Slim Barrett is one of London’s silent couturiers. From primitive chainmail bras and body armour to ornate coronets and avant-garde brooches, wandering through his archive feels like dipping into a piece of medieval history, or a “pirate’s treasure trove,” as Barrett refers to it. His Clerkenwell studio tells a gothic tale of baroque tiaras, Bauhaus pendants, dripping chandeliers and extravagant swirling metalwork, which he has made for the likes of Chanel, Versace, Givenchy and John Galliano amongst many others over the years. He created the prototype for the iconic Vivienne Westwood Orb and has provided costume jewellery for numerous Hollywood films, while his roster includes Beyonce, Mick Jagger, Naomi Campbell and Madonna. He made Victoria Beckham’s miniature wedding crown in 1999 and a necklace for Princess Diana, which was his first commission after a chance encounter with a couturier in a café in Camden.
Slim himself is a quiet character from Galaway, while his wife Jules heads up the PR. Together they have become a much-loved and reputed couple within the industry. For the retrospective, Barrett enrolled photographer Mark Kean and stylist Kim O'Neill, along with a cast of models that includes their son and his friends. "It's like an extension of the family," explains Jules. In anticipation of his thirty-year retrospective, AnOther speak to Slim about his inspirations and memories.
When did you start making jewellery?
I made my first piece of jewellery from horse-shoe nails when I was about nine years of age. Then after leaving art school in the 80s I came toLondon and had a couple of exhibitions. One day I was hanging in a café in Camden with my girlfriend when the owner came up to her and asked where the necklace she was wearing had come from. Once she heard I’d made it she gave me the card of a couturier that at the time was dressing Princess Diana and before I finished my coffee she had set up a meeting with him for the next day. I wasn’t at all planning to make jewellery it just sort of took off from there – written in the stars I suppose.
Where did you learn your techniques?
When I was a kid I used to hang out at the local blacksmiths and the undertakers where I picked up loads of tricks. I experimented and learned a lot about working with metal when I was at art school making sculpture. Then in 1984 I set up my first art studio in Dalston and worked for five years next door to a goldsmith who took me aside and trained me in jewellery making techniques.
How would you describe Slim Barrett's style?
I call it Celtic Nouveau. Being Irish/Norman there is undoubtedly a strong Celtic/Norse thread running through the work.
What are some of your favorite pieces that you have made over the years?
All of my work is really personal to me as I have been ‘hands on’ throughout my career. I was really satisfied with the neckpiece I made for Beyonce earlier this year but two projects I worked on stick in my mind. One is the silver and gold mesh I created for Karl Lagerfeld and Chanel. It was an eight week whirlwind of mad creativity with a bit of ‘how do we figure this one out’ sort of project. The other one would be designing the jewellery prototypes for Vivienne Westwood’s Orb back in the day. It gives me great satisfaction to see that it has lasted the test of time.
What is the most time-consuming piece that you have made?
I had a bespoke commission for a crown that took eight weeks working around the clock to be sure it was ready in time for a last minute movie deadline. Also a chandelier that should have taken a year got crammed into 12 weeks. After we finished I worked out that it did in fact take 14 months of person hours to make.
Makeup by Marco Antonio
Hair by Antonio de Luca
Text by Mhairi Graham