JEWELRY DESIGNER TO WATCH: MICHELLE LOWE-HOLDER, COSTUME JEWELLERY DESIGNER WITH IRIS APFEL AS A FAN

When Iris Apfel – a world renowned 90-something fashionista – is your number one fan, you know you must be doing something right! Michelle Lowe – Holder embraced the world of costume jewellery just over six years ago, but her exuberant and colourful creations – all handmade in a charming Bethnal Green studio – have conquered many hearts.

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Like several fashion icons – namely Coco Chanel, Iris Apfel and Barbara Burger – I am terribly passionate about costume jewellery. And yet creative and exciting costume jewellery is surprisingly hard to find! I was recently flicking through the pages of Financial Times fashion supplement, and my eye was caught by a vibrant costume jewellery piece. Obviously, I instantly had to know who the designer was! Turns out it was London-based Michelle Lowe – Holder.

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Michelle, a Canada-native who relocated to London to complete an MA in Knitwear at Central Saint Martins, has not looked back since launching her eponymous label in 2010!

SHOP THE LOOK:

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When did you start creating costume jewellery?

I came to London for the MA Knit Program at Central Saint Martins fulfilling a huge dream of mine. After graduating I went straight into designing RTW Women’s collections which I did for 10 years.

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In 2009- 2010 I was part of a mentorship program with Centre of Sustainability at London College of Fashion where I had the opportunity to learn about sustainability and how to integrate into my practice – I started by using off cuts and end of line materials – so it made sense to transition into accessories simply because of the smaller scale.

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It was also full circle for me and going back to my beginnings – I had designed accessories years ago after completing my bachelor degree from Pratt Institute in New York and had previously sold to boutiques like Patricia Fields & Island records.

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Although I am Canadian, by the time I went to university in New York I had been to 9 different schools and lived in several different countries – my fathers job meant we moved a lot – and I think I developed a magpie aesthetic by being constantly bombarded with differences.

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I DEVELOPED A MAGPIE AESTHETIC BY BEING CONSTANTLY BOMBARDED WITH DIFFERENCES.

Making accessories makes sense to me – material choices are limitless – ornamentation to the body is open and the creative voice eclectic.

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What is the distinction between costume and fine jewelry?

The distinction between costume and fine jewelry is primarily “Materials” and the making around them. Costume jewelry traditionally does not use “precious” materials and has a much larger scope of concept – anything can be costume jewelry! This is a much bigger arena to imagine in and the boundaries are big  – I think someone like Iris Apfel loves that freedom to create and react to.

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She is amazing as she layers on an emotional and aesthetic level only  and is oblivious to the ideas of conservative “value” and incredibly… above branding. Maybe that contributes to some of the reasons why so many people react so positively to her – besides being the coolest “geriatric starlett” in the land. She was recently photographed in some of my pieces and I could not be happier!

IRIS APFEL IS A STYLE FORCE TO RECON WITH AND A MUCH NEEDED FASHION ICON ON SO MANY LEVELS – LONG LIVE IRIS POWER!

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What are the distinguishing traits of your jewels? Where do you find your inspiration/influences? 

My jewellery is all handmade with an unusual use of materials. I am a bit of a hunter when it comes to finding materials and am just always looking – one of the drawbacks is – I have a lot of stuff – I would say this is the one career where “hoarding’ may be an asset.
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Where is your atelier? How does work take place in your atelier when you design a new collection?
We are based in East London. I have lovely small studio filled to the brim with materials  and odd things. I am a “process” designer  in that we develop mini toiles and samples. These are a sort of 3D imagining – It is design by making – analysing – adjusting – making – analysing – etc. It is a closer to a dress maker’s or draper’s way of thinking – which is my actual training and background.
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The process and material determines the design. It is a very slow and organic way to create. AW16 “Layers” was my 34th Collection in London but that includes RTW. The collections vary in size but lately they have been more intricate and labour intensive with a smaller number of styles. The collections are not mass produced and never will be. My interest is to create small special pieces.
THE COLLECTIONS ARE NOT MASS PRODUCED AND NEVER WILL BE. MY INTEREST IS TO CREATE SMALL SPECIAL PIECES.
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All you look books are unique, there must be a special story about them, could you please share it?

