For a moment I imagine myself in a magical chapter of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude. Maybe it is the bizarre, surrealist painting by Maxwell Gordon in the living room. Or maybe it is the static, collected poses the sisters are assuming for my pictures. Or maybe it is all the shimmering gold and silver in never-before-seen shapes and forms flanking all corners of the dimly lit basement apartment. Who knows. Or is it just because Phoebe and Annette Stephens were born and raised in Mexico City, speak with soft, beautiful accents and interact with each other in the deepest of sisterly love? Whatever it is, I am mesmerized and intrigued.
I am shooting at the house Phoebe and her ex-husband renovated a few years ago. A nice family of six lives upstairs. When I walk into the gated front door of the basement apartment I am immediately transported into a different world. Well, a few worlds actually, all warm and welcoming. Phoebe and Annette travel every chance they get and pick up pieces of culture on the way. “I love my Afghan rug and the wooden sculptures made by this amazing artist from Normandy called Goulven Elies, who lives in Mexico and also happens to be a male midwife for women in jail!” says Phoebe as she shows me around. “The homes we grew up in were always filled with art and artifacts. Our grandparents and parents were collectors and had a hard time getting rid of stuff. I can appreciate minimalism but I grew up with the more is more philosophy.”
Annette is 27 and Phoebe is 32-years old. They moved to New York respectively three and ten years ago, after college in Boston. Annette studied acting and Phoebe was a fashion specialist at Phillips de Pury before they started their Mexican-inspired jewelry line, Anndra Neen in 2009. “We were on a trip in Japan when we first got the idea,” recalls Phoebe. “We were so inspired by their aesthetics and approach to composition and design. There was so much attention to detail and craftmanship. We got back to New York and immediately traveled to Mexico and found the artisan we work with now.” They call it “Mad Max meets lady who lunches”. They use nickel, brass, silver and copper, shells, bone and stones, soldered into artisanal looking cuffs, heavy necklaces with intricate designs, vintage-inspired clutches, and tribal pendants. When I ask the girls to describe their personal style, they answer in unison: “feminine with an edge; a mix of old and new with contrasting silhouettes”. They love designers like Dries Van Noten, Yohji Yamamoto, Rick Owens, YSL, Madame Gres and Vionnet and like to shop vintage at New World Order in the East Village and the antique markets in Mexico.
The last time Phoebe and Annette had a proper fight they negotiated about who was to wear a pair of vintage, leather Chanel pants. After all, they wear the same size, have similar tastes and share clothes all the time. Annette won eventually – did the older sister give in? – but the dispute was a rare occasion. I can’t be sure if my lack of sleep has anything to do with it, or the fact that I can relate to sisterhood, but I get a little misty-eyed when they recite their mutual “vows”. “Annette is one of the most compassionate people I know.” says Phoebe. “I can talk to her about anything. She is a wise soul. And she is very determined.” Annette thinks of Phoebe as “one of the most worldly people [I know]. Her taste is impeccable. I trust it in all aspects.” They rely on unconditional respect, loyalty and support, and share a sense of humor that has them in a constant state of laughter and fun. So what would they change, if anything? They hesitate but finally offer a balancing solution: “Annette can be a little less ADD and Phoebe can be less OCD.”