In Conversation: Jessie Harris

As a self-taught designer, Jessie Harris’ London based work is reshaping modern jewellery design and avoiding contrived products by keeping production traditional with her sculptural, stand-alone pieces of wearable art. Each looped ring, elegantly strung necklace or bold, statement earring is handmade to order, resulting in talismanic type jewellery to treasure.

Her latest collection, available online and in store, displaces expectations with Japanese inspired knotted and folded designs, giving each piece of high-polish solid silver or 18k yellow gold jewellery movement. We spoke to Jessie about the background that threads her designs together, her widespread array of references from both the past and future and how she plans to keep things moving.

Above: Turn Slot Earrings

As good a place to start as any, can you tell us who are you designing for when producing each collection?

I would say that my design process always comes from a very personal place - putting together combinations of shapes and ideas that interest me is always a starting point. From collection to collection though, I'm gaining in knowledge about my customer and steering designs to what I think they would enjoy as much as I do, sharing my own aesthetic with like minded people.

Can you tell us something of your self-taught path to becoming a jewellery designer?

It has been quite an interesting path as I think that a lot of my initial designs came from being faced with the technical limitations of being self taught. There was a lot of experimenting, a number of failures and successes and, combined with my love of minimal, simple shapes, I think this is where some of my style came from. I also discovered wax carving and casting fairly early on and found it a gentler, more forgiving route into jewellery. I love that this process has remained unchanged for thousands of years and the freedom the material gives you when creating pieces of jewellery.

Above: Demi Disc Necklace

Praised by New York Times’ T Magazine as ‘sculptures you can wear’, can you explain to us your background in Fine Art and how this influences your approach as a designer?

I think that my Fine Art background has influenced me in a number of ways - I have an appreciation for form and the process of taking simple shapes and adding unexpected details that transform them into something slightly displaced from the regular. I think my interest in sculpture can be seen mostly in my earring designs though. Compared to rings and bracelets they can operate as stand alone pieces, not necessarily crafted to fit around the body and offer the most scope for fun and experimentation. During the later years of my Fine Art practice, I was working a lot with sound, creating audio installations. My process was quite conceptual, based around collecting scientific data and making arbitrary translation systems to code the data into language. Although this isn't used directly in my jewellery practice, the focus on concept always weaves its way into each collection.

What were the influences for your most recent collection?

I was looking a lot at the actions of knotting, tying and threading and there are a few references throughout the collection to Japanese Obi Belts and ties on Judo jackets. This combined with the idea of retro-futurism that runs through each collection resulted in the aesthetic of Collection Four.

Above: Slot Ring from Collection Four

Can you explain to us what you mean by ‘retro-futurism’?

It's a term that is sometimes used to describe the use of 'futuristic' shapes and ideas used in an earlier era, predominantly in the 'retro' eras of the 1960s and 70s where technology was developing rapidly. There are a lot of references to this through each of my collections, I think of it as early episodes of Star Trek mixed with Studio 54! 

Given your strength in art direction, can you talk us through the process of creating your latest look book?

I'm very lucky that one of my best friends, Agnes Lloyd Platt is an incredibly talented photographer, who I have worked with since the beginning of the brand. From collection to collection we have developed and refined our references and direction when it comes to each look book. Jewellery is a really tricky product to put into context without it looking too posed or contrived and Agnes and I both like it when movement and action is put into the shots so they don't look 'posed'. We tried to intertwine the references of tying and knotting into the shoot, keeping things quite dark and soft which worked really well with our model, Grace, who has the most amazing, pre-Raphaelite look!

Above: Shot from the recent look book for Collection Four, featuring Knot Knocker Earrings.

Can you walk us around your studio space?

We moved from our lovely little Hackney Wick space to a larger space in Seven Sisters earlier in the summer which I've fallen in love with! I share the studio with Clarice Price Thomas (who I refer to as my jewellery wife). The space is very industrial but so bright, with big windows and a high pitched roof. The building used to be a print-works and has been recently renovated into studio spaces and is filling up with fantastic small businesses, including a great little pizza/cocktail bar/art space which is is always great fun! 

Above: Jessie's Seven Sisters Studio

As such a directional brand, what are your plans for the future of Jessie Harris as we get ready for a new year?

There are a few exciting plans in the pipeline including a fine collection which I can't wait for! I've loved having the chance to work with so many lovely people on bespoke projects that I can't wait to incorporate something more specifically in-keeping with the brand into this type of jewellery. I've also got a super exciting collaborative project that will be released in the new year with a designer that I have a lot of love for! Keep your eyes peeled for this one!

Words by Rebecca Field. Shop selected pieces from Jessie Harris online and in store.