Jewellery designer on work, play and happiness in a consumerist world.
Tina Lilienthal, founder of the eponymous jewellery brand, was recently unveiled as a Tresor Paris Trendsetter in the Professional Jeweller Hot 100 2012 in association with The Company of Master Jewellers. She speaks to us about plans for global expansion, launching a men’s line, pushing into direct retail and relaxing with Hermann Hesse.
Professional Jeweller: Two years ago you decided to fully push your brand Tina Lilienthal, what has it been like since then?
Tina Lilienthal: Having lectured on a part-time basis for the past five years at universities like the Royal College of Art and London Metropolitan University’s Sir John Cass Department of Art, Media & Design I decided to fully concentrate on my business. And there has been no looking back since. We now have over 200 stockists worldwide and an ever-growing fan base that can’t wait for the next collection to come out. Throughout the year we have picked up exciting new accounts in the UK as well internationally.
PJ: Your brand has developed a cult celebrity following. Which famous personalities has been wearing your jewels?
TL: We have built up a great celebrity following including Kelly Osbourne, Pixie Geldof, Davina McCall, Tali Lennox and our jewellery can frequently be spotted on TV. Keira Knightley personally came to our pop-up shop in east London to pick up one of our Rabbit & Skull necklaces and Kate Nash sported our Cherry Necklaces for all her gigs in July as well as for British Vogue. The feedback we are getting from the industry and press is fantastic.
PJ: You have been working on some interesting multimedia projects linked to your brand. Tell us a bit more about this.
TL: I have teamed up with a with a photographer/filmmaker/producer in Berlin who understands my vision and who is helping me to visualise what Tina Lilienthal is really about, reflecting all the ideas and stories that go into every collection. Together we are creating a world around the jewellery, the world the jewellery exists in, my world. We are finding a visual language within our approach that can exist alongside high fashion photography but has more depth and attitude to it and represents a brand that is commercially viable yet unapologetic in its message. Three photos of our most recent shoot have just been shortlisted for a German Media prize.
PJ: Do you have plans to expand the Tina Lilienthal brand on a global scale after your recent successes in the UK?
TL: Although the UK is an important market for us it is vital to expand the business globally. There have been some very exciting opportunities this year to move into markets that are new to us and are still heavily growing, such as Asia, and we have put in place various distribution agreements, which are beginning to bear the fruit of all the hard work invested. I have been privileged to travel a lot this year for business but also privately – including Thailand, Venezuela and Japan – which has been inspiring, exciting and positively challenging.
PJ: What can we expect to see next from the brand in a creative sense?
TL: A clear highlight this year has been to spend time designing and developing the new collection, which will be launched later this year. For this collection I’m returning to my roots and have created a commercial range as well as a series of one-off signature pieces that reflect a more conceptual approach.
PJ: What inspires you as a designer?
TL: The complexities, oddities and curiosities of life. Coming from a conceptual, material-led background I view jewellery from an unconventional angle. For me, jewellery is small-scale sculpture, objects that tell a story through their connection to iconic symbols as well as through the techniques used to produce them. Materials excite me and I like to push the boundaries of traditional jewellery techniques. I currently work a lot with powder coating, which normally is used in more large-scale industrial applications. The jewellery I create is bold, playful and always tells a story. Inspired by the tales of the Brothers Grimm in my childhood there are commonly two sides to a story. The light and innocent opposes the dark and sinful. Using familiar iconographic symbols I let both sides playfully collide.
PJ: Have you been working on any technical innovations with regards to your collections?
TL: Last season I worked for six months with a German powder manufacturer to create a specific colour – fluorescent pink – and then with a Brighton-based powder coating company to get the application right. Now I have a striking colour in my collection that is instantly recognisable and stands out.
PJ: Can jewellery be a powerful force in life?
TL: My pieces incite comments and stimulate communication inviting the wearer to embark on their own personal journey with their chosen treasure. I have heard the most beautiful stories from customers that they have found the love of their life through a chat over wearing of piece of my jewellery or found the courage to make a big change in their lives empowered by a bold jewel.
PJ: You are your brand. How does this affect your work ethic?
TL: I’m very pragmatic and organised when it comes to work. I like to have a plan for everything and can possibly be a bit of a control freak. Being so involved in every aspect of the business can make it hard to take a step back to look at the bigger picture. Working with a business consultant whom I trust has helped a great deal. She keeps me on track when things get manic.
PJ: What is the best thing about living and working in London?
TL: There are so many exciting and quirky things happening in London on a daily basis and I sometimes need reminding that I live in such a great city. I’ve recently enjoyed going to a pop-up restaurant in an old filling station near the canal, a museum in a converted council house and I also love the collection of curiosities at the Welcome Trust.
PJ: How do you relax off the job?
TL: Since I am a bit of an academic I do love a good book. I’m currently revisiting Hermann Hesse, a German poet and novelist who was exploring self-knowledge and the individual’s search for authenticity in a consumerist society. He said “Happiness is a how, not a what. A talent, not an object”. Sometimes it is good to put things in perspective and to remind ourselves of the important things in life. In the context of the throw-away society it is ever more important to me as a designer to created pieces that have personal value, that have a meaning and longevity.
PJ: What is next for your brand?
TL: A revamped website is on the cards, including a great image campaign created in Berlin reflecting the brand. There are also plans to expand the online shop and to push direct retail. Our new collection will be launched later this year in Paris. We are planning to fully capitalise on all market expansions that we kick-started, which could potentially be huge transition for the business. I’m also working on a very first men’s range, which will initially be exclusive for the Asian market but may well find its way to Europe.