Designers find beauty in all things

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Last year, scrolling through Instagram, my eye was caught by a picture of one of Caroline Ohrt’s earrings. It looked like a withering flower had been captured by a tennis bracelet and dipped into glue. A couple of months later it was Vanessa Schindler’s earrings that stopped me in my tracks, shapeless blobs of baby pink, citrus yellow and muddy green slowly sliding off long silver chains as if they were melting under a hot summer sun.

“It’s almost this ugly jewellery,” says Jules Volleberg, co-founder of jewellery store APOC, which stocks both brands and focuses on innovative emerging designers. “Making things that are very imperfect and very unique. It’s definitely a growing theme among young jewellery designers.” Another find on APOC was a Taiwanese brand called Melted Potato, which makes necklace pendants combining plastic beads, metals, coloured gemstones, the occasional Hello Kitty head, feathers, shells and wool threads that resemble animal fur or, more creepily, distressed human hair. They could be the remains of a house that has burnt down, and aptly so, given that the brand is inspired by “the outlines and lines of objects when they melt.”

Many of these designers share a DIY, experimental approach borne from not having been traditionally trained in jewellery making. Georgia Kemball, 32, graduated from her ​​MA Textiles programme at the Royal College of Art in 2015 and started making jewellery for her friends using modelling clay. Her pieces include rings and hoop earrings that look as if the metal was melted and hastily moulded into shape, with visible lumps and bumps. A closer look reveals that the pieces are made of human and anthropomorphic figures: naked women and men interlocked in an endless embrace for her “Orgy” pieces, goblin’s heads, and sirens. Kemball makes initial sketches, but shapes are often born by playing with the jewellery wax. “It’s a very forgiving material: you can add a little bit or take a little bit away, so the fluidity of the form is due to the material,” she says.

Schindler, 34, who graduated in fashion and accessories design from Geneva University of Art and Design in 2016, makes her sinuous, decadent drop earrings by designing shapes on a flat surface with silver chains and fixing them with resin. For her newest pieces she started experimenting with candle wax, dipping it in water and creating one-of-a-kind, free-form swirls. “It gives them this incredible shape, they look like future fossils,” she says. She creates her signature colours by mixing regular resin pigments and playing with different levels of transparency. “I can’t see the transparency until the resin is dry, so it’s always a bit of a surprise,” she adds.

Caroline Ohrt upcycled earrings made from a mix of found objects, chewing gum and flowers, and resin, from £145, apoc-store.com

Caroline Ohrt Pearl/Cigarette necklace with upcycled freshwater pearls, cigarettes, resin and steel, £295, apoc-store.com
Caroline Ohrt Pearl/Cigarette necklace with upcycled freshwater pearls, cigarettes, resin and steel, £295, apoc-store.com

Other designers combine this experimental ethos with an environmentally conscious approach to jewellery design. Danish designer Ohrt, 30, studied fashion design at London’s Royal College of Art, but after graduation reached an impasse in her fashion career and started making jewellery. “I had a hard time positioning myself within the fashion industry and I struggled a lot with the guilt of working in it,” she explains. Her pieces include used chewing gum, chewing gum paper, beer cans and caps, Nitrous oxide canisters, cigarette butts, leaves and flowers that she collects and encapsulates in resin. These found materials are then mixed with vintage pearls and rhinestones creating what she affectionately calls “my trashy jewellery”.

“My practice is very much about trying to change the narrative of what people value as materials and objects. It’s having fun and being creative with the possibilities within an object that people view as something that should be going into the trash can,” she says. “I used to live in a warehouse community in London. There was a lot of trash everywhere and the whole environment was messy, so you had to learn to love these things and these surroundings. It’s the same when I work.” Ohrt works alone in a small studio in Copenhagen. “Keeping it small is also a part of being responsible with your making,” she says.

French designer Colombe D’Humieres, 27, avoids working with gold, citing the ethical, environmental and social issues related to mining the metal. She mainly uses silver and bronze, but says it’s not enough. “I’m questioning a lot why we keep using precious materials that hurt the environment and are not beneficial to the land from where they are extracted and to the people who live [there],” she says.

She is currently at the very early stages of a research project to create a new material using recycled pieces. In the meantime she has committed to making everything in her studio, down to the chains used in her necklace and the screws to keep her earrings in place. “I love the technique and the engineering behind jewellery,” she says, speaking over the phone from her studio in Paris.

Colombe D’Humieres jewellery in her Parisian studio, Boris Camaca
Colombe D’Humieres jewellery in her Parisian studio © Boris Camaca

Freedom is at the core of the creative process for D’Humieres, who graduated in jewellery design from Central Saint Martins in 2017. “I don’t exactly design,” she says. Her starting point is often compositions with wax or plastic objects that she finds on the street that are then casted and composed together to make abstract forms. Most of her pieces are made to order or bespoke, with customers often bringing their own stones or pieces of jewellery to have reworked into something new. “It can get really personal,” she says.

This emotional, personal connection with their pieces is another aspect that these jewellery designers have in common. “When people buy jewellery from me it marks a very precious moment and it feels sentimental and special to be involved in that,” says Kemball. All of Ohrt’s creations are one of a kind and she often makes bespoke pieces by reworking customers’ old jewellery. Schindler, who personally makes each one of her often made-to-order pieces, says that she has an emotional link to each of them. “I like the fact that I produce a piece for someone, to have this kind of relationship with the client.”

Georgia Kemball Orgy ring, 9k gold, £620, georgiakemball.com, Arno
Georgia Kemball Orgy ring, 9k gold, £620, georgiakemball.com © Arno

Vanessa Schindler bioresin hoops, €150, shop.vanessa-schindler.com © Julien Chavaillaz

The focus on craftsmanship and the more conscious design ethos, as well as this personal approach is common among young jewellery designers and reflects a growing interest towards sustainability, craft and uniqueness, says Jennifer Gray, jewellery and silversmithing programme director at the Edinburgh College of Art. The college encourages the use of recycled materials and found objects, and has joined initiatives such as the Radical Jewellery Makeover, which invites participants to create new pieces of jewellery from materials donated by the public.

“The public is more aware of sustainability and they question what’s precious,” says Gray, adding that there is an understanding that the value of a jewellery piece can lie less in the materials used and more in the skills and design acumen of the designers. “People are excited about finding objects that are talking points.” 

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