We sit down with the jewellery designer to talk grit, craftsmanship and the power of design purism
“I didn’t realise that there would be so much grit involved in creating something so beautiful, and that is exactly what I fell in love with. I was working with metal and stones, filing, sanding and sawing…it was so rugged – like engineering for adornment.” There is something a touch anachronistic about the Pakistani-born jeweller Zohra Rahman – like she could be a throwback to an earlier, more glamorous age. But the jewellery she creates – first for the likes of Lara Bohinc, Husam el Odeh and Superfertile in London – and now for her eponymous Lahore-based line, is defiantly strong and modern.
Something remarkable about her jewellery brand is apparent as soon as you pick up a piece. “Jewellery is worn on the body but doesn’t have to serve a measurable function – just like art is not compelled to,” says Zohra. Reimagined notepaper in gold is sculpted to form rings, silver chains become jagged edges of unsent letters.
What makes your jewellery stand out? What’s your signature touch?
I like to let each element in my designs stand out and have space. I try not to overcomplicate one piece by adding everything to it – so you’ll find a lot of pieces that are purist in their form. My designs might differ a lot from one another but one thing that is common amongst them is that each of them has a strong story to tell.
What kind of woman/man do you have in mind when you design?
I usually don’t think of anyone other than myself. It may sound obnoxious but, over time, I’ve realised that I need to feel strongly about my designs. Otherwise, it feels odd to create something I can’t relate to! Unless, of course, I get a commissioned piece from a client or if I’m collaborating with another designer, then I try to understand their tastes as much as I can and work where we overlap aesthetically.
As a designer, you seem fascinated with the subject of craftsmanship, which seems to become more and more problematic and rarefied. What do you think is the situation of craftsmanship, in jewellery and in design at large?
I think the charm of handcrafted objects can never be replaced by mass-produced designs. Knowing someone has spent time working on it with their hands, rather than a machine making thousands of the same thing, makes each piece so much more personal. Each piece is made more valuable when it takes time. There will always be desire and appreciation for handcrafted pieces and there is no replacement for that now-rare meticulousness.
I also think my location has a lot to do with exploring the handmade craft of jewellery making – Pakistan is the kind of place where the most reliable mode of production is creating things by hand. While the rest of the world is relying more and more on technology, here many talented artisans still exist and pass skills on from generation to generation and that has an incredible charm – and value – of its own.
Everyday items and life seems to factor heavily into your designs – how would you say your designs connect to day-to-day life?
I’m intrigued by a lot of stuff we consider ordinary and overlook. I think it’s more interesting to see beauty in the unexpected and spotlight that.
Would you describe jewellery/design as a language and a discourse?
Yes, of course. I think language exists in every form – we communicate through everything around us – through jewellery, fashion, music, art and even the seemingly mundane stuff like banking or finance. I’m actually more comfortable with communicating through design and art than words. It’s just that not everyone may be receptive to these languages.
Do history and cultural relevancy play a role in the conception of your designs?
I like to think so. It’s important to know the history to be able to define the future.
You have a very particular, idiosyncratic design style that permeates all your collections. Do you feel like other designers are too concerned with fitting in? Do you proactively like to take risks and go against the grain?
The market structure is still very new to me. Coming from a creative background I am still trying to grasp how trends work and how a lot of designers jump on that bandwagon. Frankly, I find it a bit insincere. Trends will keep changing – you can choose to constantly keep up with them or you can focus on your own work and try to innovate new designs that are original. I am more concerned about pushing myself to make something I will personally be proud of than conforming to current trends – something I believe will be appreciated in the long run.
Interactivity, movement and engagement with your pieces factor as a key consideration in your designs, can you tell me more about that?
Jewellery is worn on the body which adds a really interesting, though challenging, dimension. One’s creative ideas are constantly struggling with the more practical consideration of the weight, material, size of a piece. But then again working on a body opens a whole variety of opportunities to make something truly dynamic.