Plus, she tells InStyle about her most meaningful accessories and how she feels about the return of words-on-the-butt pants.

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Kerry Washington Aurate Jewelry
Kerry Washington
| Credit: Courtesy Aurate Jewelry

Whether she's playing a badass character onscreen or shutting down a red carpet in couture, Kerry Washington always gives us something to talk about. A constant source of inspiration for all things fashion and beauty, the star hoped to bring a bit of sparkle into her fans' lives with her latest project, a collaboration with the fine jewelry brand Aurate. And when it comes to piling on the glitz, she's encouraging everyone to be a bit extra this holiday season. 

"Everybody is excited to come out of these challenging, tough couple of years, and as we're moving towards a more celebratory vibe, there seems to be an emphasis on glamour in the fashion world," Washington tells InStyle.

When she sat down to design her third collection with Aurate, Washington (who is also an investor in the ethical and sustainable company) wanted the pieces to be playful yet classic.

"When we think about old-school glamour, we often think about Hollywood's leading ladies throughout history," she says. "So we decided to create a collection that invites everybody to feel like they are the leading star in their own life story."

When designing the "Be the Lead" collection, which features gold vermeil and topaz details and starts at $150, Washington was admittedly inspired by a few of her own ultra-glam idols.

"Growing up, there was this incredible quartet of women that I looked to: Cecily Tyson, Diahann Carroll, Rita Moreno, and Barbra Streisand," she tells us. "Four women, all New Yorkers, and all of whom redefined the way people thought about beauty. They carved out a space for themselves to be artists and leaders in the industry, and they were my heroes in the leading lady space."

Singer, dancer, and activist Josephine Baker was another legend on Washington's mind throughout the design process.

"The original multi-hyphenate, she was the epitome of glamour and courage in the Roaring Twenties. She was a phenomenal artist and performer, but also a war hero and a spy for the Resistance in Europe. To me, she's definitely somebody who stepped into being the lead of not only her career, but her life—and she is a great example of what the collection is meant to embody."

Check out our full chat with Washington, ahead, where she tells InStyle all about her new collection, the jewelry she's kept from her characters, and the resurgence of one early 2000s trend in which she will *not* be participating. 

Aurate Jewelry
Credit: Courtesy Aurate Jewelry

How do you think the notion of glamour has changed over time, from the Golden Age of Hollywood through now?

"I think we perceive glamour in a much more inclusive way now, which is super important. Women like Barbra Streisand, Rita Moreno, Diahann Carroll, and Cecily Tyson had to fight to have this industry and the public accept them as deserving leading ladies because of religion or culture or ethnicity. That fight has not disappeared, but as a society, we do understand that glamour and beauty belong to everybody. There's no one way to look or dress or be, and there's no one place to be from. That's part of why we wanted the collection to be active — to be the lead. It might be inspired by some of those Hollywood legends, but the idea is that no matter who you are or where you're from, the collection is about you. It's about you being the central star."

If you had to play favorites, which of the pieces do you think you'll be reaching for most?

"It's so unfair to ask that! But I'll tell you that, already, the two I reach for most are the ring and the ear cuff. This ear cuff has so much pop and pizzazz. And then as a gift, the necklace is my favorite piece to give. You can just layer it so beautifully and wear it differently. It's delicate but glamorous.

Aurate Jewelry
Credit: Courtesy Aurate Jewelry

What's your approach to jewelry in general? Are you a 'less is more' person? 

"I really like the 'everyday glamour' version that Aurate puts out into the world. I like to have fun and change up my jewelry and accessories, but still have it be classic and understated with some edge here and there. That's different, obviously, from the way I approach jewelry on the red carpet."

Is there one piece of jewelry you've worn, on the red carpet or off, that stands out as an all-time highlight?

"I'd have to say my favorite pieces of jewelry are probably my engagement band and my wedding band. I think one of the things that's so special about jewelry is that it's fashion, but it's fashion that we have a much more sentimental relationship with. Jewelry carries memories and emotions in ways that bags and shoes and blouses just don't. So it would be hard for me to not say that my wedding band and my engagement ring are the most 'wow' pieces I have, because they're the pieces of jewelry that changed my life the most."

Have you ever kept a piece of jewelry that one of your characters wore?

"Oh, yeah. Often! I have Broomhilda von Shaft's rosary from Django [Unchained]. I have a necklace from a film called Lakeview Terrace and a necklace from For Colored Girls. I ask to keep or purchase the jewelry from lots of different characters."

As a direct-to-consumer brand, Aurate aims to be affordable than some other jewelry brands. Why is that important to you? 

"One of the things I love most about the company is its vision that everybody deserves to have access to fine jewelry. I believe in the democratization of fine jewelry — not that fine jewelry is the most important thing in the world, of course. People need education and healthcare a lot more than they need recycled gold. But everyone deserves to look and feel beautiful and have access to fine things. So this idea that Aurate was committed to cutting out the middleman to provide luxury at a more affordable price was something I was really excited about. As somebody who grew up in the Bronx, and now, you know, does not live in the Bronx anymore, I really respect the commitment to providing affordable luxury to more people."

You're no stranger to fashion design — you famously worked on The Limited's Scandal collection for years. What do you love most about the creative process?

"I love to imagine people enjoying the product — the joy they get or the extra pop of confidence they have when this stuff is in their hand. It's a way for people to honor themselves and walk through the world with a bit more sparkle and light. That makes me so happy."

Last year at this time, we weren't dressing up to go anywhere. Will you be turning up the glam more than ever this holiday season?

"I don't know. I still think we have to be a little careful. I'm wary of talking about COVID as if it's over, especially because my parents live with me and they're high-risk, and I have two kids that are too young to be vaccinated. People are at different levels of risk in their lives. But I do think we are emerging from a really hard couple of years and everybody's in the mood to have a more celebratory vibe and a little more glamour."

Speaking of being a bit extra, there's been a big resurgence of early 2000s fashion, from butterfly tops to pants with words on the butt. Are you here for the comeback? 

"I don't know that I want to go back to words on my butt so much. [laughs] I'm not sure that's where I am at, at this point in my life. I'm not cringing at it — no judgment here! Everybody's allowed to do what they love. I'm just not sure it's the right choice for me at the moment."