Yelena Noah is the model and artist turned jewellery designer who is currently working on a collaborative jewellery project with women in South America and Africa as a means of preserving indigenous culture.
Born in New York to a Swedish mother, former Miss Sweden and renowned sculptor, Cecilia Rodhe and Franco-Cameroonian father, former tennis champion turned famous singer, Yannick Noah, Yelena has lived between Paris and New York all her life. She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY where she graduated from the New School with a Bachelors in political science/international affairs.
With an internship at the United Nations under her belt, she is also on the board of her family foundation, The Noah’s Arc Foundation, created by her brother, Chicago Bulls All Star NBA Joakim Noah. We sat down with the Yelena to find out how she keeps her life positive.
One word that describes you?
In your own words, what do you do?
I am a jewellery designer, an artist, and a model. Each of my pieces is handmade locally, in NYC where I live. I start to paint my designs on canvas or silk then turn them into jewels. As a model, I attempt to embody the spirit of multiculturalism that I have inherited! As an artist, I aspire to dream things into reality and hope to inspire someone.
Who is your greatest influence in your career/life?
Bob Marley and my mother. Bob Marley because of his message of unity, justice, and love which has inspired me for as long as I can remember. I feel that I can hear a specific song, or even a sentence of a song and that will be enough to act as a reminder of what is important to me. I often listen to the album Survival. My mother is also a great inspiration because of her outlook on life, her passion, and her dedication to wanting to help others.
What is your favourite part of your job?
The unknown. Seeing where my work and aspirations can take me. The process of creating pieces: From sketching, to silk painting, to actually carving, cutting, filing, molding pieces of jewellery. Finding inspiration everywhere/anywhere I can. Collecting materials during my travels. Directing my first campaign for S/S 2014 in Maui, Hawaii shot by my mum in a very special place: a waterfall, considered a place of spiritual sanctity and a haven of protection for Hawaiian royalty during times of war, is today still privately owned and therefore preserved. I modelled two pieces from my line the Vida Brass necklace and the Malachite ring. Beyond it’s beautiful rich green colour, the Malachite stone is said to act as a protective talisman, specifically during times of travel. This ring was born out of error, and out of a mistake something new came to life. This is a Cabochon ring created with various silversmithing techniques. The Vida pendant is special to me because it was one of the first pieces I created. It is the piece that inspired me to create more jewellery, from which a passion was born for creation and adornment. I believe that passion is integral to life, thus the name of the necklace, Vida, which signifies life. I sculpted the pendant in wax through lost wax process. Working on a collaborative jewellery project in Suriname, in South America, using the medium to inform on the history of the Maroons and the importance of history and culture. I find it fascinating that my university studies in political science, my career as a model, and now my work as a jewellery designer- fields that are completely unrelated- are seemingly coming together, which was once one of my ideal goals.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
Being my own boss. I tend to be hard on myself!
What is your greatest achievement?
I think I’m not ready to be thinking about my greatest achievement yet. I have many dreams and goals that I have set for myself, many of which I am only just beginning to scratch the surface of! One of my dreams is to have a global brand that stands for something meaningful and speaks for itself, adorning women of the world with a sense of pride and an urge to travel.
What was your Plan B?
There was and continues to be no Plan B, I try to live in the moment!
What is your most prized possession?
The first piece of jewellery I ever designed! As a gift for my high school graduation, my now deceased grandfather, Bjorn Rodhe asked me to design a ring. Using my great-grandparents wedding bands, and a stone once collected in Brazil during the 1940s, he commissioned my first piece of jewellery.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
My Cameroonian grandfather always said, “I know where I’m from, therefore I know who I am.”
Please complete the sentence… I could not live without…
If you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?
Jesus Christ, Bob Marley, Mahatma Ghandi, Fela Kuti, Cleopatra.
Sustainability and consumption are two words you will hardly find in the same sentence – which brands do you think are good quality and are doing their bit for people and the planet?
I think these two words shouldn’t necessarily be so exclusive! I think it’s how we’ve been taught to consume that poses the problem! I was the godmother of the Millenium collection, an initiative made by Tommy Hilfiger to support Millenium promise and their Millenium Villages- an organization working with Jeffery Sachs and in accordance with the United Nations millennium development goals. In terms of sustainability, I think smaller, “local” brands are also the way to go. I think it’s also great when large companies make an effort to go green.
Do you support a charity or cause?
I work closely with my brothers foundation, the Noah’s Arc Foundation. It has been an amazing process to create a charity with my family, seeing what it takes to make something happen in the early stages of development and then seeing the end result- the happiness, a smile, or expression of pride and accomplishment on child’s face. Priceless.
What’s on your Xmas wish-list?
A Creuset pot set for my kitchen… I’m joking, I really don’t have a wish list and haven’t for a long time- But.. I would love new pots!
What is your personal luxury?
I think I have my own idea of what luxury means, and I find it unfortunate that it is so frequently solely associated with wealth. My most precious moments, and what felt to be the most luxurious moments of my life. It was the food that I ate that was made with love, shared with compassionate and loving people, in a place that inspired awe, and the energy that somehow uplifted us to create a magical moment.
What steps do you take to make your life more positive?
Listening and being there for others. Living in the present and not looking back. Showing gratitude for all the blessings I have now. Trying to focus my energy on others and not constantly on myself. Finding beauty and magic in the small and simple things of life.