These two chummy Pärla designers share a beautiful studio space in Hackney Wick. We went up there, pastries in hand, and had a little chat.
Interview and Photos by Isabel Ulatowski
How did you find each other?
Clarice Price Thomas: I am a jeweller stalker, and I had seen Jessie’s work before. I like to know who is about. I took part in Fashion Sunday, and I knew that she was going to be there. Actually it was her boyfriend [now fiancé] who came up to my stand, so I said ‘wait right here’, and I went and bombarded her! Then, I made her move into my studio.
Jessie Harris: The rest is history.
CPT: She came in for a trial and...
JH: ... it was like a first date! We were both on our best behaviour!
CPT: She came with her toolbox!
JH: It was like my first day at school, but then we sort of got talking about deep stuff.
CPT: We talked about some weird stuff…
Clarice, what was it that got you into jewellery?
CPT: When I was five, I wanted to be a vet, then I realised I probably wouldn't enjoy that. And then when I was ten, I wanted to make a necklace. My father is a watch maker, so he had all these tools for metal work. He let me use everything I needed, and helped me make this pair of earrings that were little cat faces - I was obsessed with cats. Ever since then, that was pretty much all I did. I went through the stages that I think a lot of jeweller may go through. Beaded stuff, things like that, and from there started doing the basics of silver work. Eventually, I moved to London, and managed to get myself jobs with jewellers who trained me from there.
Your work has an iconic Art Deco style to it. Where does this come from?
CPT: Its strange actually, while I like Deco, that aspect of my style really comes from the machinery. My first collection Time, was inspired by watch parts, and I was using the same tools used for making watches, milling machines. I began to discover the capabilities of those machines, and what you can create with them. With my second collection, Metropolis, I was really interested in what else I could make using the machines. The result was these sort of step shapes, and then it evolved from there quite naturally.
Do you limit what you make to the capabilities of the machinery?
CPT: No, not anymore. I recently took a course in CAD which really expanded my knowledge of what I can do. I feel like I can go beyond the machines to make things, although it was a really nice starting point for me. I am currently working on a small collection to bring out, and then my next big collection will be fine jewellery. That collection will be an extension of Metropolis, but made in 18k gold, with diamonds, and precious stones. I’ll take what I was doing with those steps and lines, and push it further. Sort of luxe it up a bit.
Jessie, how did you get into jewellery design?
JH: I come from a Fine Art background, so at university I was making really conceptual audio installations. I was interested in translation systems, like turning data into sound. Initially, my work was very physical and hands on, and then I went into something completely computer based. After that, I was desperate to physically create something again. I took a short course in jewellery, learned the basics, taught myself a lot, and then worked under several designers. In the beginning, it came from a selfish place, I wanted to make things that I wanted to wear. Then I found that other people were interested in what I was doing, and also shared my aesthetic.
With your background in Fine Art, where does your inspiration come from now?
JH: I see my collections as a whole, and there is often a concept behind them that include several ideas. At times, quite random ideas. For example, the Track Ball collection was inspired by tennis… in the 1970s… in the States.
Really?! No, I completely get that vibe.
JH: Yes! Like American summer, happy, retro vibes. But, what I have taken away from the fine art process, is how one piece or one collection can lead to another. Elements get carried over, shifted, manipulated, that kind of thing. My work is really a progression from one piece to another, similarly to my process with fine art.
What ideas do you have for your next collection?
JH: All my work has this past-future theme to it, almost like “retro-futurism”. I am interested in the aesthetic of the ‘60s and ‘70s, but sort of what would have been perceived as futuristic back then. The new collection [launching February 2016] has a bit more movement, and I have been thinking about Japanese garments. The tying, the folding, this idea of things being a bit more malleable.
It is interesting that you bring up Japan, I have a friend who’s idea of Tokyo is that it looks like the future, but back in the ‘80s. It seems very in tune with your inspiration, especially your term “retro-futurism”.
As independent designers, how do you find the shared studio space?
CPT: We stop for lots of tea.
JH: Clarice has a lot of grand plans, and she always says to me, ‘what’s the strategy?’. And I’m more like, ‘I have to solder this thing to this thing’.
CPT: I have to think big, I like to be very aware of what I need.
JH: We enjoy different aspects of owning a jewellery business. Clarice is a lot more technical with her making. I prefer the designing, and the physicality of the making. She loves the marketing, which I hate, and I love branding.
You also have distinctly different styles…
CPT: The other day, we were talking about where our ideas come from. I feel like Jessie can master that progression she mentioned, like kind of seeing collections together. Whereas my brain sometimes is a bit too logical, and I feel that if something doesn't fit within an idea, it can’t be part of it.
JH: We have our separate ways of working, but I learn so much from Clarice. We can feed off each other’s strengths, and remain true to our working style.
And your work really does compliment one another over at Pärla.
Erin O’Connor: When customers come into the shop, they will appreciate every single designer. I often put the two of you together, and while your work is complimentary, customers can really see the contrast.
Pärla makes it easy to do the whole trend of curating your own collection. The jewellry itself is high in quality, and you can easily build from all the designers and wear them together. That has always been my favourite thing about the shop.
EO: It is nice being able to mix-and-match designers. Not having to worry about pieces not working together, I never feel like that!
JH: There is a difference between every designer that you’ve got, but the Pärla aesthetic is minimal but special. We love Pärla!
CPT: I love Jessie!
JH: Clarice is okay.