Anwar Hadid and Yoni Laham both really love jewelry. The model, who has risen to fashion fame alongside sisters Gigi and Bella, has been rocking pierced ears since he was about 11, and while the musician cannot say the same, he values the confidence boost of a good piece and regularly wears rings, bracelets, and necklaces. Both of them see a deeper, precious meaning to jewelry, and it’s this passion that led them to start their brand Martyre.
Neither founder has prior experience in the jewelry field, but their outside perspectives are exactly what drew them to found the brand—and just what makes their brand so interesting. Hadid and Laham have been friends for a while, and after noticing many people in their circle were pursuing creative projects, they noticed a gap in the jewelry industry for younger voices like theirs.
“Of course there are cool companies popping up every day, but it's really mostly the big dogs, the people that have been holding the space for a very long time,” Laham said of how he perceives the climate. “Here we are, young kids pursuing our dreams, sticking to something that we really believe in. It's a different perspective.”
Coming from a pure love of the meaning behind jewelry, Martyre is a brand that caters to everyone and features plenty of spiritual symbolism. Their slogan is “Pray For Us,” which Hadid emphasizes is about putting important thoughts into the universe, and pieces feature unifying, open-ended symbols like clasped hands and sunbursts. The goal is for the brand to be accessible to anyone, a goal they further with a broad price range (rings start at $95, and those craving luxury can customize pieces with options like diamonds and rose gold) as well as marketing every item as unisex. The latter concept started with the founders’ own appreciation for jewelry, and the philosophy behind it is simple.
“Every person should be able to express themselves in whatever way they want,” Hadid said of what he hopes wearers take away from the unisex line. Laham added: “Who are we to dictate what you want to wear?”
With this inclusive principle set and their spiritual ideas in mind, the duo has been working with design director Ryan Benson to craft a cohesive, meaningful line. It’s a long process, involving photographic inspiration, countless sketches, and ordering far more samples than will actually become products, but just like in Laham’s experience working on albums, the result is a trim set of designs they love, that embrace their detail-oriented but simple taste. The pieces feature stunning detail but are understated enough to wear every day, and true to their vision, both founders love wearing a range of their pieces.
“That's like a majority of the line,” Laham quipped after he and Hadid listed nearly a dozen pieces they love to wear regularly.
After kicking off with a campaign that features Hadid, Georgia Fowler, and Abdulaye Niang in a series of chic, mostly black-and-white photos, Martyre’s future is as wide open as the audience for their products. With so many opportunities on the horizon and a growing desire for longevity amidst transient social media culture, the two founders have a lot on their minds, so they chatted with L’Officiel USA about the power of jewelry, how their outside perspectives contribute to their process, and their desire to create objects with longevity amidst a culture with so much transience.
Photo credit: Kevin Ohana
How did the two of you come together and decide to collaborate?
ANWAR HADID: One day, we were sitting and watching TV and we were like, there's such a gap in the industry, and we felt like we had something to say and something to create and it started from that.
YONI LAHAM: [Anwar's] older sisters and I have had mutual best friends for a while, and starting two-and-a-half to three years ago, we started hanging out together. All our friends were creating stuff and doing things they were passionate about. Eventually, we looked at each other and knew jewelry was something we wanted to do to exercise our creativity. We didn't really see anyone else doing it, and we had a strong passion for it, so we decided to try it. A year and a half later, we've got Martyre.
Neither of you worked in jewelry prior to this venture. What struck you about entering this field?
YL: For me, it was a combination of a bunch of things. First and foremost,we had a strong passion. We love jewelry as much as clothing. We would wear it, our friends loved it, and we were so inspired, but no one was really doing it except for the legends already in the field. And jewelry is so personal, something that you keep forever. It's something families pass down. It was easy to continuously work on it and put our entire hearts into it, because it felt like something that could stay.
Your backgrounds are in modeling and music. Is there anything you've learned from these fields that has contributed to your approach as entrepreneurs?
AH: Just being able to be yourself. I learned a lot.
YL: Anwar's in the center of everything. His family has obviously been in the center of fashion for a minute. I feel like that allows him to look at everything around him, soak it all in, and develop his own opinion. He's been in the mix forever. So he knows what he wants, what he doesn't want, what he thinks is cool, and what isn't. And as far as me with music, I always say that creating an album is how I treat everything. As far as bringing a product to fruition, Anwar and I work with our head of design, Ryan Benson, similarly to the way I work on an album. We put our references down, put everything on a board, Ryan will create a bunch of different sketches, then we'll do a voting process. We'll make way more sketches than are going in the collection. And, like making songs for an album, we just keep cutting them down, trimming the fat, until we have the designs we love.
What was the design process like when you were developing your collection?
AH: We would come together every day and all throw ideas down, and Ryan would come back with all the drawings and figure out the pieces that worked. What we realized also is that we wanted to create pieces that everyone could wear and appreciate. So even though we made so many pieces that we wanted to drop right away, we realized that it was so important for us to make sure everyone could connect. So at one point we started to incorporate the people around us to see what details everyone appreciated together.
YL: It started with me and Anwar and Ryan coming together collectively. We first established that we wanted everyone to be able to wear it. After that, we established, of course we wanted it to be unisex, but how were we going to create something that a man or a woman genuinely could wear? Like actually is gender-fluid, and we would wear anything on both fronts? But after that, once we have the moral fiber between how and why we're going to create, Ryan will go through thousands of photos. We'll pick inspiration photos, and Ryan will go and sketch as many as he can. Anwar and I will put our critiques in, and we'll narrow it down from there. After that, we'll do multiple voting processes. Even in sampling, we make more and end up with less because, from our experience, you don't know what's going to translate physically until you see it. So we touch it, feel it, and put it on to see how it makes us feel. And through that process, we give ourselves time to digest it. And we'll gather our thoughts and come to a last vote, we would say, once the pieces are made. Being like, "Okay, this is the collection. We're happy. We're content."
