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Fashion / Style File

This Cowgirl Jewelry Designer Shows Style Lives on the Ranch

How Madison McKinley Isner’s Western Chic is Turning Heads

BY // 03.08.18
photography Tony Krash

In the pool house behind her parents’ contemporary-art filled Highland Park home, jewelry designer Madison McKinley Isner is at work inside her chic small studio. Dressed in distressed denim and delicate gold charm necklaces, the fresh-faced beauty is perhaps the most stylish human to have ever worked as a ranch hand.

Pursuing her love of fashion, Isner attended New York’s Parsons School of Design. After three years, she transferred to University of Texas at Austin, ultimately earning a degree in fine arts. Post graduation, Isner seized the opportunity to do something she’d always wanted to do: live off the land at her family’s ranch in Buffalo, Wyoming.

While Isner had spent summers at Steerhead Ranch, this was altogether different — a permanent, nine-month living arrangement, where she did all the work of a full-time cowboy, often spending 10-hour days on horseback rounding up cattle.

With nothing but nature for miles (the nearest civilization is a Walmart about an hour away), the experience recalls a Theodore Roosevelt vibe.

“I do not believe there ever was any life more attractive to a vigorous young fellow than life on a cattle ranch,” Roosevelt wrote in his autobiography. “It taught a man self-reliance, hardihood, and the value of instant decision.”

While Roosevelt may not have split his time between herding cattle and designing jewelry, Isner certainly adopted those very qualities. “It’s the cowboy lifestyle out there,” she says. “If you want something, you make it.” And make it, she did. From the wild heart of Wyoming, her jewelry line took shape.

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In that spirit, all Madison McKinley pieces are made by hand in Wyoming and Texas, including a collection of gold-plated cuffs and chokers hand-forged in the ranch’s workshop alongside the horseshoes. Isner designs with strong-willed women in mind.

An early inspiration was Shelby Vandenbrink, a blacksmith at Steerhead who Isner says is beautiful and stronger than most of her male counterparts on the ranch. (She’s also often the one hand-forging said cuffs and chokers.)

Isner relishes every opportunity to collaborate with her business partner and mother, Karla McKinley, who is a breast-cancer survivor, an art collector, and a style setter in her own right.

“She’s got such a great eye,” Isner says of her mom, who is CEO of the company.

At her workspace in Dallas, necklaces hang from rustic antlers alongside bits of inspiration. On her desk sits an antiquated cowboy hat that belonged to her great-grandfather — something she believes was gifted to him by the chief of a local Native American tribe.

Her appreciation for family history and treasures was the starting point for her new pieces, which are embellished with charms picked up during Isner’s own travels or from clients’ personal collections. “There are so many material items out there,” she says. “I like any way to make things personal.”

Isner’s mastery of western-chic is already turning heads. She recently secured a brand partnership with Veronica Beard and she is working on a collaboration with Wrangler, which recently featured her jewelry in a campaign.

It’s been quite the year for Isner. Between life on the ranch and launching her jewelry business, in December 2017 she married longtime boyfriend, professional tennis player John Isner. Nowadays she spends much of her time working from the road, accompanying her husband to tournaments, but part of her heart is always in Wyoming.

“I can’t wait to go back,” she says. “I miss driving my four-wheeler. And my truck!”

 

Age: 25  Occupation: Jewelry Designer and Creative Director, Madison McKinley Tools of the Trade: Adventurous Spirit. Stylish DNA. Blacksmith Forge. 

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