Monday, 27 September 2010

London Fashion Week Interview: Jewellery Designer Merle O'Grady

Merle O'Grady and her SS 2010 range at London Fashion Week

I recently came across Merle O'Grady's stunning jewellery designs when one of my favourite online retailers My-Wardrobe began stocking the label this season.  Fierce yet also feminine, her pieces fuse retro and modern influences.  Spiked pearls, vintage chains, steel rods, swarvoski crystals, semi precious stones and punched perspex shapes are worked into luxurious and covetable statement pieces.

As a testimony to her talent, Merle's work has been featured in British & Italian Vogue, Elle, InStyle and Grazia.  She also has a growing celebrity fan list including the likes of Beyonce, Rihanna and Cheryl Cole. 

On my scouting trip for accessories at London Fashion Week I was very fortunate to meet Merle at her stand in the Designers Exhibition and she kindly agreed to do an interview about what inspires her highly original design work.

Merle O'Grady is sold online at her own website and at My-Wardrobe.  If you live in the South West of England the line will soon be available at Image Bath.  The Autumn Winter range will be in store at Image just in time for the run up to Christmas, so start dropping those Christmas gifts hints now ladies! (Not sure I can wait until then myself!)

1. You've previously worked in creating bespoke leather accessory design.  What made you move into designing jewellery?

I was always utterly determined to work for myself so after finishing studying Fashion Design and then specialising in accessory design at Cordwainers I worked part-time assisting stylists or teaching jewellery-making while still focusing on doing my own thing - making bespoke leather goods and selling my bags and first jewellery designs on Spitalfields.  Having a stall there for a year was a great trial run to see how my product was received, even though it was a far cry from what I design now.  It was during that time at Spitalfields that I got really into designing jewellery, and it proved popular so I ran with it!

It all started with discovering a bucket of the most amazing 19th Century Chandelier components in an architectural salvage yard and while I still use some original vintage elements in my pieces , moving into designing my own Perspex components was when my designs really came together.

My style has always been about graphic shapes and surface pattern, whether designing clothes or bags previously.  My jewellery is a way of creating that same geometric silhouette in a different product that's more transferable, luxurious and it was always important to me that my pieces could be hand-finished here in studio.

 2. The use of chains, spikes and punched latex gives your jewellery quite an industrial, almost punky feel yet there is also a 30's art deco aesthetic in some of the geometric perspex designs too.  What is the inspiration behind your designs?

My inspiration comes from a variety of sources, for Autumn Winter it was the angularity of Russian Constructivism and for SS11 it's Pylons and Palm Springs!  But I'm consistently drawn to and influenced by styles from the past, from Art Deco to the 80s.

The past's vision of the future, especially in dystopian films like 'Metropolis','Logan's run' and' Blade Runner' is something I've always been and continue to be enthralled by.

3. Could you tell us about the materials you make your pieces from and why you choose to use them? I found it really fascinating you work vintage metal chain from the 1960's into your pieces. What was the idea behind this?

I'm always drawn to the 60s and 70s for inspiration, so to use actual chain from those periods, adds that bit of original styling to my modern pieces. I love that juxtaposition of old and new, just as I love using natural semi-precious stones with man-made laser-cut Perspex.

Vintage chains have a great chunky appearance too which I love, and often have unusual textures and pattern or mixed metals. I source bulk or original factory packs of vintage chain from the US - I've found some brilliant suppliers who I first found through hours trawling Ebay or Etsy!

AW 2010 Bombshell Necklace and Bracelet

4. This is real statement jewellery!  Do you have a specific kind of woman in mind when you design?

I don't really design with a specific woman in mind though I imagine the women who like my jewellery aren't afraid to be pretty bold and decisive with their look.  The beauty of designing accessories is that the wearer can really interpret my designs in hundreds of different ways.

In terms of women in the public eye whose look I admire it would have to be Daphne Guinness for her interpretation of directional luxury and I love Roisin Murphy and Mary-Kate Olsen's style too.

5. We'd love some style tips!  Talk us through how you would wear a couple of your favourite pieces from the Autumn Winter collection. 

The Spiked pearl pieces, especially the Bombshell bracelet and Bombshell necklace are my go to items for this season for day or evening- the mix of ladylike pearls for glamour and metallic spikes for edge seems to work with a multitude of outfits.

The draped chain Darkwing necklace looks amazing with a great blazer or leather jacket, longline white shirt and skinny trousers (with supersized wedges of course!).

For statement earrings like the pendular earrings I don't wear any other jewellery at all and team them with a plain colour dress with draping or interesting detailing - I especially love Preen Line and Acne's dresses this season.

AW 2010 Pendular earrings by Merle O'Grady
AW 2010 Darkwing Necklace by Merle O'Grady
6. What can we look forward to in Spring/Summer 2011?

The inspiration for SS11 started with Slim Aaron's photographs from the 60s - his images really capture the pristine, perfectly manicured surface of the jet-set lifestyle at the time, which especially inspired the more opulent retro-styled white, turquoise and gold pieces in my collection. My aim was to create pieces that could work equally well with swimwear in the in the brightest daytime sunshine and when upping the glamour for balmy evenings.

I've also been inspired by pylons of all things this season! I've used a type of transparent pastel Perspex usually used for shop fittings to create 3D beads inspired by the ceramic insulators on pylons and used 'meccano-esque 'connectors in gold and silver to create silhouettes.

I've also introduced industrial brass tubing,cut for me by a model steam engine-maker which I've then finished and plated with gold and silver. A mixture of pylons and Palm Springs is bit of an unusual combination but I think it works!


  1. Ooh, thanks for the her pieces! You know me well.

    ♥ V

  2. Amazing pieces, very Deco-inspired. You are naughty to keep showing us this wonderful jewellery. xxx

  3. You are a continuous source of information and beauty.
    Qué grande eres!!!

  4. These are incredible pieces - and thanks for the interview. Jewelry is so much better when you know the artist behind the work.

  5. @Grit and Glamour - they looked very you, glad you liked them.
    @Vintage Vixen - I'm terrible, I know, always trinket hunting, but I like to support good designers
    @sacramento - gracias hija!
    @Jessica - I agree totally and Merle gave some great answers that gave some real insight into the pieces - who would have thought ugly pilons could be the influence for amazing jewellery
    @daisymay - Thanks! was fun thinking up the questions, hope to get more chances to do more of this in the future.

  6. What a great gal! I love these pieces and can definitely see the vintage sci-fi influence in her pieces. Job well done : ).

  7. Oh, V, thank you! This is such a great interview but even more amazing: I am absolutely sure she is the designer who did the spikey ring, because it was at My Wardrobe's press day, and I shot other pieces of hers as well, just didn't include in this post because I was just doing rings.

    I didn't remember the name yesterday and didn't want to bother Susie @ My Wardrobe because they were moving. So I'll add her name - and a click thru to this post.

    re: press days, it's a question of getting on various PR company's and brands radar. This season I seem to be on a lot of people's lists but it's so random - there are others I didn't get invited to but friends with smaller blogs did and they'd bring me along... I even lost one 'friend' who used me to get into press days. Everyone warned me about her and I didn't care but there are some that are strictly invite only and it came down to she cared more about the press days than our friendship. Well luckily I've got enough friends!

    Do you live IN London? We should meet sometime. If you'd like, email me and let's make a plan!

    THANK YOU for sourcing this - inadvertently. Hope you're staying warm this weekend. xx


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