From NYC to the California Desert

 

From New York City to the california desert

Meet the duo behind RESPECT THE CHIEF and find out how they got here.

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It started with a gift...

Respect The Chief began to take shape in Brooklyn New York in 2014.  Matt was managing group homes for the developmentally disabled, and A.J. was working as a womenswear designer in Manhattan.  After more than a decade of product development, merchandising, and styling experience, A.J. formed a unique style of her own that was centered around scouting out quality goods with an added appreciation for handmade items.  She had an affinity especially for handmade jewelry and had developed a sizable vintage collection. 

A.J. appreciated jewelry that wouldn’t be considered perfect or elegant in comparison to fine jewelry or less expensive contemporary replicas.  She had a love for silversmith and lapidary work which Matt took note of.  She wore two rings in particular that exposed the components of their fabrication.  He was able to see the solder joints and the simplicity of the stone setting while still appreciating their beauty and restrained design.  That Christmas, the pair decided that handmade gifts would be more meaningful, and Matt became helplessly obsessed with making A.J. a simple ring similar to the ones she always wore.  He quickly learned that simple does not always mean easy.  

Inspiration and drive set Matt in motion as he embarked upon countless hours and late nights of research.  He scoured the New York City jewelry district for rudimentary tools and complimentary tips and advice.  Returning home, he turned the kitchen table into a jewelry bench and set out to make a ring.  After quickly acquiring skills and making numerous mistakes, he made his first attempt at a complete ring which was a disaster!  With Christmas about a half a month away, he had no choice but to continue, and with several undertakings, he completed a descent silver ring with a bezel-set black onyx stone.  

On Christmas, A.J. gave Matt a map tagged with all the memorable places they had been in Brooklyn as he had love for cartography.  Matt gave A.J. the ring and she was impressed by his secretly acquired skills.  A.J. had long considered selling jewelry to share her ever-growing collection, and with Matt’s new abilities, she thought the idea of starting a jewelry company could be a reality.  They combined their strengths in design and craftsmanship and sought out to start Respect The Chief.  Starting with vintage jewelry and custom work, they eventually expanded to creating their own line of jewelry influenced by the minimalist design of the simple ring. 

Respect The Chief is now based in the California Desert where to two moved to explore nature and the desert creative community. They are inspired by the landscape as well as the history and craftsmanship of Native Americans in surrounding areas.  The Brooklyn map hangs in their living room to remind them of where they came from, and the first ring made sits on the jewelry workbench to remind them of where they can go.  It started with a gift, and Respect The Chief is their gift to you. 

The Designer

Bio - A.J. Woodruff

A.J. Graduated from the University of Southern California with a Degree in Fine Arts and a Minor in Communication Design. During school, she worked as an assistant fashion designer in Los Angeles, but upon graduation immediately moved into the advertising and marketing world. She worked for an Ad agency in Los Angeles before deciding to attend Parsons The New School for Design in New York City. While attending school full time, she worked for an ad agency and did freelance graphic projects primarily for startups throughout New York. After receiving a degree in Fashion Design from Parsons, she returned to the fashion world working for a variety of companies and celebrities in Manhattan for nearly a decade. A.J. considers herself to be a multidisciplinary designer and has a keen interest in architecture and Mid Century design. She enjoys restoring high-end mid century furniture and renovating her and Matt's bungalow house in Palm Springs. A.J. regularly frequents local museums and galleries and has an affinity for foreign films. Outside of work, she enjoys spending her days poolside and exploring unusual Desert roadside attractions. Despite her penchant for the high end, she has an ever lasting love for whimsy and kitsch in art and in life.  

The Maker

Bio - Matthew Fullum

Matt graduated from The College of Staten Island with a Bachelor's in Psychology, Cum Laude and a minor in Italian. Immediately post graduation, he started working with a non-profit agency for the developmentally disabled, but after three years there, he knew this wasn't his preferred career path and searched for a change. Open to the idea of working with his hands he did a three-year stint as an exterminator, but he never saw this as a career so much as a hiatus in his life path. This interim lead him back to his previous job with the non-profit where he excelled despite it not being his passion. He was promoted as an Assistant Director, and this position allowed him the time and finances to pursue a variety of hobbies including rock climbing, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and autocross racing where he was a top contender. Growing up as a percussionist, music has had an important part in Matt's life expressing himself on a drum set, cajon, and timbales. Besides music, nature heavily inspires his work, and he pulls from his experiences growing up visiting the Catskill Mountains and exploring trails in the Staten Island woods and wetlands. Outside of work, he spends his time hiking throughout the Desert and practicing eco friendly catch and release extermination in his Palm Springs home.  


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