INTERVIEW Amelia Brown IMAGES Frances Marais STYLING Studio Agata Karolina and Kasia Stefanczyk
We caught up with owner of Cape Town-based hand-made jewellery studio White Rabbit Days, Helen Andrews, about her architecture-inspired collection, Look Up.
How did the Look Up Collection come about?
The first time I travelled overseas, my stepmom Pam gave me a piece of advice that I’ve carried with me for years. She said, “always look up.” There are so many layers to a city and if you limit your vantage point to just one direction, you miss out on so much. Sometimes we’re so focused on where we’re going, that we forget to be where we are. This collection is really about a way of looking at the world; a reminder to take in the moments, notice the beauty right in front of us, or in this case, above us. It’s as easy as looking up.
What made you choose Cape Town?
What’s striking about this city is the juxtaposition of old beauties, which are held in the memory of a complex and difficult past, with the new city, which has grown and developed around that. Cape Town is filled with architectural beauties, from art deco buildings to the practical concrete beasts of the ’60s, each is made of shapes, each casts a shadow, each holds the history of the people who have passed through it, the innumerable stories of our home. I’m a glutton for shapes, I see shape in everything and after a few years of walking these inner-city streets, it became impossible not to make the Look Up Collection!
What are some of the buildings that have inspired the range?
The Good Hope Centre. Built in 1976, it was designed by Italian architect and structural engineer Pier Luigi Nervi. It’s received mixed reviews, to say the least, described as everything from “poetry in concrete” to “bizarre architectural eyesore”. Well, I love it! These earrings are a salute to the ones who strive to make their mark on the world, those who design without concern for what people say.
Mutual Heights. Once the Old Mutual HQ and now residential apartments, this iconic Cape Town building stands tall at 14 Darling Street. Its art-deco styling has been reimagined in this collection as a dramatic pair of gold-plated drop earrings that echo the terraced form of the building.
Unnoticed. From showstopping design feats to functional office blocks and residential spaces, Cape Town streets are brimming with buildings and this piece pays homage to the unnoticed ones that we walk past daily and overlook. The inspiration came from the Civic Centre, a blocky grey giant that I hadn’t noticed until one day when the light was shining off the windows and the building was casting a bizarre shadow. There are two pairs in the Unnoticed range – both are gold-plated cast brass. One set is mismatched and the other is contrasted with a black leather shadow, purposeful visual cues to ensure this piece is noticed.
Also in the range are earrings inspired by the original Christiaan Barnard Hospital, earrings and a necklace of the view looking up from the University of Cape Town’s central conservatory, a design that pays homage to the roads that link the city, and more…
How have you interpreted them into the jewellery?
This collection combines gold-plated cast brass with leather to turn a series of mini experiences of city life into gorgeous wearable accents. Some of the pieces are generic architectural shapes – a series of lines, an arch (you’d be amazed at how many curves you’ll actually find in a building!) – some are based on actual buildings, and others are more abstract.
I look at shadows, at the play between light and dark, the crowd-pleaser places like Mutual Heights that draw the architectural tour crews and those that don’t like the Civic Centre. My process is iterative: I start with a sketch or a “look-up moment” photo and translate that into a design in Adobe Illustrator. Those are tweaked, edited and changed until they make sense on their own and as a part of the collection.
Will the range be growing?
I’d love for the collection to grow! The problem (advantage!) of setting up a collection called Look Up is that it’s intentionally open-ended. I’m tempted to create a version of Look Up for every city I visit! For now, we’ll let Cape Town have its moment, but I’m definitely not ruling out future Look Up pieces.
Who makes your pieces?
All of the pieces are manufactured in Cape Town and I love the full-circle concept that us Capetonians are making tiny jewel renditions of the city we live in. We cast and plate the metal through a local studio and our leather is locally sourced and laser-cut for the precise clean lines that it creates.
I still do a lot of the cleaning, finishing and assembly because, quite honestly, it makes me happy! There’s something so satisfying about starting with nothing, with only a spark of an idea or a glance upwards, and ending with a range of pieces that go out adventuring with new people – adventures with cities within cities.
What do you have planned for 2019?
I founded White Rabbit Days in 2011 and last year was all about consolidating, cutting back to do things better. What that means is that 2019 can be about having fun with the brand and creating again. I’ve got a collection that’s been simmering for a while… What I know is that it’s about the space between people. That’s all I’ll say for now. That, and watch this space!