What was going to be the cure to make me fall in love with London again after being on the road for the last few months? A long and properly indepth studio visit and this one feels grossly overdue. I doubt anybody reading this blog is a stranger to Tatty Devine jewellery. Considering how stalking their old store in Soho and their Brick Lane shop has been so ingrained into my late teen/early twenties years, I feel somewhat of a dunce for properly blogging about them now. However I was presented with the unique opportunity of coming to their Gibraltar Walk studio just behind their Brick Lane store and cooking up something quite unique with the jewellery duo.
I'll spare you the loooooong Tatty Devine spiel and make it short. Rosie Wolfenden and Harriet Vine met at Chelsea School of Art's fine art course and set up Tatty Devine in 1999, selling their leather wrist cuffs at markets. They then set upon a course that would change the face of jewellery vocabulary as they pioneered the use of perspex in their work, creating iconic classics such as their name necklaces, their moustache and glasses necklaces and establishing a brand that is about as British as they come. There's nothing twee or hackneyed about Tatty Devine's Britishness though but it's something that is intrinsically ingrained into the brand and for thirteen years has set Tatty Devine on a path, which intersects fashion, design and art.
It's difficult to explain just how revolutionary at the time it was for Tatty Devine to make jewellery using perspex. It just didn't really exist bar some poppy plastic specimens of the sixties and eighties. The motifs they came up with certainly hadn't been thought of previously. The high street may be awash with the stuff now but back in the day, Tatty Devine were really creating something quite unique and shocking in some ways. Since the growth of the brand of course, there have been SO many appropriations and imitations of Tatty Devine's work – too many to list here – but the primary example of course being the recent Claire's Accessories case. The chain had replicated (poorly, I might add) quite a few of Tatty Devine's most iconic designs, but fortunately, their fanbase came to the rescue and caused a Twitter storm as well as getting the story publicised in the national media. Subsequently Claire's did retract the products but it's an ongoing battle with countless retailers and designers. The identity of Tatty Devine designs like the moustache and the glasses necklace are so well established, that they have become part of jewellery/accessories design language. Their methods and motifs are continuously replicated and re-appropriated through the high street and even through young designers, who unconsciously reference Tatty Devine without knowing it themselves. Rosie and Harriet are both resigned to this fact and so continue to plough on, pushing the boundaries of their perspex jewellery, trying new techniques and materials to ensure they stay ahead of the game. Their designs have ultimately become more complex, which therefore seemed like a perfect time for me to storm into the studio making outrageous demands.
Rosie and Harriet are ultimately miscellany people – i.e. people who collect, gather and accumulate. Stepping into their office, crammed with books, toys, materials and all manner of bits and bobs, I could definitely see our spirits mingling over a cup of a tea. Precisely why over the years, they've been able to come up with so many different themes to base their collections, inspired by everything and anything. Their collections begin with discussions of possible ideas and then Harriet takes the design process further with physical tests with materials and Rosie is free to look after the admin and business side of the brand. For spring summer 2013, there'll be an explosion of colour, neons and Indian goddesses. They've also started experimenting with liquid enamels that looks sort of like nail polish, which is getting them very excited.
Over emails we had all discussed what Tatty Devine would potentially be making for me. At the time of course, I was still bowled over from my Mexico City trip and the cross-stitch embroidery from the poncho I bought at Ciudadela was my primary source of inspiration.
As it happens, Tatty Devine's S/S 12 collection was also a love fest of all things Mexican, featuring embroidery motifs, Day of the Dead skulls and Frida Kahlo. Neither Rosie nor Harriet has been to Mexico but the vibes were definitely spot on in terms of the punches of colour and more is more mentality.
Harriet looked at the marigolds in the embroidery and after printing them out a pixelated version of the photo, that became the isolated design that would feature in the final piece.
Harriet also had other source material such as this wonderful book on pressed flowers. Care to make a little person playing tennis with dried mimosas and honeysuckles? Not for the pressed flower amateurs out there…
Initially, we were going for a necklace but in the end, I gravitated towards my natural state of being, which is to have something floating on top of my head so we decided on a headpiece.
