Jul 27, 2021

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Designer Spotlight

Designer Spotlight: Millapani

Designer Alexis Thiele on New York’s jewelry district, her Latin-American roots, and “traveling” through designs during a global pandemic.

Born to a neuropsychologist (her mother) and a miner (her father) in Santiago, Chile, Millapani’s Alexis Thiele was on her way to becoming an architect–but realized her passion was in fashion. 

“My mother was a neuropsychologist, but started designing jewelry as a hobby when I was still in school,” Thiele explains. “I was studying architecture, my sister went into interior design. The three of us started talking about a jewelry business long ago, but it wasn’t until years later that it actually [took shape].” 

After studying architecture and later fashion in Santiago and LA, Thiele moved to New York in 2019 to be closer to her sister who had just gotten married, and whose husband worked there. They had been making jewelry in Chile for the two years prior, but moving everything to New York helped streamline the business, since so many jewelers were based in New York. 

“I thought, ‘well, if I don’t like New York, I can move back to LA,’” Thiele recalls. “But I’m so glad I [moved].” 

While her sister ultimately moved to Miami during the pandemic, Thiele decided to hang back and keep the business moving herself. 

“I can walk to the jewelry district,” she explains. “The people making the pieces are actually there. It’s one little block–just like Uncut Gems,” she laughs. “It’s so exciting. It’s thrilling. I just know that I love doing what I do.” 

While Millapani–which translates to golden lion from Mapudungún–is fully based in New York, the designs are rooted in a contemporary interpretation of Thiele’s Latin-American heritage. 

“The [Lukutuwe Collection] is based on this important symbol in Mapuche cosmology,” she explains. “It’s a symbol of empowerment, of light, of love,” she continues. “It’s a really powerful symbol.”

While women in Mexico and Peru incorporate the symbol in their ceramics and jewelry, Thiele was surprised that in Chile and Argentina, it doesn’t show up as much. That’s one of the reasons they decided to incorporate it into Millapani’s designs. 

“It’s fun jewelry, but it also has a deeper meaning,” she says. “I don’t know why it hasn’t been explored more.” 

In addition to symbolism, her own heritage and background, Thiele draws inspiration from many aspects of her life. The Objects of Nature collection features colors and shapes found in nature, as well as in architectural civilization. 

“Because of my architectural background, going outside and being in nature and seeing what inspires me–whether it’s a tree or Chilean geographical landscape… a lot of the collections are inspired by nature and architecture and our own country. Whatever’s outside.” 

Mod ‘70s furniture and even her dreams have inspired Thiele lately–especially during the pandemic. Her recent designs enable her to “travel outside of the hard times we were living and dream something nice and beautiful, something exciting and colorful that makes you feel good.”

While taking over the design process and the business was a major transition for Thiele, she finds it empowering and thrilling to push herself every day–especially after such a trying year in so many ways. 

[It’s all about] really experiencing joy, and finding that joy in the little things. I wake up and the moment I open an eye, I think of everything I can be thankful for, and I just say it.

“[It’s all about] really experiencing joy, and finding that joy in the little things. I wake up and the moment I open an eye, I think of everything I can be thankful for, and I just say it. We take the little things for granted, but acts of gratitude–being thankful for everything–really helps you set the tone and the energy for the day.”

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