Friday, April 1, 2011

Her designs are worn by stars such as Beyonce, Rihanna and Cheryl Cole. I caught up with Irish jewellery designer Merle O Grady to find out what makes her tick...

Georgina: Please tell us about your background in jewellery.

Merle:Designing jewellery started off as a sideline really but now I can’t imagine doing anything else. I studied Fashion design in Limerick School of Art and Design and then specialised in Accessory design at Cordwainers here in London– specifically in leather accessories. The jewellery side to my designs started when I discovered a bucket of chandelier crystal from the 1800s in a dark corner of an architectural salvage yard and I just started experimenting. I had a stall in Spitalfields selling my handbag designs at the time and the response to the jewellery pieces was great so I decided to focus solely on that side of things. My core style has always been the same, whether designing clothes or bags previously, I’m constantly drawn to symmetric prints, graphic angular shapes, and I’m a magpie at heart so getting to throw sparkly things into the mix makes me very happy to be doing what I do.

Georgina: What is your design process?

Merle:It’s a bit of a multimedia process – some drawing on computer, lots of sketching and a hell of a lot of experimenting ‘in the rough’. Textures, colour and shape come together when playing around with all the different materials. And I’m always drawn to themes of some sort each season – though they can be an incongruous mix like pylons and Palm Springs for my ss11 collection. I like an unexpected combination, that’s why there’s always some kind of industrial element to every piece of mine, to counteract the conventional prettiness of a load of swarovski crystals.

Georgina: What have been some of your favorite jewelry pieces you've created and why?

Merle: The spiked ‘bombshell’ pieces have been very successful and become a bit of a design signature of mine. They’re the pieces I always gravitate towards for my own style – they’ve a good balance of edge and glamour so they’re easy to throw on with anything. One of the favourite pieces I’ve made was an exclusive piece for Vogue’s Fashion’s night in for called the Varvara necklace, a real showpiece I could go to town on a bit – always a good thing!

Georgina: Your jewellery has a huge celebrity following, with stars such as Rihanna and Beyonce wearing your designs – how did they come to discover your work?

Merle: Luck and call-ins from lovely stylists mostly! Beyonce walked into Rebecca Davis’s shop in Westbury Mall on a break from touring in Dublin and bought a good few pieces, which was an amazing surprise Rihanna asked to keep a pair of huge showpiece earrings after her stylists called in a selection from me and an amazing supporter has been Victoria Adcock, Cheryl Cole’s stylist which I’m hugely grateful for, Cheryl’s worn lots of my stuff and always looks incredible.

Georgina: There seems so much support available for new designers, but less for jewellery designers. Do you think it’s a harder industry to break into?

Merle: Yes and no – it’s a bit tougher to raise your profile but in terms of financial support the costs of creating, showing and producing a womenswear collection is a huge feat to have to achieve, so I totally appreciate the need for loads of support for that part of the industry. Part of the reason I went into designing jewellery was the ability to start something straight away, get my style out there with no gigantic set-up costs, all can be handmade in a small studio and it’s a business that can function reasonably well as a ‘one-man-band’ outfit! It’s become a larger, all-consuming passion now but I think I had my practical hat on when I first started the label.

Georgina; Would you ever consider collaborating with a fashion designer?

Merle. Absolutely, I love the idea of working with a designer whose work I admire - Collaborations are a real growing aspect of the industry, which is exciting. The challenge of designing to specifically complement another designer’s work would be an amazing prospect but for now I’m putting all my energy and every single waking hour into my own label - hopefully when I’m a bit more established and have a bigger team together it’s something I’d really love to take on.

Georgina; Which jewellery designers do you admire?

 Merle: From the past it would be Jakob Bengel’s work and my money-no-object dream item would be a piece of Boucheron from the 30s. I’m a huge fan of contemporary designer Jessica McCormack, her work is unbelievably beautiful but with just enough edge, and she uses amazing unusual geometric cuts of ethically sourced diamonds.

Georgina; What is your ultimate ambition? Where do you see yourself in the future?

Merle: I don’t have any fixed, defined ultimate ambition, I’ve learned you just have to roll with it and take opportunities as they come. The ultimate dream is longevity for the label– I just want to keep doing what I love for as long as possible and ideally I’d love to relocate back to Ireland in the future. There’s such a pool of talented graduates with not much of an industry to go into in Ireland and I’d be so happy if eventually my business could offer them some opportunities. Despite the doom and gloom I think there’s a real shift taking place in the right direction with Irish fashion industry and as long as I’ll be showing in London and Paris every season I’m hoping being based in Dublin might be do-able in the future, fingers crossed!


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