J. Alexander Rustic Silver looks to Navajo tradition to inform its turquoise treasures.
Written by Jenn Thornton
There is a lot of talk about J. Alexander Rustic Silver these days, but it is its namesake founder Jason Lenox who is on the phone; with, just minutes before me, an Aspen stockist with a large re-order for J. Alexander’s Navajo-inspired wares. A decade ago, at the start of this story, Lenox was not fielding re-orders; he didn’t even see them coming. He’d only been looking to design a few pieces inspired by traditional Navajo stamp work for his Dallas-based Anteks Home Furnishings, only there was no one, apparently, to do it.
“No one understood it,” says Lenox of the specific style he had in mind. In the antiques trade for 30 years, Lenox does his research. He scours, he searches. So unable to find the right artisan, he put the whole thing on the back burner and took a vacation to Puerto Vallarta. There, on a nondescript table with an ad-hoc arrangement of goods, he spotted Mexican silver stamped boxes with peculiar stones. It took some coaxing, but Lenox convinced the proprietor of these treasures for the name of their maker—a mother and her adult children, all members of the same family.
It is these same Mexican artisans who do all the production work for J. Alexander Rustic Silver, now an expansive operation that features a range of home accessories, from boxes and trays to jewelry and tabletop products. Every piece is informed by the craft of classic Navajo silversmiths from the late 19th and 20th centuries; hand-tooled from nickel silver, adorned with turquoise stones, and distinct for its vintage-like finish. And all creations are based on a Lenox-rendered design.
None of it would exist were Lenox not a gut-level guy. Which isn’t to say lassiez faire (he wouldn’t have two thriving businesses were that the case), but his modus operandi is to execute. Hence his decision to prototype work for Anteks, and then feeling, not arrogantly, but with the entrepreneurial certainty that he had hit on something: “I knew it was cool,” says Lenox of the base concept. But he also confesses, “no one thinks their baby is ugly.” He smartly sought some opinions and at their enthusiasm branched out, went bigger, with gusto—today J. Alexander is in 600 national and international stores, both mom-and-pops and retail behemoths like Neiman Marcus.
Not bad for someone who doesn’t set goals or game plan. In this respect Lenox could not be more American West if he tried—he goes his own way, on his own terms. His designs include both derivatives and original work, and while Lenox has spontaneous moments of inspiration, he isn’t precious about his creative process. “Most of my ideas come from need,” notes Lenox, who is likely to conceptualize a piece after a customer muses about, say, “a cool napkin ring with this thing and that.” He trails off, point made. Perhaps it is a writer’s prodding, but more likely it is Lenox’s evergreen instinct that he senses the need for finality. “Our focus is doing good work,” says Lenox, taking his leave to do just that.
Photos courtesy of J. Alexander Rustic Silver