She is a poet by choice and designer by accident. A cult leader in the world of jewellery whose work is singular in its eccentricity, UK-based JASMINE ALEXANDER’s creations are off-beat because they come straight from the heart. Her pieces are poetic and they have a spiritual tilt compelling one to look inwards. She marries luxury with dark, abstract concepts that are generally not associated with design, especially in jewellery.
This lone ranger is anti-establishment, but instead of venting her angst against the world, she chooses to exhibit her creative muscle through her designs that are startlingly refreshing and radical.
Creativity springs forth from pain and isolation and the only reason she goes through the rigours of life is to ‘create’! Creating is her only hobby, her only channel to understand herself, and above all, chip and chisel her soul so that she achieves contentment when she breathes her last. Call her a yogini or punk rock artist, she is unaffected by fame or money. The desiger agreed for an e-mail interview, and opened up to reveal the strong psychological forces that drive her to produce avant-garde pieces. By SHANOO BIJLANI
You have introduced punk rock in the world of jewellery. Did you know that you were meant to be a cult leader in this field? If not a jewellery designer, what would you be?
Wow! Okay, first, the cult leader thing. That’s a little mindblowing. No, I had no idea what I would be when I grew up. To be honest, I had little or no time to consider such things when younger as my childhood years were almost like a warzone. My little brother and I were lucky to get out alive.
My early education wasn’t an education at all. School was a refuge for my little brother and I. We were both rather unruly and the system eventually gave up on us both as they had no idea what to do with us. Truth be known, in retrospect, we just had extroardinary issues with authority and that coupled with my being a dreamer…
So mostly, we’d seek fun and refuge where we could find it. Our objective was to keep breathing… and soon, I found solace in creativity. In my twenties, I decided to lead a noble existence – that I’d live and die a penniless poet. This pursuit found me actively chasing every aspect of that, however, somewhere during all of that my creative skills were noticed by a teacher at school, who saw something in me that no one else did. He knew my creative streak and it gave him enough reason to mediate on my behalf. He arranged a college interview to study the fine art of jewellery craftsmanship. That has led me here, today.
Knowing that I didn’t have much else to do, I went through the two-year course and later enrolled into Sir John Cass Faculty of Arts. But it was always poetry for me… not the kind that speaks of earthly love, but the kind that considers the pyche of the man and his soul and its place within the universe.
What was the turning point that finally steered you towards jewellery designing?
In August 2007, my life altered drastically. I lost part of my left index finger in an accident and that stole my ability to hand make specific types of jewellery. I was left with no choice, and so, along with my colleague, I built a new articulated 18-karat gold finger. I had to shift my focus solely to designing. By January 2008, I had launched my brand, and by June that year, I introduced my first collection alongside the iconic designer, Sir Paul Smith in his Mayfair Gallery, London. If I weren’t a jewellery designer, I’d be involved in animal activism. Or may be, I’d be on the frontline of it all somewhere far away and dusty… or maybe on the high seas.
What were your growing up years like?
Born in Brighton, descending on London at 17, and as a woman, I chose the quiet green expanse of Surrey. I’m reclusive, even as the pretty city lights of London drew me, I consciously lived amid the buzz, but not as part of it. I feel England courses through my veins. London is like a spiritual home. Here’s where I feel liberated, inspired and safe. But the lack of nature and the encroaching concrete fabric makes me stifled especially if I spend too much time with other people. I’m not one for crowds.
We believe you are fond of poetry. Who are your favourite poets?
I don’t have a favourite poet as I don’t read the work of others. I am deeply afraid of subconscious plagiarism. My poetry was a private, albeit obsessive, journey to understand life. However, I have since studied a little Shakespeare and it completely resonated with me. I got it in a heartbeat. People like me don’t like to be ‘told’, we like to ‘discover’ and we are offended when our intellect is underestimated. I guess that’s because when we get right down to it, we are all rebels. We are all revolutionaries. I have one hobby – creativity. I don’t know any other way to describe it – from various mediums within art to resculpturing my mind and soul.
You have the penchant for deftly knitting abstract thoughts into your jewellery pieces. How do you bring in feelings and philosophical concepts into design?
Since my accident, and since the time I consciously quit the life of a self-destructive poet, my poetry now exists in my design work. It wasn’t a conscious move. That is the way it has been. My design work, like any of my creative work, is born out of emotions. It really is as simple as that.
I have spent so many years alone with just words as my company, poetry has been my escape and thought processes, my journeys. I have programmed myself to function and to think that way. So, when a moment in reality captures me, either negatively or positively, I see in my mind an almost tangible force. I find the process very exciting, very thrilling. It is a subconscious formula. Though I would say, if I were to liken it to cakes, it would be the final icing that falls consciously.
I ask myself: Could I enhance its aesthetics ? Do I add or remove flourishes? Does the piece beg for a little more academic thought? Am I emotionally arrested by it? Does it give me that feeling of excitement, indicating completion or is something missing?
