THE JEWELLERY ART OF: 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.
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.
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!
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
What are the distinguishing traits of your jewels? Where do you find your inspiration/influences?
THE COLLECTIONS ARE NOT MASS PRODUCED AND NEVER WILL BE. MY INTEREST IS TO CREATE SMALL SPECIAL PIECES.
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.
Your jewellery collections always feature beautiful fabric, how do you decide which materials to use?
How much time goes by between the inspiration and the finished pieces?
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!
What must never be forgotten when designing a jewel?
Beauty, Structure, Craft and Feeling.
Would you wear these fashion jewellery designs? Leave me a comment below! Thank you!
I am extremely happy to announce that my new jewelry book – GEMOLOGUE: Street Jewellery Styles & Styling Tips – is now on Amazon. I’m so excited. It’s the first book of its kind solely dedicated to jewellery.
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GEMOLOGUE jewelry blog by Liza Urla is a celebration of fine, fashion and vintage jewellery featuring talented jewellery designers, trendy urban street style, exclusive interviews and rare jewellery reviews. This jewellery blog’s goal is to encourage and educate about jewellery online in a fresh and original fashion to inspire women and men across the globe in a fashion and travelling context.
Jewellery blogger, writer Liza Urla, the founder of GEMOLOGUE, is a London-based and NYC-educated gemologist, who has travelled to and lived in many countries. She is now one of the most influential digital jewellery tastemakers. Her jewellery influence has been acknowledged by Financial Times, The New York Times, Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.
*Photographed by Julia Flit. Styling and Art Direction by Liza Urla. All photos belong to GEM Kreatives for GEMOLOGUE.
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