Creativity seems to be more prevalent and profound in places where the weather is incredibly shitty. Think about Manchester's Factory Records scene, and everything that's come out of London and New York. These cities are geographical centres for creative because under an overcast sky and with a similarly bleak outlook, there's little else to do except retreat indoors and express those feelings in some way.
Dunedin, a little city at the bottom of New Zealand's South Island, is case-in-point of this phenomenon. It's a brutal, gothic place with a population of little over 100, 000 people, but has given rise to New Zealand's most critically acclaimed music label, Flying Nun Records (who signed bands like The Clean and The Chills), and some of its most exciting fashion designers too, including NOM*d and Company of Strangers.
Enter the latter, and designer Sara Munro, who started out by re-imagining heirloom jewellery pieces by recasting them and adding or removing the naff, old time-y elements. The resulting pieces are fresh, but still evoke the cosy sentimentality that makes old things so special. Read our interview with Sara, check out Company of Strangers' latest campaign, below, and shop all of the pieces – our favourite is the Divorce Ring, a wedding ring stacker that has been re-cast in two parts because *symbolism* – over here.
Which came first: jewellery or clothing?
Jewellery and our leather bags – handmade from vintage leather jacket – both launched in 2008. I had been working in clothing for six years and making jewellery was a nice change – it's quite a different process.
I actually started making the jewellery with found objects and treasures, then developed into casting it in solid gold and sterling silver, as I wanted them to last forever, rather than being temporary.
How do you think the two different mediums communicate different things?
Jewellery I think is more sentimental and personal, as it's often given as a gift. It also has no practical function apart from adornment or status – it's just precious. Whereas clothing is more utilitarian, necessary. You don't 'need' jewellery, but you NEED jewellery.
What first drew you towards jewellery?
I've always been a great wearer of jewellery – mostly made from little trinkets and bits 'n' pieces found in op shops, antique stores, and strung on a shoelace around my neck – like a magpie, I love wee shiny things.
Did you study jewellery-making somewhere? I did a course recently, and I was just kind of blown away by how jewellery-making employs these very traditional skills that we often forget about in our modern lives.
I am intrigued by the process – I actually have never done a course. I always wanted to, but I met Anne Mieke Ytsma (of jewellery label Underground Sundae) when we both worked at NOM*d and discovered our mutual love for reinventing traditional jewellery. Anne Mieke trained in jewellery at The Dunedin School of Art, and we design the jewellery together, then she did all the making. She's the clever one!
Company of Strangers' seems to be about interpreting old, traditional jewellery in new ways, yeah?
The whole point of Company of Strangers jewellery is to recreate the traditional. You know the ring you got given, that was your nana's but you'll never wear because it's old-fashioned (maybe it has weird coloured gemstones in it), but it's sentimental and there's something beautiful about it? I was showing Anne Mieke my grandmothers' (maternal & paternal) rings and she said "lets wax them all together and cast them as one solid sterling silver ring", which became the Til Death Do Us Part ring. Then I thought it would be hilarious to cut them in half down the middle and call it the Divorce Ring, which is the modern family way! Half each split the belongings down the middle!
One of my favourite pieces of yours is the Mother necklace: where did the idea for that come from?
I was given a skull and cross bones brooch that belonged to my grandfather – he made it out of a silver spoon or something when he was away at WWII – I loved the longing and sentimentality it had! I started collecting remembrance antique pieces especially from around this period and it struck me how many Mother teacups and brooches I came across. We redrafted an antique Mother brooch into a knuckle duster ring and a chunky necklace.
It's like a sign of respect for you if you are a Mother or for your own Mother – like a momento for all they do for you.
What are you working on at the moment?
Anne Mieke and I are working on a new collection, developing our concept of splitting and recasting our family jewels, but this time setting stones into wax and hiding stones so they are more secret and sentimental to the wearer, rather than being for show for others to see.
I recently went to Japan and love how they repair their broken ceramics with gold solder – they make the imperfections even more beautiful. We're giving our original pieces a completely new take on life!
Imperfections are the most beautiful thing in my eyes – beautiful mistakes are the best.
Published on February 5th, 2015 by Courtney Sanders
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