Those frightening dentures that Lady Gaga popped into her mouth at the YouTube Music Awards last night (and wears on the cover of her new single, “Dope”) are actually a bracelet. A “dental cuff,” to be specific, by 25-year-old jewelry designer Danielle Hills, who was first contacted by Gaga’s design team in 2010. She was then just a senior at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, studying fine-art jewelry and metals, and a few of her pieces had been picked up by style blogs. “Someone called and asked if Gaga could use one of my rings for a video,” Hills told the Cut over the phone today. “I thought it was a joke at first.”
Gaga didn’t wind up wearing the ring that time, but the experience encouraged Hills to start her own label, Gilding Primal Instinct, after she graduated. “I’m not sure I would have actually done it if they hadn’t called, and given me that confidence,” she said. A year later, Nicola Formichetti — then Gaga’s stylist — carried Hills’s entire collection in his pop-up store in New York. She now lives in Brooklyn, works at her design studio in Manhattan, and sells her jewelry in few boutiques in New York and California, as well as online. We caught up with her this morning while she placed orders for more supplies. “I’ve already gotten a bunch of orders,” she explained, “and I don’t want to fall behind!”
Since Gaga wore it in her mouth, are you worried people won’t know it’s a bracelet?
Not really. Gaga wore it on her wrist for part of the time, and on the red carpet, before she popped it in. And I like that it’s become a weird mystery piece that can be used for different things. I always want my pieces to be worn in creative ways, like a collaboration with whoever’s wearing it. If you think it’s a hat, it’s a hat, and if you think it’s a shoe, it’s a shoe. And it’s so much more fun for me to see them worn differently.
Did you know it could even be worn that way?
I knew it could fit in a mouth, but I’d never actually seen it done before. I love that she did that. It’s a fun piece to wear because you can play a lot of jokes with it.
Is it molded on your mouth? Or anyone’s?
No. It’s carved to look like a mouth, but it’s not anyone’s specifically.
What’s it made of?
It’s solid bronze, set with real dentures that I buy in bulk from China. They’re acrylic, and they come in big boxes.
Have a lot of people contacted you about it already?
Because my work is very weird, I have a very niche market. And I’m still a very new designer, and I’m working on getting myself out there. So not a lot of people have put two and two t0gether yet, but a lot people who know my work have reached out. It’s been great.
Why do you incorporate teeth into your designs?
I love teeth. We depend on them so much, but we really don’t think about them very often. They’re such an incredible organic form. I started using them when I was doing my senior thesis. I was interested in the concept of character archetypes based on generalized human behaviors, and I came up with this character called “the surgeon,” because I was fascinated with the idea of ripping things apart in order to make them heal. So a lot of my designs incorporated destruction and body parts, including teeth.
Do you ever work with real teeth?
In custom work, definitely. People have given me their wisdom teeth, or baby teeth, for me to custom make things. They’re like little talismans, almost.