Wednesday, 18 May 2016

ISLE - Jewellery Inspired By Ireland and Formed By Japanese Aesthetics

On my first Galway Fashion Trail last November, I saw, and fell in love with, the delicate jewellery of ISLE. The brainchild of two Northern Irish sisters - Ger, who lives in Tokyo, and Helen, who lives in Belfast - it is a brand inspired by the tales and natural beauty of Ireland and informed by the minimalist aesthetic and emphasis on craftsmanship of Japan. Each piece is handmade in Ireland and then beautifully presented in high quality packaging from Japan.

I wanted to know more about these two sisters and the magic jewellery that they produced; their thoughts on design and Irish design, in particular; their inspirations; and why it's important to support smaller makers.

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Moi: How did ISLE come about? Can you tell us a little about its journey as a brand?

Ger: Starting some form of jewellery business was something that I'd thought about a lot over the years, ever since I started making jewellery for high school art projects. Although I loved painting, drawing and photography, I was especially drawn to metals and the mixed media possibilities of jewellery. So, I studied Metalsmithing & Jewellery at the University of Ulster in Belfast, but after, decided to become an Art teacher in England. After a few years there, my partner/boyfriend and I wanted to experience living further abroad and decided to have a go at living in Tokyo and here we still are.

ISLE has evolved a lot since the original idea that came about from a discussion with a Japanese friend who worked in the jewellery business in Tokyo. We planned to create jewellery that would tell stories of Ireland, introducing Irish culture to people that probably hadn't heard much about it.

Unfortunately, my Japanese friend wasn't able to continue with the initial progress we had made. So, instead of giving up, I turned to my sister Helen, who has long been a part of my design process - even coming in on the night before my final degree show to sit on the floor sanding and painting the display furniture for my installation. We work well together and are constantly sending images back and forth and bouncing ideas around.

Her main medium is textile but she has quickly learnt a lot about Metalsmithing and works closely with our talented Belfast-based makers.

My whole family is involved in ISLE in some form now and have been an amazing help.

Why are you so inspired by Ireland?

I guess living so far from home in an incredibly different culture, makes you think about where you come from and you look at things you took for granted with fresh eyes. I regularly go back home to Co. Down and yet it hits me every time I arrive; the landscape, the people, the atmosphere.

Who do you admire? What things inspire you?

Everything. I have about a thousand design ideas passing through my head a day. I have to tell myself to be quiet and focus on one thing (or else Helen will tell me Neutral Face). Sometimes you see a building that could be translated into a necklace or an accidental collection of colours that would make a beautiful print pattern. I have a crazy amount of photos that I've captured hoping that I'll go back to them someday and create something original from them

I admire the people that, in an age of mass production and fantastic digital machinery, are opting for a slow, focused and considered way creating. The joy of craftsmanship is not totally lost and I believe appreciation for it is growing again in Ireland.

Who is your customer?

We are our customers really. We want to offer contemporary jewellery that presents something deeper than passing fashion. Jewellery that is both stylish and has lasting quality, that reflects modern trends but that can be a future heirloom.

Why should people support smaller makers?

Supporting smaller makers allows for diversity, for uniqueness

If you could do anything you wanted - no limitations - what would ISLE do?

We don't have huge crazy ambitions for ISLE, we just want to keep on designing and making and hope that we can share what we do with people who feel the same as us. Sorry that's a boring answer, isn't it? But it's true.

What are you most proud of?

Surviving this far.



ISLE_FM_rock gold

(All images belong to ISLE and are reproduced here with permission.)


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