I also wanted to incorporate the cross stitch and textiles element into the flowers and so Harriet had done a few tests beforehand to try this out. We decided the cross stitch looked quite fiddly so we went for the vertical strokes instead. The growth of Tatty Devine, with the company now employing thirty people, has enabled Harriet and Rose to concentrate on their respective roles with Harriet specifically enjoying the experimentation and materials development side of things. These are the "fun" bits that get the duo going, hence why they'd get so worked up over new perspex colours of the discovery of a new technique or material.
Speaking of perspex colours, I was faced with quite the choice for my floral headdress, going far and beyond the perspex availability I had back in D.T. class at school. There are colours here that Tatty Devine have had to create themselves just because they couldn't get the shades they wanted. Most of the perspex is sourced from the UK but when needs must, they also get some of their perspex from New Jersey in the States where there happens to be more choice in finishes, colours and effects.
These sherbet-y fluoros had just landed into the office, which caused both Rosie and Harriet to squeal a little. I don't think I've ever seen anybody so excited over a swatch of plastic but it was definitely infectious as I ended poring over the freshly delivered box of swatches too, wondering what they'll be cooking up with all these new perspexes.
Tatty Devine may be primarily known for perspex jewellery but over the years they've also incorporated wood, enamel, leather and textiles into their work. These formica surfaces were quite tempting too what with my obsession with all things Balenciaga A/W 10-related.
In the end, we settled on using the pastels, with the lilac being a new colour that Tatty Devine haven't actually introduced properly into their collections yet.
In honour of the new shade of perspex, I think this Parma Violets necklace will be hitting stores soon. I'm not so keen on the sweets but they smell and look great.
We also pumped for some of these clear perspexes with a hint of colour.
I was going to go overboard and stick on as many of these iced gem-esque flowers but I tried to control myself. It was hard to resist though, considering Rosie and Harriet had laid out these boxes of treats as decorative options for my head dress.
On Illustrator, Harriet mapped out the layout incorporating the leaves and also drew out a flower that had the square serrated edges of the initial cross-stitched marigold on the embroidery. I loved watching Harriet work swiftly on Illustrator, a skill that she admits has been honed over the years, enabling her to get the symmetry and science of the jewellery absolutely spot on. Science, you ask? Joining up fifty perspex pieces for instance in a dinosaur necklace and getting it to balance and swing correctly when worn can be a trying process. Harriet and Rosie go through tests with their jewellery ensuring that wearability can be achieved. This is done through errr… a very exacting and scientific method of jumping up and down in the office, to make sure none of the bits fall off.
Downstairs in the basement of the office is the workshop where Tatty Devine make most of their jewellery – samples, intricate pieces and one-offs. Tatty Devine have another workshop in Rochester, Kent (where Harriet is from) where some of their more simpler and popular pieces are made. For some reason, I assumed that Tatty Devine, with the amount of stock they shift, would have outsourced production by now but this is a far better solution where both Rosie and Harriet can oversee the production of their jewellery in person and ensure that everything is finished to the standard that they personally care so much about.
Having spent an entire day at Tatty Devine headquarters, it's got to be said that I haven't come across such a happy work environment for quite some time. Ok, the 28 degree sunshine helped but the mainly young and female staff all looked so jolly and happy to be working there, whether they were doing Photoshopping, handling the laser-cutter or stringing up teensy tiny bits of perspex. Harriet said that someone compared their brand to The House of Eliott, the BBC TV show that EVERYONE NEEDS TO WATCH (ok, only if you're into period dramas). The comparison is a fairly solid one. Two women helming a fashion business and experiencing both adversity and success, with a small but supportive workforce behind them. Except I dont think there are backstabbing seamstresses and vendors at Tatty Devine. Instead, we have happy girls bustling about, proudly wearing Tatty Devine jewellery, all excited to do what they're doing.
