“I don’t even know how to explain how terrifying it is to start your own thing. There is just so much fear. But also, there are many amazing things about it…and it came to a point where I didn’t feel there is anything else I wanted to do.” Simone Faurschou, the Danish born and raised but now London based jewellery designer cum artist is a reflective conversationalist. No pithy one-liners here. Her responses, like her body of work are considered, simultaneously simple and complex. We initially started talking during the first lockdown, when a fortuitous DM slide led to a year plus intention to make time for a deeper dive. At the time Faurschou was busy launching her seminal Blockchain Series, one which has seen her expand notions of the way jewellery is used, viewed and purchased, with her delving into the world of crypto-currencies, NFTs and Augmented Reality. As a series, it has captured the imagination beyond conventional jewellery circles and has resulted in Faurschou (although she is personally more circumspect in claiming the title of artist) enter the contemporary and digital art world. Yet Faurschou’s approach is evidence of a shift in how many designers and artists, particularly those younger, are choosing to navigate the jewellery industry. The personal and the political are part and parcel. Interrogating notions of commercial and spiritual success are up for discussion, and neither the right retailer or most impressive editorial feature are sought after as much as they were a generation before. Furthermore, the questions Faurschou explores via her body of work and her modus operandi of creating pieces reflect shifting and current cultural norms, but still possess wider demographic appeal. Her work acts as a gentle reminder of how jewellery’s superpower lies in creating community from seemingly disparate individuals.
Manifestations and Magical Thinking
Faurschou initially felt her future lay in fashion design: “I always wanted to go to Central Saint Martin’s. It is quite a fun story” – she says reminiscing – “but I begged my parents to send me to this language school in England so I got this as a present when I was confirmed. At the language school there was a visit to Central Saint Martin’s. I was fourteen and I remember walking down the halls and thinking this is where Alexander McQueen and all these great designers went and I completely fell in love.” But this was not mere adolescent passion of the fashion kind, once decided she in her own words “called it into being”. A brief stint at Copenhagen Business School resulted in her dropping out and enrolling in an Art Foundation Course in Copenhagen and it was from here that she applied and got accepted into her dream school, initially still thinking her future lay in fashion before an inspiring tutor suggested jewellery might be for her.
Faurschou is a compelling advocate of structured pedagogy and in particular how Central Saint Martin’s, both in terms of the teaching she received and the ethos of the school shaped how she continues to work. “One of the great things about Central Saint Martin’s is they encouraged us to not just work in metals There were projects where we had to work with something that was biodegradable and lots of different materials, resin, leather, plastic… I even made a piece from tampons which was, like, about femininity and the tampon tax, it was really such a great place to explore and just be.” An ethnically and culturally diverse student body not only offered her broader vistas of understanding and possibility but allowed for her to reflect on her own innate Scandinavian sensibilities and aesthetic. “One of my friends from Turkey, the way she worked was so detailed, there was wax carving and stones and just like a lot of details whereas my work is a minimalistic kind of style. And it doesn’t mean that I don’t love figurative work, I love it, but I always return to something that is quite simple and definitely Scandinavian, which I guess is my DNA.” London as a city was the ideal backdrop for her creative and internal explorations and she talks of those early years in the city with an animated tone, that hints at days of discovery that augmented her academic and subsequent professional endeavours. “I remember hanging around a lot in East London and just loving it, this whole creative vibe was so different from Copenhagen… But I also think moving to London and getting friends from all over the world made me more passionate about discussing how important our relationships are and kindness is…. I saw a lot more homeless people on the street and compared to Copenhagen, a lot of people have to fight just to survive.” In many ways, Faurschou’s body of work returns to these themes consistently, connectedness, cross cultural exchange, as well as – via how she makes her pieces – practical notions and actions that champion justice and compassion.