Look books are very important to my brand. With each collection I have strived to find a unique personality – hopefully subtly challenging the idea of fashion and femaleness. The aim is to create a real “portrait” wearing the jewelry I am the consummate “street caster” constantly looking for the perfect individual to represent each season. The ultimate goal is to create imagery that is somewhere between the edges of timeless beauty whilst addressing the moment . Age, size, gender, synthetic, race and body agility are some of the issues our models have touched upon in a gentle and vulnerable way. At the end of the day I want to present fashion in a very graceful but relevant, human and real way – I have worked with the very talented photographer Polly Penrose over that past 10 years.  We have been fortunate in that we have been able to develop a distinct look and feel.

WITH EACH COLLECTION I HAVE STRIVED TO FIND A UNIQUE PERSONALITY – HOPEFULLY SUBTLY CHALLENGING THE IDEA OF FASHION AND FEMALENESS.
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Your jewellery collections always feature beautiful fabric, how do you decide which materials to use?

I am a bit of a hunter in terms of materials and I look everywhere: I have a genuine nerdy passion for new unusual ways of using materials. I usually get focused and excited about a material and that becomes my decision – it is not conscious  – the material finds me in a way!!!
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How much time goes by between the inspiration and the finished pieces?

 All pieces are different – and it is difficult to say – we do a toile and then have to work out the finishing which in itself is so important – we spend a lot of time getting this right.  The collections are timeless; however, we often have press requests for collections which are several years old. SS14 “Fusion” is collection that is constantly being sent out – the idea was fusion cooking and put incongruous parts together to create a new modern flavour. With mouth watering colour and beads, the collection features pieces good enough to eat! We photographed the gorgeous Swedish “Ingmari” for this collection: the consumate professional and super model of many decades. Everyone reacts to her and the collection positively!
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With which brands and charities have you collaborated?
Most of the collections are produced in studio however and each collection DNA is different. Last season I worked with a designer in Mexico who specialised in metal work – we collaborated on beautiful neck “feather” pieces. I have also worked with the charity “Sewa” for several seasons: this charity empowers women beaders in India by ensuring they have equal pay and allows them to work from home. The pieces are sold in speciality shops internationally. We are currently working on a large order for MAD museum in NYC with customised colours and materials.
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What is your earliest memory or experience of jewellery?

My earliest experience is a bit tragic! My great grandmother had left me a beautiful ring when she passed: it was a deep blue oval sapphire circled by seed pearls. I thought it was extra ordinary and beautiful. I pestored my mother over weeks so she would allow me to wear it and finally she relented. I must have been 10 or 11 years old and I promptly put it on and went out by the pond near our house and had a huge snow fight with my brothers – as you do !! We lived in northern Quebec, Canada and the snows were very deep. No surprise that I lost the ring – maybe while taking gloves off? Who knows, but I was devastated and my mother furious. In the spring I scoured the edges of that pond looking for that ring. I never found it. Needless to say and thankfully, my mother never let me access any of granny’s lovely jewelry until much later in life!

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What must never be forgotten when designing a jewel?

Beauty, Structure, Craft and Feeling.

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How much do you think one can tell from a woman’s own collection of jewellery?
Everything !!!
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GEMOLOGUE by Liza Urla features exquisite global discoveries, trendy urban street style, exclusive interviews and rare jewellery reviews – a celebration of fine jewellery, fashion jewellery and vintage jewellery.

*Photographed by Julia Flit. Styling and Art Direction by Liza Urla. 

All photos belong to GEM Kreatives for GEMOLOGUE. Material on this website may not be copied, broadcasted or adapted without written consent.

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