Which metals do you like to work with?
I mostly work in 18-karat gold or platinum and prefer to use diamonds, sapphires, rubies, emeralds. I keep things precious in honour of the intellectual or poetic premise behind the work. One of my latest favourite obsessions is the way the stone is held, embraced, shown off against the rest of the piece. I love the technical challenges posed in this form of exercise and overcome it. My recent piece, ‘A Word to the Wise… love is measured in depths of colour’ is an 18-karat yellow gold, platinum ring with a 3.85-carat fine emerald.
Your jewellery is not run-of-the-mill. Are you worried that by being radically different you just may not find enough customers?
I have never created a single piece with clients in mind. I never create to sell. I create, because it’s my language, it’s how I communicate with the world. There was a time, for many many years, I didnt think this ‘language’ would ever be released only because I didn’t know my tomorrows. And I was fine with that.
I concluded it maybe more a narrative about my world, my existence, spoken by me, to me, so that I might understand me. I also figured that everything I do is my conversation with God, the way I perceive Him. I believe that He is the universal intellectual conscious energy that permeates all, and in realising this, I found myself liberated. I found the courage to be me without a care of how others perceived me.
I’m not sure if that really answers your question, but I will say that sometimes I find it difficult to sell the pieces as my love for them is so so great. For instance, the piece I did for Gemfields/Faberge ‘A Word to the Wise…’ when that piece sells, I have decided it must go to someone I can remain in contact with, who will allow me to remain in touch so that every now and then I get to see the piece. So, no I have never worried about customers. As this is not something that is led by money, or the amassing of it.
Is it difficult to be individualistic? Because those who walk the path alone are very courageous. What were the payoffs? Also, how did you manage to balance the act so wonderfully?
That’s difficult to answer, as contradicting answers apply. No, it isn’t difficult being me. I literally can’t be anyone or anything else.
Yes, it is difficult ‘living’ me, as it is incredibly isolating sometimes, and sometimes, it’s odd to stand by your convictions, even though momentarily it may damage one’s self.
And thank you, but I am not yet sure if I’ve balanced it wonderfully. I am by nature an extremist, so maybe it isn’t about balance, in that sense. How does one balance ‘you’ in an imbalanced world? We won’t know that till the finishing line… which brings me neatly to your query about the pay-offs. On my deathbed, in my final moments, I shall be afforded the grace of dying, content.
I read in one of your interviews that “you opted out of society for a few years”. Why and when did you take this route? And who was the new Jasmine that emerged from this ‘meditative mode’ and how different was she from the old Jasmine?
Ahh… okay… I am, in general, a reclusive being, but this period refers to my early twenties when I turned a complete recluse for four years. Celibate, even in my thought processes. Most of the time I lived on a roof, even in the cold. I was awake mostly during the night. On a clear night, I’d write, think, ponder… from the roof I celebrated the evening, the stars, the fields, and my mind. My little brother would cycle up and deliver food to me, through the door. If I did venture out, it was only late at night.
Yes, it was a pivotal moment, and I cannot divulge why I took this route, but I will say, I had no other choice. I couldn’t be with the world, so I just removed myself from society. Initially, I thought I was emotionally purging myself in order to put myself back together through a series of self-imposed challenges. It didn’t take long for me to realise that the weaponry of mind was the thing that would save me. The pursuit of wisdom became my passion.
And I want to make it very clear : I’m talking about a spiritual quotient which, in turn, has afforded me an inherent academic intelligence and in the search I’ve found an emotional IQ. To perfectly summarise: I know nothing.
The difference between me prior to this event and me post event? This is pretty difficult to answer. I don’t think I’ve changed, I don’t think there’s a fundamental difference though, I know I’ve managed to consciously focus and direct my angst as opposed to being subject to it. Now I subject and redirect it, according to my will for things that serve me… like personal joy.
What is your philosophy about designing?
Hmmm… One doesn’t engage in creativity, one is creativity. Oh, I saw a post on Facebook the other day that asked, time travel permitting, what you would tell your younger self, in two words. I tried to think hard and the two words that occurred to me were: Creativity Saves.
Are you religious, because one sees a lot of Christian symbols like the Holy Cross, Christ, wreaths in your designs?
No, I’m not religious. I feel organised religion should be eradicated. But I do believe in an omnipresent intellectual consciousness (vibration), that it is both composed of us, all life, equally as it is separate beyond and more than us. I consider myself ‘spiritually conscious’ and I also think Jesus was one of the coolest individuals to walk the earth. One of the first rebels, who was anti-establishment.
Do you ever take a break?
I keep away from people. I love people, but I find it easier to discover me, retain me, express and challenge me, push me when just left with me. It keeps my processes pure, my objectives in focus. It gives my creativity the space of my entire existence. Thus, my every move is geared to nurture it. I spend time with nature, with animals, with the night, with my dreams, by candle light. I seek and converse with beautiful souls.
Just be you. You are a challenge to and for yourself.