Studio Visit: Imogen Belfield

I met up with jewellery designer and fellow south Londoner Imogen Belfield this summer, she’d just got into her Goldsmith’s Studio, it was all pristine and brand new. Run-ins in Frank’s Campari Bar notwithstanding, we recently had our first catchup since the summer and I got to snoop around at her now-familiar workspace read on for the full interview…

What have you been up to since I last saw you?

London fashion week was amazing, I got sponsorship this season from the British Fashion Council which was amazing, so I did the Rock Vault in Somerset House. It was a collaboration between the BFC and the International Palladium Board, it was curated by Stephen Webster and he chose 12 designers.

Alongside our new collections for Spring Summer 13 we were asked to design a ring out of one ounce of palladium. It was kind of a way of championing this metal, because it’s relatively new, it’s incredibly new and incredibly but it’s got this luminosity to it, sort of like white gold.

To work with it’s a real brute! It’s definitely not soft and it tends to, depending on how you work with it, if you’re heating it it has an incredibly high melting point which means to heating it up for solder is very hard. It can be incredibly brittle during the actual casting process so it can fracture and break but this finished article is incredibly strong.

Do you feel you’ve got the hang of palladium?

No… (laughs) No! I’ve only tried one ring so far and it did take several attempts, but there are so many different things, there’s one designer Lara Bohinc and she done this incredible thing, and she’s drawn it out and it’s almost as fine as a thread of silk. And you can do your designs on CAD or CAM and get them spurted out the other end, so I definitely would like to explore it.

Tell me about your current Warrior collection

My work is kind of a progression, for the latest collection, the Warrior collection is a development of the Gladiator collection you saw in the summer. With the Gladiator collection it was all about big and bold, creating these pieces to epitomise the Greek and Roman idea of the Olympics with this medallion feel to it. But the Warrior is slightly more toned down, and things are a little bit more delicate, I’ve got slave bracelets with the ring and the chain and then some more knuckledusters and necklaces and bracelets.

So it’s taking the previous collection and scaling it down?

Yeah, there’s so much breadth and there’s so many ways in which my collection can be developed so I’m really working on that and really trying to hone in on my style before I change and do anything too radical I’m just trying to get my name out there and known for what I do and push that and be known for that.

There’s no obvious scale to your pieces, you could be looking at a huge closeup…

Yeah, in fact that’s a really good point. When I do my product shots I sometimes I need to put measurements on the image. Like this thing (pulls out a huge necklace)

Is it fool’s gold? I really like fool’s gold

Yes! I really like to work with fool’s gold, I think it ties in with my work because it’s completely natural and organic and nothing’s been done to it. It’s literally been taken from from the earth. It doesn’t have a preciousness, you can’t put a price on it so it’s what you do with it.

Sometimes things that are worth less feel more precious so they don’t have a value, the value you put on it is your own. Where do the shapes come from?

It was the route I took to uni every day through Brick Lane, I’d see all of these exotic fruits and vegetables so I just took loads of moulds of everything I would see there and cast them up in bronze and silver. That one is a carrella and I’ve used bitter gourds as well.

So I remember you saying when I last saw you, starting off you were more interested in art?

My work is rooted in my fine art background, at school I knew from a young age I’d always be working and drawing and making. It evolved into sculpture and that’s where it transitioned from sculpture to jewellery. I did my art foundation in Cornwall which was really inspirational.

We did all these weird wacky projects using huge bits of driftwood, the coastal landscape down there is just amazing. I guess it depends which route you go down, that’s why so many artists gravitate there like Barbara Hepworth.

It’s really nice for some people to be out of the scene and just do your own thing

Then that’s really when I honed in on the jewellery, I did a few short silversmithing courses, but I really wanted to work in metal and make jewellery. I also had this… passion for fashion! (laughs) So cliché, but then I knew what I wanted to do my degree in. I took a year out and worked for a jewellery company in Mayfair and it was really insightful because it taught me about pricing, marketability and what sells. That was kind of when, money-wise people were ok, the recession hadn’t really kicked in.

