Fashion is no stranger to the adage ‘everything old is new again.’ Each season the fashion sphere witnesses a retro style revival that is given a clever modern twist. In previous seasons, designers have adapted the body con excess of the 80s, the mini skirts of the 60s and the pant suits of the 70s. This summer Mad Men’s stylish portrayal of the golden age, the 50s, has sparked a love affair with full skirts and prim accessories. As trends seesaw between the decades it’s little wonder that vintage and pre-loved clothing and accessories are so popular. Making the best use of items and recycling as much as possible is not only good for the earth but an ironic way to update your wardrobe.
Pioneering the reuse and recycle movement is a new crop of local jewellery designers who are using natural yet unusual items to make desirable pieces. Amongst the new strain of Melbourne designers is Hamish Munro, who takes leather cord and pre-historic teeth to form his uniquely simple jewellery, and Julia deVille, whose macabre accessories give new life to taxidermy. But if like some, you find it difficult to see the wearable beauty in dead animals, then jewellery made from human teeth and hair may also be hard to stomach.
“It generally depends how open the viewer is to conceptual arts, and how comfortable they are with the human body,” says designer Polly Van Der Glas of the reactions she receives from her designs. “Probably the majority of viewers find it creepy. But every so often, there is an interesting special soul that gets it.” Those who ‘get it’ can see the beauty and clean lines in Polly’s pieces. Mixing sterling silver and gold plating with human teeth and hair donated by both friends and strangers, the jewellery pieces feature not only the materials in their original form, but also casts of teeth and hair.
Van Der Glas’ choice of materials may seem unusual and morbid, but in ancient times, such materials were readily accepted. Jewellery made from teeth, hair and even bones were viewed as proper fashion etiquette for mourning loved ones. As a trained silversmith and fashion design graduate, Polly’s path to launching her label ‘Van Der Glass’ steamed from her passion for jewellery and challenging cultural norms.
“In fashion school…I became fed up with the extraordinary manipulations we put our bodies through to conform to shifting physical ideals,” she states. “I became interested in critiquing our obsession with the body beautiful.” Polly then began to experiment with designs that crippled the wearer, and created garments for animals in order to question our society’s ideals of beauty. And although not all her teachers ‘got it’ she continued to explore the concept with jewellery design.
“Teeth and hair and fingernails are key sites where our adherence to ‘beauty’ is held and judged. We cultivate, brush, colour and arrange these parts carefully in response to beauty, yet when these parts become detached, they are typically considered repulsive.”
Giving new life to natural objects, objects that are not considered ‘beautiful’ by today’s cultural standards is also the inspiration for Kim Victoria’s jewellery designs. For her latest collection Kim created exquisite pieces from the twigs and branches she collected while walking her dog.
“I brought [the twigs] home, sat at my bench and combined them with other materials that I have been using frequently – sequins and beads,”says the Melbourne local who previously worked in interior design.“As I was working I realised that the pieces were taking on a mystical quality, hence the collection’s title: Vaguely Pagan.”
The resulting pieces delicately fuse the organic and man-made, enhancing the twigs and bark’s delicate natural beauty. When seen in the context of jewellery, the pre-conceived notions of the twigs and bark being coarse and tough quickly fade. There is a sense of fragility to Kim’s work, and despite the incorporation of man-made materials, the resulting pieces appear pure and spiritual.
Much like modern day twists on retro styles, Kim believes it comes down to the contrasts this form of jewellery can provide. “In this case the twigs provided a nice contrast to the glamorous quality of the sequins.” And just like that, everything old is new again – even if it is just a simple twig or tooth.
Kim Victoria is also available at Alice Euphemia.