Shimmering stones in all the colors of the rainbow — garnet, whiskey topaz, lush green emerald and shades of blue from cool azure to deepest sapphire — line the walls at Wahine Beads. Among the semiprecious gems are aquatic jewels — coral and pearls and seashells, an influence from co-owner Nicola Nakase’s surfside upbringing and Hawaiian heritage, which also inspired the store’s name (“Wahine” is Hawaiian for “girl”). Nakase also sells her own line, called Wahine Jewelry, at the shop. It was this line that gave birth to the bead part of the store. After finding her own artistic outlet, she wanted to help others discover theirs.
Nakase has always been a creative type. She crocheted and knitted when she was younger, and after a long career in physical therapy, she started looking for a way to express herself artistically. She tried knitting again, but it was too slow to give her the satisfaction of completion as often as she needed. Then she tried making jewelry and fell in love.
Nakase’s designs are all inspired by Hawaii, but there are no puka beads here. Instead, you’ll find elegant, fashionable, very delicate and understated pieces. Noe earrings, made of tiny teardrops of rainbow moonstone and kyanite, cascade down thin silver strands meant to represent warm midafternoon showers on the islands. The Lava necklace, with its wood beads, green chalcedony and red coral, looks like green grass and earth being opened by molten rock.
Bead it.Nakase’s spring collection was inspired by Hawaiian valleys, so there is a lot of green, but she also loves snorkeling around the reefs, so you’ll find coral, pink and rose quartz as well. Her designs are in the bead shop mostly to provide inspiration. “We wanted the jewelry to motivate people, give them ideas,” says co-owner Volney Powlis, who has been Nakase’s partner from the beginning. He was there when she took her first beading class at a local community college. Together, they wanted to instruct people on abstracting from moods, from places, to show them that anything can be a muse for their designs. They even have tables at the back of the shop to encourage budding jewelry makers to create jewelry right on the spot.
They also hold two-hour classes — chandelier earrings and wire wrapping were recent topics — and sometimes they invite customers to bead parties at the store. You can schedule your own party at your house or the shop with a bunch of your friends. It’s kind of like old-school Tupperware parties — they even serve hors d’oeuvres and wine — but you come away with necklaces, earrings or bracelets you’ve made yourself. And if you feel that you just don’t have it in you to create, you can pick and choose settings, chains and stones and ask Nakase to custom-make a piece for you.
Unlike most larger craft retailers, Wahine offers beads in small amounts for the hobbyist, instead of selling expensive bulk quantities. And since they’re so close to the Culver City art crowd, Wahine also serves as a gallery. Right now you can find work by five different artists from Japan, the U.K. and Los Angeles.
But Nakase’s true goal is to inspire the artist in everyone. Her advice to novices: “Stay true to who you are. Don’t try to just follow trends, try to be original.”
Wahine Beads, 8877 Venice Blvd., L.A., (310) 841-2988. To see the complete Wahine Jewelry collection, check www.wahinejewelry.com. For bead classes ($45 per class, includes materials), sign up online at www.wahinebeads.com.