New York-based hyphenate Alice Waese creates jewellery with a sculptural sensibility, finding infinite inspiration in the raw romanticism of nature
Who is it? Though labels for Canada-born hyphenate Alice Waese might include poet, fashion designer and artist, she is perhaps best known for her jewellery – roughly hewn forms that appear as if the metal itself has been worked on with her bare hands. “I came to it in a roundabout way,” Waese admits – having attended both poetry and fashion school, it was a stint as a design assistant with Maria Cornejo in New York set her current parth in motion. (A degree in Sculpture at London’s Goldsmiths, on Cornejo’s recommendation, would come in between.)
“When I’m making sculpture and making jewellery it’s all coming from the same place,” she explains. “But I like the idea of working with tiny precious things, and the way that metal can take on the phases of your life.” Inspiration is most often drawn from the raw romanticism of nature – previous collections have seen her embed disparate objects, cast in metal, within her jewellery – think: a cocoon; a sheep’s skull; a pine cone.
Though now an inhabitant of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, it was London that stimulated much of her early work – “I love its history, these origin stories and how they get mixed up and become myths or old wives’ tales,” she says – and would provide her first stockist. Having created several coarsely formed pieces in silver during her time at Goldsmiths, she walked them into east London boutique Hostem and simply asked if they wanted to sell them, which they did. “More people should do that!” she laughs.
Why do I want it? Waese’s most recent collection – seasonless, a rebuke to fashion’s endless cycle – returns to nature once again; this time, to the story of how a pearl begins its life. “They come from molluscs, these ancient creatures,” she explains. “There’s this grain of dirt, and the oyster actually coats it because it’s trying to protect itself. It felt kind of strange and sexual to me, it’s one of those things you are like: that could have been totally made up.”
From there, Waese began to weave her own tale, one depicted in the watercolour illustrations that provide the backdrop for the collection’s lookbook. “I started drawing these tongues hanging out, and these men under the ocean,” she says of the images, which hold a haunting appeal. “I love that idea of how out of ugliness comes something really beautiful – I think that’s true of our everyday lives too, what we create often comes out of some kind of pain or hardship.”
The final point of departure came courtesy of Johannes Vermeer’s Girl With a Pearl Earring. “There was something about the way that pearl is almost grotesque, but also really beautiful to me,” she says. “I started an earring which I’d never done before really – and then I made it, and got my ears pierced.” The resulting earrings, which are repeated in different iterations through the collection, appear almost misformed, studded with precious stones, including emeralds, a longtime favourite of the designer.
Waese hopes that her pieces become entwined with their owners. “I hope that it’ll be treasured and will be around forever; we’re not making something that is going to be thrown in the garbage and you need a new one, you know?” she says. “I want people to feel dependent on them, like they are a part of your body.”