You’re in such a bubble at art school, you don’t think in a commercial context on a BA, so to have this understanding of the business is really important.

It also gives you a far more realistic idea of how competitive it is and how you’ll make money. It isn’t necessarily touched upon on a degree, there just isn’t time. If you can somehow get that experience before or after your degree, it gives you maturity, not just floating on through and just doing education for the sake of education, doing it with the need and ambition to make money from it!

It was a jewellery design BA but it was a faculty that had sculpture studios, so I could feed off everything. I was there in a  time when the tutors were so supportive. We had our own big studio space, access to the workshops in London.

What do you think it is that made you be someone that is a little bit more focused rather than floating through?

Maybe it’s just the geeky serious side to me, I’ve always been a little bit, creatively like ‘woooh’ head in the clouds, but then even when I was doing my A-levels I did business. My aunt is an artist and she’s also a business woman so I was already aware. Look at all the big names in art, they’re all big names in business. If you can be satisfied to be creative and just survive then absolutely, so many people are happy to do that, but I have so many aspirations of where I want the brand to go.

So back to the future, or the present, you’ve been here for nearly six months?

Yeah, I’d just moved in when I met you, it’s been so great. I’ve actually not been here as much I would have liked because there’s so many other things I would have been doing, but to have my space with all this natural light, the big window. It’s great to have everything in one place, before I was half working out of my flat and half out of my studio. It’s fine if you’ve got your now separate offices, but I was trying to run a business with boxes under my bed.

I guess being able to close the door on it at the end of the day is good

I’ve been working on a book (Elemental Jewellery) from where my studio used to be, Vicky Forrester, the owner was asked to write a book on jewellery and she asked me to contribute. So I had to come up with a project for the book… (opens the packaging and takes out the book) Yay!

It’s instantly recognisable as your stuff

Obviously I didn’t want to give any secrets away, so the project I did was a simple ring. It was so interesting, so over two days, we had to literally make five or six different models for each stage and be photographed for each stage. It’s a great record for archiving and also for copyright.

What press have you had since I saw you?

I’ve had three of four issues of Harper’s Bazaar, which is fantastic and met Pippa Vosper, just to have their backing, have them to say we really like your work and we’re going to support you. We’ve had Elle and Vogue Italia, because of the BFC Rock Vault as well..

Talk me through a bit more your plans for the future

I’m going to be looking to expand. Stay here for as long as I can and then move into something a bit bigger once I need it. Long term, I really want to expand internationally, I launched Luisa Via Roma which was really awesome. They took about 5 or 6 designs, a small order to begging with but great to begin with. Their main jewellery buyer came to Felicities (her PR) which was just great, because it can be really hard to get through the door so I’m really chuffed.

The next collection is still under wraps, what can you tell me?

There’s going to be a bit of an introduction to new material, not necessarily fabric, but transposed onto metal. It’s a bit of a secret, but you won’t be surprised when you see it though. New textures, formations and patterns. There’s going to be more delicate pieces, but also expanding onto new pieces, perhaps belts and accessories as well as jewellery.

What do you look to for inspiration?

I love drawing, just what I see or sitting somewhere like the natural history museum and drawing lots of rocks. I would love to go down to Cornwall and just get some inspiration and soak it all up. I went to Ireland a few weeks ago and that was really amazing.

It’s quite a tough line to tread, to be crafty but not… crafty

I avoid at all costs to be crafty, those that do it well it’s such a shame that the word has such a negative connotation. I was always inspired by big statement, couture-y pieces. I interned at Shaun Leane and met McQueen, I was at his office at Exmouth Market, and I nearly fainted.

Who would you love to collaborate with?

I lo-oove Osman, I just love him. I went to see his show in February, it was just incredible, he already bejewels garments so I think a collaboration would be amazing and he seems like a genuinely lovely guy. Vivienne Westwood because of the whole couture aspect. I would love to make something for Lady Gaga! Or someone who has that same theatrical style, like Bjork or Grace Jones.

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