Say it with colour: The vibrant jewellery of Melissa Curry
Irish designer’s latest collection Freedom is designed to stimulate the senses
Neon zing hoops €35, part of Melissa Curry’s new jewellery collection
When it comes to jewellery, Irish designers really shine. There’s Nigel O’Reilly in Castlebar (who apprenticed with the late Rudolf Heltzel), his crafted wonders encasing unusual precious stones; Stonechat, stylishly revamping family heirlooms; Chupi whose lively imagination drives her hugely successful, delicate vermeil creations; Natasha Sherling, a gemmologist known for her bridal pieces; silversmith Seamus Gill maintaining a long family tradition; and Sligo-based Martina Hamilton, a sculptor turned jeweller like Fiona Mulholland to name but a few.
There’s also Angela O’Kelly who combines traditional techniques with new technology and heads the fashion department in NCAD while Nuala Jamison mixes acrylic with silver for standout items.
Many others of like Vivien Walsh, Momuse, Maureen Lynch, Jenny Huston, Sean Osborne and multi-award-winning Emer Roberts all add to the creative mix, from the avant garde to the more commercial.
Overnight international star
Somewhere in the middle is Melissa Curry who from being an overnight international star in her 20s has survived many personal and creative setbacks. Despite that, she continues to forge her own signature and direction maintaining that she is a jewellery concept designer.
“Jewellery is my tool and I build narratives for people – it’s about bringing positivity working with form, colour and art.” Her latest collection called Freedom – sensual, tactile and vibrantly colourful – is designed to stimulate the senses.
“Colour works directly on our emotions and we often associate it with holidays. It really gives a psychological boost,” she says, particularly, she might have added, in these times. Her Ohlala collection with its multicoloured spiked necklaces and crowns certainly drives that home in a spectacular fashion, but others on her website called Bowerbird, Bubblicious, Cruise Bon Bons and Neom pack the same punch.
She was due to be in Miami last month for a major launch programme with Virgin on its first cruise ship. Aimed at young people and built around sustainability and ecology, it was a novel enterprise but with cruise ships and Virgin on a downward track due to the pandemic, all that has been cancelled. It followed her venture into what she calls travel tourism attracting collaborations with airlines – her POG necklaces (from the Irish for kiss) were selling on Aer Lingus flights as an alternative to the Claddagh ring. Her talismanic BYOS (Be Your Own Success) which she calls “a motivational wearable” was another initiative.
This started five years ago after a difficult break looking after her autistic son when she transformed her business to aim at a “far more conscious consumer”. That meant establishing sustainable practices across her entire supply chain, using biodegradable packaging and eliminating waste.
“BYOS was something so personal – it took me two years to develop and when it was presented to Michelle Obama that was a wonderful moment for me. It was nothing to do with fashion. It was a different narrative.”
Curry who is from Sligo started her career almost by chance. After extensive travels in India, the Middle East and Africa in her 20s, she returned home determined to become a fashion designer and made a collection of bold jewellery pieces out of wire and fishing nets inspired by her Irish heritage of knitting and weaving. She took these “ballsy, cutting edge” pieces to Paris where, to her great and unexpected surprise, they attracted the attention of Liberty’s chief buyer.
That led to the famous British store asking her to spearhead their millennium global campaign. The effect was transformative. Demands came from A list clients and visiting heads of state for bespoke pieces for the royal wedding and her work was showcased in global boutiques in New York, Japan, Paris and London. Increasingly, however, it put her under pressure to mass-produce.
“But it was at odds with what was important to me. Jewellery tells stories and marks important milestones and the process of designing and making takes time.” Her commissions during this time included one-off projects with Absolut, Swarovski, Toni & Guy and Philippe Stark.
She works from a small studio in Donnybrook with two others, making everything by hand from her drawings mostly inspired by nature. Her materials are sourced from France – stone, porcelain, silver, gold, acrylic, glass, metal, cotton and silk threads. It comes as no surprise that she reveres the jewellery of sculptor Alexander Calder who was passionate about the craft and whose value lay in their design rather than their carat count.
Like him, she is not a big gemstone fan. “Jewellery tells stories and I work to bring more significance to something and careful about where I draw my materials. It is a tool to drive emotion and that is the beautiful side of it and why we gift it. It is a storyteller and that is what I love about and that is how I still tell my stories.”
Photography: Declan Kelly, make-up: Sarah Langan, stylist: Terri Cooper. All clothes from Havana Boutique, Donnybrook, D4