“It’s quite wild because I am not from a family with money or anything, but I have always been quite focused [and] when I see something that I want, I just really try and go for it.” Faurschou’s speedy ascent: graduating with a BA in Jewellery Design in 2016, landing a role as Head of Design at cult fashion jewellery brand completedworks and moving on to found her eponymous brand in 2020 has led many to mistakenly assume that she has a healthy private income or at the very least a substantial investor. However, neither is the case, diligence and boundless optimism have guided her in all of her successes thusfar. Of a dream-come-true internship with haute couturier Iris Van Harpen whilst she was a student, she explains: “I remember going for the interview and flying back to London on the same day and being completely exhausted, and when I got it, I was like, shit, I don’t have money for this and where to live in Amsterdam and I am going to be working for free.” She pauses and smiles before adding “But a friend’s Mum was willing to let me stay and we became really great friends [and] I got to be part of the Haute Couture show, and I worked on this particular dress with like twenty other people and it was fantastic.”
Whilst some might roll their eyes at what on first listen sounds like a contemporary fashion fairytale, Faurschou’s active decision, not to be constrained by current circumstances and push forth regardless, holding fast to the notion, has segued into how she works – embracing the concept first – before working out the practicalities. It also anchors her design process which is rooted what she terms as “narrative driven pieces” and which results in jewellery that is expansive in its intentions. She explains “A piece of jewellery could be a whole-body piece. I don’t look at jewellery in a traditional way in terms of rings and earrings, but more as a way you explore the entire body…it doesn’t start with wanting to make something that looks good, it is more about making some concepts that might seem abstract tangible.” We alight on the much celebrated Daniel Roseberry for Schiaparelli Autumn/Winter Haute Couture 2021 which is replete with modern day body armour and Faurschou exclaims “I am obsessed! I was sitting with friends the other day and I was saying this is also my view of how to work with jewellery When I look at Schiaperelli I am like oh my God I adore that.”
Small luxury businesses, particularly startups, rise and fall on their ability to attract the attention and patronage of the milieu that are both interested and can afford their wares. Faurschou concedes that “I definitely have a great network of creative people around me”. However, she is quick to clarify “but I don’t have a specific crew of people”. It is an important distinction. In an industry where the hiring of a prestigious PR agency, getting your pieces into the right showroom and having leading editors peruse the collection over champagne and canapes is oftentimes proposed as a must-do rather than an optional extra, it can cripple a company at the beginning of the journey. Instead, Faurschou has allowed for tastemaker word-of-mouth referrals for her bespoke work and her collections to do the heavy lifting of brand promotion and the results have proved more than exemplary. From Mimma Viglezio, the business strategic force behind numerous fashion super brands’ successes (and the current Editor in Chief of Tomorrow Crew’s Digital Showroom), to Kristine Loebner, the managing director of Cecile Bahnsen, a brand that has become the default pillar of the thinking fashion girl’s wardrobe, to actor and podcaster Cressida Bonas, the amplification potential is clear. And whilst many have commented on the cliquey nature of London’s creative classes, Faurschou has thusfar managed to not only avoid the potential pitfalls, but also thrive, growing a wide network of clients, supporters and co-creators. She adds “I feel like people are always keen on collaborating, even just meeting new people I think it is something very unique about London.”
However, connections is only one part of the equation. Faurschou’s jewellery resonates with a growing global demand for simpler pieces that have profound meanings attached to them. Jewellery that does not self-select itself into the ‘special occasions category’ by virtue of the size of gemstones used, or necessitate one have a security detail as one goes about their errands, is the preferred choice regardless of age or financial status. Furthermore, pieces do best commercially when they reflect the designer’s and prospective client’s values and beliefs. In Faurschou’s case it has resulted in the exclusive use of lab-grown diamonds, in response to environmental concerns and Fairmined gold. She adds “my work is about community and what I really like about Fairmined gold is their way of ensuring that the miners and the community doing the mining gets a really fair salary.” But the decision is not without consequences, “The gold is 20% more expensive, because you are paying premium price to ensure that everyone in the process is being fairly paid…so it means that my prices have to be even higher which is already hard if you are a new and upcoming brand.” The jewellery industry has received a lot of criticism due to the ambivalence of some of the big players to horrendous working conditions for miners and the communities they live in. Faurschou and other small independents have paved the way in supplying clients with greater transparency with regards to sourcing, sustainability (she often creates custom pieces using client’s heirloom gemstones) and ethical practices. “I don’t want to sound cliché, but I have big dreams. I would love to continue to create more jewellery and make more sales and I would just love to have my supply chain be fully traceable and to have a relationship with the miners who mine the gold.” For Faurschou, full traceability is the end goal rather than optics dressed in press release platitudes.