What do you hope your brand brings to the jewelry space?
YL: I hope it brings a little bit of spirit. Right now in the market, of course there are cool companies popping up every day, but it's really mostly the big dogs, the people that have been holding the space for a very long time. And here we are, young kids pursuing our dreams, sticking to something that we really believe in. It's a different perspective. We're not going to change how people perceive jewelry. Jewelry is jewelry. But this is our take on it, and we hope that people feel the same way that we do.
You don't specify gender categories within your line, which you've talked about a bit. What do you hope this communicates to the wearer?
AH: I pierced my ears when I was about 11. At that time, it was such a funny thing. Guys were afraid to wear earrings and jewelry. I want people to know that they're allowed to be themselves. It doesn't matter who you are if you're wearing jewelry. It doesn't change the person that you are inside.
YL: More or less, you like what you like. Anwar wears dainty, girly jewelry that looks super masculine on him. He looks great. If it makes you feel a sense of confidence and you love it, then no one should tell you what you can and can't wear. We're not trying to put guidelines on who should wear what. We create it for you to enjoy it and feel a sense of pride. We hope anyone can feel that with any piece they're drawn to. There shouldn't be any boundaries on what you should be wearing or buying.
Symbolism is a big part of your pieces. Can you talk about some specific meanings?
AH: There's a lot of hidden symbolism. A pair of shaking hands is the clasp to a lot of our pieces. For us, that represents unity. You need your friends and people around you in order to grow and have union. There's no union if there's not other people to share that with. That's important and that's something that's really symbolic to us. And also, "Pray for Us" means a lot to me. I always put the things on my mind and my dreams out in the air. I pray for my friends and I pray for things that are important. Just "Pray for Us," pray for the people you love, and throw what matters to you into the universe.
YL: I think a majority of it is up for interpretation. There's obviously an underlying theme of faith, unity, release. The angels are people watching over you, guardian angels, the things that you believe in. And for us, more than anything, faith and unity play a deep part in this. Whether it's this or that, you have to believe in yourself and a higher power. It's good for the soul. You need it. And I think all these symbolic pieces and sayings that we have are navigating towards that. And we're all from different backgrounds and religions. It's not specific to anything. It's just good to have faith and believe in and pray for yourself and other people. These are things that everyone should try and practice.
Photo credit: Kevin Ohana
Related to that, the engravings on your rings are communicating a lot about your brand aesthetic and the message you want to convey. Some of them even have your brand name. How do you think this fits within the current cultural obsession with logos?
AH: I think creativity in fashion and all types of fields circulates with the times.
YL: We pulled back more than we thought. We had a lot more at the beginning. We have a detail-oriented taste, but we also have a very simple taste. Some of our favorite pieces have a little bit of text and meaning and the rest is left to the design and how you wear it. And I don't think that that's specific to now. Of course, with some of these other brands, I get the kind of logo-obsessive stuff, but I feel like logos have been a thing forever. Whether people have realized it consciously or not, logos and brands have been stuffed in your face from the beginning, and it's the easiest way for people to associate. It feels harder to associate with a design or a piece than it is with a name or a saying.
What do you think is the power of jewelry for the wearer?
AH: For me, jewelry has as much ancient symbolism as metal. I've learned about metal, like copper emphasizes energy. It emphasizes electricity, and we're human beings, and we have energy flowing through us. Ancient people wore jewelry all the time, as pieces that last long and are handed down through their family. So I think it holds energy. A piece of silver can be so important to someone. It's just a small piece of silver, but it's the meaning you put into it. If there's a pure, beautiful intention behind something, it can really hold space in your life.
YL: I think that the power is it's an accessory. Accessories give you a specific powerful feeling that clothes just don't. Clothes can empower you, but jewelry is another layer of that. Accessories have been worn, like Anwar said, from ancient times until now. They've always represented confidence or strength. I think it still brings that. Also, you're wearing natural elements, whether it be silver or something else. These materials, they're beautiful and natural. When you wear them on your body, it comes with a certain feeling. I think everyone can relate to that feeling you have when you put it on.
What jewelry pieces do you each wear most regularly?
AH: I wear a lot of them. I wear the Caleb necklace, but I've also cut that in half into a bracelet. And I wear the Soma earrings. I also wear the Caleb bracelet and the Avery bracelet, which is my favorite.
YL: My favorite is, I think, the Sinner stack. That's three rings combined, but the silver and diamond sunset stack is unreal. I wear it every day. The Sinner diamond cuff, I wear on my wrist every single day. I also often wear the Sinner necklace and the Arcadia. Those are my two favorite necklaces. I'm obsessed with them. And I wish I could wear the Somas. I like the Cherub bracelet, also. I love them all. That's like a majority of the line!
What would you like to see happen with the brand as you continue to develop it?
AH: I just want to touch as many people's hearts as possible. I want to see it on as many people as possible and hope that it holds some sort of value to them.
YL: I want it to evolve. I don't want to jump the gun; we don't want to go too fast or rush into new categories too quickly, but I want to see the brand evolve at a steady, healthy pace. Eventually, our goal is to be in multiple categories, but right now, we're focusing on jewelry. We love jewelry. Once we feel we've taken this to a place where we feel comfortable starting another category, devoting all of our time and all of our hearts to it, we'll do that and we're excited for that. But for right now, we're focused on jewelry.