The world of exhibitions, shows, and demonstrations belongs to a completely different universe to the zen-like retreat of my workshop. I have the good fortune to regularly travel between both, (never without a crash-hat and decaf tea bags) and it is always a journey to remember!
After months of intense and solitary preparation in a quiet workshop, focussing on tiny details with Radio 4 and my Labradoodle for company, suddenly being propelled into setting up an exhibition comes as a big shock. It involves packing everything up, long journeys, busy cities, vast halls and bustling conference centres. There are boxes and trollies everywhere, teams still building the shell schemes, cables everywhere, staging and lighting being fixed and showcases moving in. I always take a cheese and pickle sandwich to ground myself and have been known to spend slightly longer than anticipated in the cloakroom!
Designing for the catwalk, or a specific event, has a different feel and emphasis to working with an individual on a piece they wish to wear everyday. The first difference is that its main purpose is to be on show and critiqued. It has to sell the unique qualities the designer has to offer, and on a catwalk runway this needs to happen in about 30 seconds! It needs to fit with the sense of occasion as well as sit well and naturally with the individual wearing it. And (no pressure) to get maximum reward for the expense and effort, it has to be the one piece that sticks in the minds of the audience long after the show is over!
Jewellery is a small item to show off on a tall model moving at speed, so I have to think carefully about scale and design. I aim to create something with high visual impact that represents my work effectively. A fashion show changing room is a brutal place, so the pieces needed to be robust and easy to get on and off quickly. For half of the time the audience will be looking at the back of the model, so interesting details through 360 degrees are essential. For a static exhibition I try to display the pieces beautifully with visual information that sets them in context with their meaning.
The first catwalk collection I made was for a show at the NEC and it nearly put me off for life! I had created a larger version of my new Kerensa jewels – dramatic tapers of Fair-trade silver and gold with a breaking curl of a wave in Cornish tin crashing through the middle. I was pleased! They were much bigger than normal, but the lines followed those used in the original collection.
Just before the first show, the stylist rushed up to me looking pale and agitated. During the rehearsal, one of the earrings had been flung into a stack of flight-cases backstage. It couldn’t be reached without taking the staging apart. Its pair has also fallen to the floor and been flattened by at the wheel of a trolley! This was not good news. During the ensuing sense-of-humour-failure I managed to sort out another suite of jewels with equally bold design. It was not a comfortable five days, however, as their value was ten times that of the intended collection. Thankfully all survived without a scratch, and the model bought the ring at the end of the show!
The model pictured here was in a show at Somerset House, London. She wears a one-off pendant of gold and carved amethyst and my ‘Reflection Collection’ earrings with bright mandarin garnets. The pendant’s amethyst flower had an unusual satin finish rather than the normal highly polished surface. It contrasted well with the rich gold details – opposing colours stand out well from a distance. It was a unique carved stone and I enjoyed having the opportunity to make something special with it.
Depending on the event, the piece will need to tie in with the clothes worn – pendants and necklaces need to sit well with the neckline of a dress. Earrings have to suit the hairstyle and neck length and colours need to flatter and compliment. The model has lipstick to match the amethyst pendant – a brave move (I couldn’t get away with it) and she wears it well!
Shows and exhibitions are constantly offering new and unexpected experiences. For many years I moved my entire workshop to a field in Oxfordshire to demonstrate jewellery making at the annual ‘Art in Action’ event. From scorching temperatures of 34 degrees to torrential floods I always left the event feeling enriched! I heard Andrew Marr talk, Emma Kirkby sing, discovered Sufi poetry and watched a truck reverse gently but spectacularly into an artisan bread stall. No-one was harmed, but several hundred baguettes remain unaccounted for.
I (and several others) will never forget the time I popped into the back of the van for my toothbrush late at night. As I turned to face my sponge bag, the doors slammed shut behind me, trapping me inside. By the time I got out, the hotel door had been locked and I found myself alone in the carpark, without a key and dangerously exposed in my pyjamas.
During these adventures I’ve made many wonderful friends and gained valuable knowledge, contacts, clients and much-welcome inspiration. I hope that I’ve given something positive back in return, even if it’s only a bright flash of stunning purple and gold, the story of fair-trade gold miners in Peru or the memory of a bizarre night in an Oxfordshire carpark!