Pangea, Faurschou’s first fully conceived series was the break-out hit that distinguished her in terms of artistry, craft and messaging. Conceived as a socio-political and cultural comment on connection, it’s name, taken from the original mega-continent from which the existing seven continents separated, also acted as Faurschou’s design prompt, with all the pieces formed from fragments that tesselate together. “Pangea was very much about unity; I already knew that I wanted to do something about human connectedness. So then when the pandemic hit, I was like okay it is almost too obvious or too much to do something like this, but at the same time I already had plans and then I was super limited in terms of materials because I kind of lost all my freelance work and I was just hanging in there in my tiny room in east London.” As the city ground to a halt Faurschou was forced to think laterally. She relates: “My style is usually a bit more organic or slightly larger pieces maybe but I had to work with what I got and I couldn’t use casters or 3D printers . What I could do is cut up a sheet of gold.” Whilst Faurschou may have initially lamented the constraints, it resulted in a potent distillation of her design language. And with all labour done solely by her, it imbued all of the pieces an intimate energy and was a reminder of the fragility of connection.
Because of the circumstances surrounding its creation, Faurschou is aware of Pangea’s long term historical and cultural significance. “Now I really appreciate that, because at the time I was thinking ‘oh no, it is not good enough and it’s too simple’ but now I am really grateful because it was such a picture of what it was at the time. I happened to have a bench set up in my room, a few materials, and my tools. But the collection also became about survival, about finding and having the time to do something that I was really passionate about.” With mental health around the world plummeting and anxiety skyrocketing in the midst of all pervading feelings of uncertainty, having her routine of creating the piece became a safe place for Farschou to retreat to. Promotional photography was done on socially distanced sets, “I just made it happen with friends who were also in lockdown who happened to be photographers and model friends and these people who had also just lost all of their work.” This was not to say it was plane sailing, she adds; “It was quite a hectic time because I was jumping from house to house when I lost my own place but I am really happy that I didn’t just sink….I could have just been in bed miserable.” The collection also had the pioneering and novel addition of an accompanying poem written by noted poet, artist and environmental activist Wilson Oryema. The poem was a poignant reminder of Faurschou’s overall intent to create new landscapes for discourses not necessarily associated with fine jewellery and those who love it.
If Pangea was about reminding us of our shared community, Faurschou’s Blockchain Series continues with the thesis but illustrates how the brave new word of crypto-currencies and virtual realities needn’t be viewed as dehumanising forces but rather harnessed to create digital communities and allegiances that are anchored in compassion, curiosity and a love for adornment. A 3D circular block of Fairmined gold has been carved into twelve segments, with most pieces including a sprinkle of lab-grown diamonds from The Diamond Foundry. So far so standard ethical and sustainable luxury. However, Faurschou takes things up a notch. The pieces are sold as NFTs (non-fungible-tokens), and in addition to an actual Blockchain pendant, purchasers also receive a digital piece of jewellery. Faurschou reflects “If you had asked me two years ago whether I was going to do digital jewellery and NFTs I would have definitely probably said no.” she says before laughing. But second lockdown provided the perfect opportunity for her to satisfy her burgeoning curiosity with crypto-currencies and act upon it. “friends were talking about it and I guess the community that comes with bitcoin and these different things. And then I read about the art piece that was sold at Christies that was a crazy amount 69 million pounds or whatever and I was like wow, this is super interesting that someone can sell a digital piece of art. At the same time, I was really thinking about how technology has kept us connected in lockdown so I was already thinking about doing something for my next collection that was going to be around technology. When I learnt you could create NFTs I was just like, well if you can sell a digital piece of art you can also sell a piece of digital jewellery.” Typical of her process, once the idea was in place, realizing it became the adventure. She adds “I couldn’t find many people in the industry but there is a great woman called Cathy Hackl who was so kind to supervise me for a bit on the journey and so I was lucky to get in with some quite talented people in tech.” Hackl was a particular godsend as she is not only one of the world’s leading futurists but also an expert on the metaverse and the author of Marketing New Realities and the Augmented Workforce, two books that are the blueprint and roadmap of the sector.