The central hub of the Tatty Devine operation has got to be this heffer of a machine – the laser cutter. They also have a smaller one that is portable, enabling Tatty Devine to do laser-cutting on the go at special events and in-store but the big one is the mothership that cuts up most of the pieces for sampling and production.
Becky is the laser-cutting maestro in charge of cutting up the perspex and ensuring there is minimal wastage. It was fascinating to watch her handle the CorelDraw files and send the files off to print in the laser cutter, where magic things happen.
In a matter of seconds, we have the perfectly formed flower, pre-cut with holes, ready for threading up.
I loved the way the edges came out on the clear perspex…
Harriet and I made a trip to Frankle's Trimmings down the road, a legendary place that is housed in an old art deco cinema. Brick Lane and its surroundings may have been eroded over the years of the trimmings and fabric wholesalers but Frankle's remains and it's a messy haven of ribbon, elastic, zippers and all kinds of things that girls like me collect and gather up in forgotten boxes. We hunted down some of the brightest and girliest hues of ribbons and thread, resembling something like the girl's toys section of the Argos catalogue. Tatty Devine moved into Brick Lane in 2001 alongside millinery neighbours Bernstock Speirs and together they've witnessed the changes to the dynamics of Brick Lane from its slightly grotty and unloved beginnings to the now overly trendy and somewhat corporate takeovers. Some things never change though and Frankle's along with treasures like E. Pellici's cafe hopefully won't succumb to the gentrification process.
I think Harriet was subconsciously chanelling elements of her dress into the headdress and I was vaguely thinking of Marni's S/S 12 collection with its plastel (yes, I have fused pastel and plastic into one) florals.
Harriet and her assistant threaded up the flowers ready to start arranging on the base head piece.
This was definitely the fun part where you place the flowers on the band, to-ing and fro-ing over whether the colours clash or not. This is where the naturally feminine sensibility of wanting to arrange our felt tip pens or coloured pencils in the right (not the same thing as correct…) way, comes into play.
Once the arrangement was decided upon, Harriet set about sewing the flowers to the base perspex piece, drilling holes and threading the flowers through. At this point, the process from design to decisions to laser-cutting to finishing had pretty much taken up the whole day, which is probably why Tatty Devine don't really do many custom pieces as part of their day-to-day routine. Back in the day, they'd constantly create things for shoots and collaborate with the likes of Ashish, Peter Jensen and Basso & Brooke on catwalk jewellery. This may be something that Tatty Devine would like to venture back into or even develop as an idea for customers as they're also about to launch in-store name necklace laser-cutting at their Covent Garden store as well as creating workshops for people to come to the studio and make their own necklace. This opening up of the process of their jewellery to the public could make way for more interactive events in the future. If it's every bit as exciting as the day I had yesterday, people are definitely in for a treat.
The final bit of probing whilst Harriet was sewing away was my one and only niggle… "What if you've run out of ideas for what to do with perspex?" It's as simple as this. "Then we move on to something else!" says Harriet. It's a succinct solution for a problem that doesn't actually seem to be on the horizon anytime soon. It may have been a moot question given that the duo are constantly seeking out new collaborations, new materials and new ideas to invigorate what they do. If the medium of perspex has been successful for them for over a decade, then who's to say it won't be the material that keeps on giving for years to come.
Once Harriet had sewed on all the little leaves and the glued on the smaller flowers, I was pretty much jumping for joy at the prospect of being crowned with this floral headdress that basically sums up everything I love within a 30cm semicircle. The final touch were the ribbons we had picked up at Frankle's to tie up at the side as streamers.
Can you see the smiles bouncing off these pics? I assured Harriet and Rosie that I would not have a shortage of clothing to match up with their wonderful creation. The Jil Sander shirt here is just the tip of the iceberg. This will be the summer where I'm THAT girl with the perspex floral headdress and I fully intend on overwearing it to death, until someone physically tries to wrangle it off my head.