
Even when I take the same route to work, which I don’t always, I see something different every time. Sometimes I notice things that have been there forever and I never realized it until I paid attention. You’re just so distracted and overwhelmed in a place like this. There is something new and inspiring literally everywhere you look. I’m influenced by the dirtiness and griminess of New York, honestly. The graffiti, the art, there is art everywhere! I like to go to shops here to see what people are selling and what people are buying.

Also when I am on a train with tons of people I’m constantly looking at what jewelry people are wearing. A lot of the times I see what grandmas or moms are wearing. I see it and I want it and so I make something inspired by it.

What are three words that describe your current home in Brooklyn. 
Bright, comfortable, and for my standards, fucking huge.

These are all important things to me because I didn’t have any of that when I originally moved. I lived in a dark, tiny, uncomfortable apartment -- all the opposite things. These are three little, simple things that matter. This is exactly what I wanted when I pictured a space.

Even though you’re away from your family in Texas you have established a community here. I think our community has gotten much closer because of our regular dinner parties and when we go to eat at different restaurants together as a group. Our community centers food in a lot of what we do. What food reminds you of home?
Obviously Mexican food. I grew up in a big family so we didn’t go out to eat. Every meal was a home cooked meal. Entomatadas are my jam. I like them with refried black beans on the side and a fried egg on top. That is my ultimate comfort food.

Growing up I would just shadow my mom so I learned to cook because of that. If I miss something, I’ll make it.

You mentioned that you don’t realize what a good thing you had because you’re in the moment, until you leave it. You spend your early 20s in Houston. Share a story about one of your favorite Houston parties.
My forever favorite Houston parties will be the MFAH Mixed Media parties. They still do them but now they’re in the courtyard and you can’t take drinks near the art. Nothing crazy happened. People had a good time, got drunk, and you weren’t messing up the art or disrupting the museum. What I loved about them was that there were so many different groups of people coming together. There were great vibes, there were breakdancers, and Grandmaster Flash with Basquiat art while you’re sipping on wine. Good beats, good company, great visuals. You were partying at a freaking museum! I still talk about those parties.

I don’t remember the context but you once said, “home is wherever my momma is” and that really stuck with me because it's the idea that home isn’t static or a physical space. Tell me what that means to you. 
My roots are in Houston. It’s what shaped me. Living here has helped me reflect on how I was raised. Obviously my mom, both of my parents really, they were such a huge influence on me and why I’m here. My mom and my family are still in Houston, so Houston is forever my home. It is where I am from, it’s what I rep. I don’t think New York is a forever thing. I say that often and I stay here longer and longer even though I say that.

I know you want to maximize the resources that exist in New York while you live here. Can you share any projects or ideas you have lined up? 
I am applying to a program at Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). I recently took a business fundamentals class there and I learned so much. Art is art and then there is the business behind it. I want to grow my business so I have to learn business. The classes really filled a gap I am looking to fill in my business, so I want to continue taking these types of classes. That’s my biggest project right now.

I am also going to take more jewelry making classes on fabrication and techniques. There are just so many things to learn. Ideally, it would be amazing to study or do a program abroad.

I want to do more collaborations too. I don’t have leads in mind right now, but I like to collaborate because it opens SalMiel up to different markets. If projects find me, then I’m down.