The discordantly glamorous jewelry of Tom Binns, the Belfast-born (with subsequent stops in London, New York, and, now, Los Angeles) artist, is resonating once more. Binns has always taken a Dadaist approach and aesthetic—break it all down to bring it back together; mess it up to elicit a strange kind of beauty. If you wore it the first time round, lucky you: Dig it out from the depths of your closet and start wearing it again. If you didn’t, get ready to embrace the sea change. (And invest in it, too; Binns’s pieces can be found everywhere from Maxfield in LA to resale sites like Vestiaire Collective and The RealReal.)
For some time now, adornment has been about the shiny, the sculptural, and the modernistic: unyielding lines playing off oversized tailoring, or anchoring clothes that were fluidly linear. Yet it’s Binns’s work that feels in step with the times. That could mean a choker that looks like it was made by a particularly industrious magpie; a string of bright—gaudy, even—diamanté rings; or a vintage midcentury strass necklace suspended from a tangle of twine and surmounted by a crushed cola can, as gleamingly destroyed as anything by John Chamberlain. In today’s world, where style is edging back to irreverence and individualism, what could be more perfect than imperfection?
As to Binns’s life today: Though he is, he says, tongue very much in cheek, “loitering with intent,” there seems to be far less of the former and far more of the latter. Binns is back in action after some time spent adjusting to pandemic life in sunny La-La Land (well, Venice Beach) after years in a loft near Canal Street in Lower Manhattan.
He arrived in NYC in the ’80s from London, which “had become too much of a village, too cliquey,” he says, though while he lived there he was working as furiously as he was clubbing, making his own magically twisted pieces while also working with Vivienne Westwood. It was Binns who provided the outsize rusty buttons—actually the lids of a cleaning product called Vim—for Westwood’s 1983 Punkature rag knits. (That DIY approach continues: Everything from Minnie Mouse figurines to clothes pegs are fair game.)
But Binns isn’t interested in returning to those heady days when his work adorned just about everyone’s throats, wrists, and décolletés—and made people think about how impeccably wrought jewelry could be denuded of boring old notions of status. Though it’s now a decade-plus since first lady Michelle Obama wore his assemblage necklaces to state dinners, Binns has his mojo back not just with his jewelry but with his artwork, which incorporates objets trouvés that he scours from the neighborhood.
One of his neighbors, Eli Russell Linnetz, came knocking recently and asked to collaborate on pieces that were shown on the ERL runway at the Pitti Uomo shows in Florence in June. “Tom is probably one of the true artists left in this world,” says Linnetz. “He lives and breathes his unique creations.” As Binns recalls, “Eli asked me to do some sparkly stuff, so I went into my archive and pulled out the rhinestones and chopped them all up and remade them. I repurposed my own work, which I’ve always done.”