MariaFrancescaPepe makes jewelry with the whole body in mind! Her jewelry pieces are part punk / pop influenced, and part baroque in scale and craftsmanship. Playing off religious iconographies of religion such as crosses and the crown of thorns to cult symbols of serpents from Ancient Egypt to Seventies Rock and Roll she creates designs, which are at once a-temporal, yet, very timely. Of all the body adornments, jewelry is the most personal, intimate and timeless (we are often buried with our wedding rings and other symbolic jewelry objects). It is this process of life, decay, and timelessness which is evoked through MariaFrancescaPepe’s rings, cuffs, necklaces, choker and pendants.
You have a Master in Womenwear from Central Saint Martins (2007). How and why did you make the transition from clothing design to jewelry? What inspired you to go into jewelry design?
Creatively there are no boundaries, in my opinion. I tend to apply my aesthetic to anything I design and often the line between categories fades away.
The boundaries might re-appear when you consider the commercial side of what you design. I focused on jewelry because for me, it is the most challenging and exciting in terms of manufacturing and it does not have to conform to any size to be worn.
Commercially jewelry is much more versatile than clothing.
The way I conceive jewelry has always been as a starting point of my creative research and it has been a natural development for me to keep experimenting with it.
You use highly charged symbolic imagery such as: serpents, crosses, studs or letters to spell words out. Tell us how your designs evoke the charged relationship we have with the world of the mystical and the spiritual…
I greatly value the presence of positive energy in my life. Having faith in your soul is what gives you inner strength and what makes you unique.
I am also aware of bad influences and how important is to cure the spirit.
Religious and mystic symbols carry these meanings and inner strengths: to remind us we have to protect our souls and accept our faith willingly despite hard times.
Each symbol gives a message to the person who is wearing it, or to the person you give it to. This is why jewelry is the perfect gift.
Many of your designs are conceived with the whole body in mind, from the head (draped chains) to the feet (ankle bracelets and rings). How do you see the body’s relationship to jewelry, and how do your designs transform our relationship to our body?
Jewelry is something that when you wear you do not feel, despite the fact that it is made of metal. Considering the human body as a canvas to design from allows me to create pieces, which are perfectly ergonomic and comfortable to wear.
Besides, I find it both funny and gorgeous to wear jewelry on unusual parts of your body, such as feet or ankles. Or having the possibility to change their functionality. For example, wearing an earring as a collar pin, or a bracelet as a choker.
You work with a combination of materials, which at first seem incongruous (metal, silk ropes, turquoise stones), that are combined to create a feminine yet tough glamour. Can you elucidate on your choice of materials in jewelry? What is the historical or personal story behind the materials that attract you?
I work predominately with brass because it is extremely versatile and can be easily molded and texturized.
Brass is a semiprecious metal used in costume jewelry since the 40s, and the Italian artisans I work with have a profound knowledge of its uses. It can be plated with gold, rose gold, palladium, rhodium, ruthenium. It can be oxidized, varnished, hammered, laser-cut, enameled, carved, laminated, sanded. And it works very well alongside other materials, without causing chemical reactions.
I love brass’ natural colour. It is just so effortless.
I like silver as well but I find it sometimes less straightforward, especially for bold and avant-garde designs.
What I also enjoy very much is working with other traditional materials often used in vintage costume jewelry, such as fabric, ropes, leather, crystals, wood, resin.
Your designs have been worn by some of today’s fashion luminaries from Lady Gaga to Sienna Miller and Jennifer Lopez. How does working with a “superstar” of style transform your craft? Have you made specialized pieces for them, for example? Most recently I have made bespoke headpieces for Gaga. When you work for a celebrity you mainly work for her/his stylist and it’s more that relationship that counts then the once with the celebrity herself.
When I design my collections, after a piece is completed I can often see it being worn by some popular face in the business. However, to be honest, I do not have any of them in mind during the creative process. It just happens.
You have also collaborated with a number of important high street retailers such as Urban Outfitters, Topshop and Victoria’s Secret. How does working with these retailers change some of your designs or material choices? I might imagine that some material and aesthetic considerations in your designs might need to be rethought?
It really depends who the client is and what they are looking for. Next June, for example, we are launching a diffusion line for Urban Outfitters US and we managed to produce at a very affordable price some of my SS12 signature pieces. We researched different materials, worked with Far East factories, and redesigned some elements to make them easier to wear. It was a very long and complex process because I would never jeopardize the quality and the aesthetic of my creations just to make them cheaper. The challenge is to keep MFP’s standards at its highest despite being high-street retail.
Your jewelry is hand crafted in Italy. What is the fabrication process and how do you collaborate with the artisans making your designs?
I work with some of the most expert hands in the costume jewelry making in the whole world, and this brings a very special touch to MFP ‘s products. My idea has always been to produce at the highest quality standards some of the street style jewelry I first fell in love with when I was a teenager, which was Camden Town in London during the Nineties.
What I enjoy most is meeting with my suppliers and looking at new techniques, and experimenting new materials and finishing. It is a teamwork and I have a profound respect for these master artisans. They can really make the difference using their art crafts and expertise.
Here in my London studio we mock up all the pieces from scratch and graphically develop them into different variations. I have quite an unusual way to approach to jewelry design, and this is because of my eclectic background. Yet, I also think this is what makes my designs unique in the end.
The Spring Summer 2012 collection ‘Veleno’ mixes thick silk ropes with turquoise embellishments and light delicate chains. What were your inspirations and what can we expect to discover through this new collection?
Veleno (eng. poison/ lat. venenum) is able to penetrate and change the nature of things.
The symbol of the serpent (lat. serpetem), as it was known in Ancient Egypt and then reinvented in the Seventies, is the symbol of temptation and fatal attraction to pleasure, otherworldliness and everlasting beauty and of how all things perish and decay.
When I designed this collection I went through a rough time in my life, and have experienced decadence as a form of beauty itself. I used the turquoise stones because they bring good health and protection. The whole collection is very comfortable to wear and I have gained lots of grown up customers who had not recognized themselves in MFP earlier. Nevertheless, I have definitely not lost my edge and even if I have shown my vulnerable side, there are always lots cool and bold styles to toughen up your outfit!
Thanks so much! It seems the mystical is in the air…..Bizou!
(images: Maria Francesca Pepe)