Style vs. sensibility: apprehensions of a designer

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Laura Vann on balancing business with contemporary branding.

By Laura Vann, creative director, V Jewellery

As I see it, there are three kinds of people in the jewellery industry – not one is right or wrong.

There are those who reject the mainstream, choosing voluntary poverty in the name of perfecting their craft – the starving artists. Then you have those aiming for financial supremacy because, at heart, they are businesspeople – the magnates. And then you have the hybrid.

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The hybrid has a difficult task – they want to sell out without selling out. They walk a tightrope between fashion and finance that could tip any second and before they know it, creating a collection mutates into building a brand.

I am, by chance, a hybrid. Guided under the wing of my father (a magnate), V Jewellery’s foundations are a fusion of creative commerciality. Having graduated, I joined the family jewellery business little under three years ago, bringing with me an exaggerated optimism. My father and I were polar opposites – his “office” was my “studio” and his traditional, hardworking need to “drive sales” equalled my fresh, relaxed desire to be understated. We were the creative/commercial juxtaposition personified. Individually we could tip the scales but together we became a balancing act and this formula lead to the development of V.

So far, our polarity has served us well, seeing us land accounts with both high fashion boutiques and larger department stores. However, issues of expansion and brand control are an ever present conflict, as I’m sure they are for any other hybrid running a jewellery company. For me, the fixation with wanting to be seen as “cool” can sometimes be domineering. I get bogged down by minor details and worry about taking risks that might not be aesthetically akin to the minimalistic brand image that I try to convey in a polished corner of my chaotic desk.

For dad the fear comes when I reject potential stockists in an attempt to maintain a level of exclusivity. Neither of us are familiar nor entirely comfortable with each other’s thought processes and I suppose it’s this somewhat begrudging compromise that has lead us to where we are today.

Thanks to him I don’t overlook profitable opportunities like importing materials from overseas. Stockists love to promote British-made products, but they also love short lead times and I want to meet an increasing demand. The starving artist within me would love to handcraft everything in the UK, down to the ribbon on our gift bags – but we need to make money. I think that’s a phrase a lot of young designers are afraid to say.

Dad’s compromise has been to take many leaps of faith, like supporting non-traditional marketing methods where he sees jewellery fly off shelves addressed to ‘The style/fashion/trend/Repeller/blog- thing’ while I sit engrossed with editing Instagram photos on my phone.

Our methods might not suit everyone but to any young designer fighting that inner battle between image and income I’d say grow slowly. Do things little by little so as not to tip the balance. Take opportunities.

Chances are those whom you aspire to be like have all played a part in something a bit commercial or naff in order to get to where they are today – they just didn’t shout about it. If you’re a hybrid, don’t screw yourself out of money thinking Net-a-Porter won’t want to touch you if your jewellery’s in an unknown boutique just north of Land’s End. But remember, it’s much easier to slide down the pyramid than it is to climb up it. Keep control. It also only takes a few negative connotations to ruin a global fashion house – just ask Burberry’s saviour Christopher Bailey.

Laura’s Guest Column was taken from the November issue of Professional Jeweller. To read the issue in full online, click here.
 

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