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One to Watch—Mary Lou Banks

A Calgary geologist takes her passion for gems in a whole new direction with Lulu B Designs, her custom line of beautiful bangles and baubles.

Though she’d worked as a geologist for over 30 years, it took a visit to a Parisian boutique in 2001 for Calgary-based jewellery designer Mary Lou Banks to really fall in love with rocks. “I filled my suitcase with crystals, quartzes and pearls,” laughs Banks, “without having any idea of what I was going to do with them.” After buying and selling jewellery for several years, she took a leap in 2008 to launch Lulu B Designs, her own line.

“I’m a very visual person,” explains the self-taught designer. “Geology taught me to think in 3D, so I have an uncanny ability to envision the end result.” Inspired by her original European finds, Banks’s jewellery plays with scale while showcasing matte-finish gems, black onyx and sparkling crystals in bold silhouettes and colours. Her pieces are buzz-worthy not only for their authenticity but for their versatility: her popular chain belts, for example, double as necklaces.

Crown Jewels | The violet-hued Martine (left) pairs fire agate with amethyst; the onyx-laden Madeleine necklace (right) can clip into a chain belt. Photos by Bretton Dyte Photography.
Crown Jewels | The violet-hued Martine (left) pairs fire agate with amethyst; the onyx-laden Madeleine necklace (right) can clip into a chain belt. Photos by Bretton Dyte Photography.

Though requests from her friends and family kept her busy, it wasn’t until two years ago that Banks was picked up by several independent retailers across Canada. And this past spring, a chance meeting with Canadian fashion designer Matthew Gallagher led to Banks’s first collaboration and her debut at Toronto’s World MasterCard Fashion Week, where she produced a brand-new line just for Gallagher’s show (he’s booked Banks for his Fall/Winter 2015 collection, too).
With her pieces rising in popularity, Banks will be launching a complete collection in the coming year. But she’s cautious about staying true to her first love, the stones. “In order to grow, I need to keep up the momentum and produce multiples of one design,” she says. “But I’ve got to keep my authenticity. It is the soul of my work.”

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