Welcome to a fresh installment of the Handmade’s Tale–a regular series in which we celebrate crafty ladies! This week Natasha meets international jetsetter, DJ and jewellery designer Audrey Morehead from Tee-ki Togs.
Audrey Moorehead might hail from California but her work takes her anywhere the tiki winds blow.
Raised in Downey, California, her childhood was a whirlwind of luau parties, lava fountains and trips to local alohawear store, Peg’s Tiki Togs. She even grew up in a Polynesian-themed apartment complex!
“I’ve been interested in loud and vibrant clothing since birth, she says. “My mother was quite the fashion plate and always wore the coolest clothes.
“Rudi Gernreich was her favourite. She also loved ‘Fumi’s’ [a vintage Hawaiian clothing company] because of the great colours and styles they made.”
So when the time came to create her own business it felt natural to take the Tiki Togs moniker, tweak the spelling… and her jewellery line Tee-ki togs was born!
Inspired by the outrageous jewellery worn by 60s icons such as Edie Sedgwick, Audrey crafts her pieces using a variety of chains, beads, resin and acrylic parts, glass, ceramics, plastic and wood.
Her mantra is ’round, shiny and plastic’ and nothing is too wild or crazy in her book.
It was in the 1980s that Audrey experienced the first wave tiki revival while working on a 1960s -style TV show with her longtime friend Domenic Price.
Together they’d sit in his bedroom surrounded by his tiki mug collection, listening to exotica masters such as Les Baxter and Martin Denny while they worked on the show.
Price then introduced Audrey to none other than tiki archivist and urban archeologist Sven A Kirsten and it’s been one long cocktail party ever since!
Read on to find out all about Audrey and her handcrafted jewellery line Tee-ki Togs!
What is it about tiki style that appeals to your particular aesthetic?
For me it’s the boldness of the colors and patterns! Like my mother, I am drawn to the pure design and colors of the Aloha wear. I’ve been wearing it forever because it was the loudest most psychedelic clothing I could find here in California.
How did you come to be making your jewelry range?
My jewelry role model is Edie Sedgwick, she had the most outrageous earrings ever, and also Paco Rabanne. My mantra is “Round, Shiny, Plastic” I just love those elements! I used to make my own earrings and then repaired many of my vintage items and often elaborated on them to make them wilder.
I have a background in Graphic and Interior Design. I also took jewelry design but that was completely useless because I wanted to repair things not cast things in gold and silver.
I wanted to work with plastic! Over time my styles have evolved to BLEND with the Aloha wear that my friends wear but I would love to make mod jewelry again.
Tell me about the process involved in making your pieces.
So many things I see inspire me. I get an idea, then start looking for the right hardware for it, how much I can manufacture myself, or search for vintage jewelry that needs to be reworked into a more wearable design.
Some pieces are hand painted, some are found, other artists make some pieces and some are designed by me and manufactured by someone else, like my acrylic parts.
What materials do you use? And how long does each piece take to make?
I use a variety of chains, beads, resin and acrylic parts, glass, ceramic, plastic, wood. Each piece varies in the time it takes to make it just right. Some pieces take 10 minutes, some take hours.
It’s a labor of love with some pieces that I cannot charge enough for the amount of work that went into it but the pride I get from seeing someone wear my jewelry outweighs the time and money I put into it.
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
The freedom to go where I want, that I am able to make something people love, but mainly the joy of seeing customers wearing my designs. I was at a party and there was 8 ladies dancing and they were all wearing my earrings!! I got a little emotional from that. I felt so loved.
How has your technique evolved over time?
With time you become more discerning, find better quality materials and of course you become more skilled in your assembly and production.
I notice you’ve done some great collaboration with fellow Tiki artists. Can you tell us about some of them and which has been your favorite collaboration?
I started making jewelry for BigToe and then Tiki Tony, both wonderful artists, of course they all are or else I wouldn’t work with them! Odd Rodney has even put my logo on the back of his Moai for me!
Buzzy Meeker and Bosko make some great stuff that I love to work with. GoGo Tiki makes me wonderful ceramic pieces and so does Mikel Parton. I can’t say any of them are my favorites because I am honored to work with all these talented artists and feel grateful that they allow me to use their creations in my work!
Any plans to branch out into other areas/ products besides jewellery?
I originally was going to make cute summer dresses and hats, along with men’s jackets. I still may get back to that!
What are your creative inspirations?
LIFE! I love to watch people and nature, I see what my friends are wearing and I think to myself, now what’s missing from that outfit is some outrageous earrings! Many of the Hawaiian dresses are very high necked so I sell mainly earrings that add that pop of color and compliment the dress. For men, I usually make natural colored pendants to pop on their colorful shirts. Lately men have wanted really bright stuff too and I love that!
Have you always been a vintage jewelry lover/ collector?
Yes! My aunt Candy said I would always play with her plastic jewelry when I was a baby. I was drawn to that instead of the silver stuff. My father was a plastics engineer so I think it runs in my blood!
Were you always crafty/ creative as a youngster?
I loved to draw and thought I would become an artist growing up, but I was more into my motorcycle and my dogs as a kid.
Do you have a favorite piece you’ve created?
I do love most of what I make because it is an extension of what I am feeling when I make it. Usually when I make something really special for myself, someone falls in love with it and I sell it to him or her. I don’t regret it because it will bring that person so much joy and I can make something else!
I do love my Tiki Tony “Markesan Sun” pendants, I will be making more soon. I also really loved how my collaboration with Mikel Parton (MP / Thrift Emporium) came out.
His mid-century ceramic fish with my “bubble chain” works perfectly with his pieces. My customers loved them too so much that I sold out the first time I showed them! I will be making more of those soon.
Where can people learn more about your work and purchase their own pieces?
Come see me at events such as Tiki Oasis, Tikiland Trading Company, Tiki Trader, Shipwrecked, The Hukilau, even out at the new “Malihini” in Kansas City. I bring my newest and most unique pieces to shows to ensure that my customers get first choice for coming to see me. If you can’t see me at a show, I have an Instagram page where I post everything (@teekitogs), as well as a Facebook business page (facebook.com/teekitogs).
If my followers see pieces on my Instagram feed that they want, I am happy to make custom pieces to sell direct or post in my Etsy shop. Business has picked up and I am often away selling at shows, so sometimes I don’t have time to list the newest things in the shop. But I am always happy to do so if an item is requested. It’s a pleasure to create for my customers!