Luminaries by COUTURE Brand Spotlight: Ilium Wing

Luminaries by COUTURE Brand Spotlight: Ilium Wing

First reported by Couture. Words by: Michelle Orman

The work of Ilium Wing designer, Ama McKinley, is a representation of an exploration of jewelry’s transformational and transcendent capabilities and its profound place in the narrative of cultures throughout history. Drawing on inclinations that she possessed from childhood, as well as her personal journey and life experiences, the collection feels almost pre-ordained, and yet Ama’s path towards making her passion her profession, while organic, was also circuitous. Originally from Chicago, Ama’s parents moved to rural Georgia, where Ama grew up in relative seclusion.

A woman wearing a Sheba necklace with green peridots and white beads, made by Ilium Wing.As a kid, Ama could often be found making “potions” out of sticks and mud in her back yard or riding bikes and roughhousing with her 8 boy cousins. Multi-faceted from a young age, she also adored putting on her Sunday best and going to church, and she credits her mom not only for being a source of strength, discipline and empowerment, but also for teaching her how to be a lady. As a teenager, Ama threw herself into a life that involved her school, church and community choirs, marching band, drama school, Spanish Honor Society and every sort of summer camp, often navigating these spaces as the only Black person in the room. Despite the whirlwind she surrounded herself in, there always existed in Ama a stillness, a deep connection to herself, which she would manifest in stringing beads and crafting lanyards.

Well on a path of world-domination, while studying for her MBA, Ama was introduced to the Lucumi/Ifa African spiritual traditions. She began working with Elders and priestesses, learning about the sun, moon and stars, crystals and pattern making, the divine feminine. Discovering Orisha provided a vessel for her spirituality, and the waist beads that she felt divined to make became the prescription for a challenging moment in which she found herself. Wearing waist beads, blessed by the Elders, who would tie these beads of intentional patterns on her waist, Ama became more aware of her body, she learned how to treat herself, how to slow down. 

A series of life events and pivotal moments once again pulled Ama away from her calling, then back again towards it. She eventually began taking courses in jewelry making and metalsmithing, becoming an apprentice to help hone her craft. The world suddenly turning on its axis at the start of the pandemic was a seminal moment for Ama, and she leveraged the forced time and space to take a leap of faith and launch Ilium Wing.

Her COUTURE debut will mark an introduction to our community to an entirely new type of jewelry. Her waist beads tell the story of jewelry’s place in history; a regal girdle of an Egyptian princess, surviving thousands of years, is currently on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Expanding on her principal collection she will showcase more classic pieces, all maintaining the brand’s core ethos of Divine Femininity. She will also unveil pieces that incorporate humankind’s first jewelry, natural bone, sustainably and ethically reclaimed from Africa and Southeast Asia.


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