Of the naming the series Faurschou explains “when you start learning about NFT the first thing is the technology behind it which is blockchain. And it is now implemented in supply chains and it is really fascinating technology. When I heard the name I just visualized this chain of blocks.” Faurschou trades her Blockchain Series on Known Origin, a market leader in Digital Art, with collectors bidding for the pieces using their crypto-wallets. Faurschou is one of a handful of jewellery artists who have seen the potential of digital art and harnessing technology in order for collectors to experience their pieces beyond wearing them. The final interactive aspect of Blockchain is every collector has the opportunity of virtually meeting the next collector in the chain. The community, given that Faurschou is now on her 4th Series is thirty six and counting strong and spread across the globe. Does Faurschou conceive creating another digital jewellery artwork or Augmented Reality experience? She doesn’t reveal. But what she does say is the foray into digital art and crypto currency has opened conversations with her peers regarding value. “A dollar bill is only valuable because someone says it is.” Jewellery that precipitates discussions that question the very systems society is built upon is thrillingly subversive, and that it is as is Faurschou’s way, an easy piece that could become part of one’s daily uniform, an omnipresent reminder to think differently.
Journey Or Destination?
With her rising profile, Faurschou has had to navigate the expectations of the communities that have taken an interest in her and her work. The modern jewellery creative’s rubric demands the curated social media profile, good interview skills and a knack of looking preternaturally beautiful whilst at your bench, delicately furrowed brow an optional extra. Faurschou thinks this is rightly unreasonable. “For a lot of creatives actually it is a nightmare…but I do believe it should not be about us. It is about the work… I have done a few interviews in the past that I didn’t like much. I was like, ‘Oh my God I need to sit and talk about me, why can’t it just be about the work? Talking about oneself, is not really what it is about right?” It is a sentiment witnessed on Faurschou’s Instagram. There are no lengthy treatises of what she feels about issues of the day, or streams of consciousness on IGLive, and compared to the prevailing wind that has made compulsive over-sharers of us all, and demanded it of those we admire, just a handful of images of her in off-duty mode. What you will find is jewellery, both in progress and completed, her existing collections and posts of happy clients wearing their Simone Faurschou with pride.
Faurschou’s progress given that her brand is only in its third year of full operations, with 18 months of those being during a global pandemic, is extraordinary. When asked how she defines success she pauses for some time before stating “To be completely honest, I have been asking myself that question a lot lately… If you had asked me a couple of years ago, I would probably have said having my own brand or doing the things I am really passionate about and I am doing that now and it gives me so much joy. But then I have this element of the struggle in terms of economy [because] it’s really hard to make money and to make it consistently and that doesn’t feel very successful right?” She says laughing before finally concluding “My idea of success is based somewhere around community and being able to discuss some of the things that I think are important in my work.” With the Blockchain Series Four in the works and other projects that are currently percolating, Faurschou’s notions of success seem set to expand as her sphere of influence continues to grow.
We close on what makes Faurschou push herself and her practice forward. “You can have a Plan B but I don’t really.., I am making it work my way and just have faith that it will pay off. It is a tough journey but also beautiful at the same time. The people you get to meet and the stuff I get to do and the skills I keep developing. But there is never a guarantee. When I meet a lot of people the first thing they say is ‘you’re so brave’ but for me I don’t really think about it that way. It’s oh but I can’t do anything else. So, it doesn’t feel like a choice.” Whilst Faurschou’s career thus far might appear full of serendipitous happenings that are powering her steady ascent, one is reminded of the often-misquoted Seneca aphorism, “Luck is when opportunity meets preparedness.” Faurschou does not come across as merely ‘lucky’ or as her friends observed ‘brave’. The word that springs to mind is tenacious. Her design process requires supreme levels of preparedness. Furthermore, the sheer resolve of knowing and pursuing a career in design since her teen years points to an individual that isn’t simply coasting through life on looks, charm and a sparkling contact book. Her work itself is underpinned with an optimism for a reimagined global community, and to some extent harks back to the political idealism movement that had its beginnings in the late 19th century and was at its zenith post the First World War. Where Seneca’s notion of opportunity comes into play is Faurschou’s creative brilliance of framing these ideas via wearable pieces of art. She has seen an opportunity to build a conscious community via beautiful jewellery and those who wear her work are as fortunate as the maker herself.