Isabel Bonner’s eponymous label takes her fascinations – from modernist furniture to the sculptures of Barbara Hepworth and Donald Judd – and translates them into jewellery that looks good both on and off the body
- Who is it? Isabel Bonner is a stylist with an eponymous jewellery label based between London and New York
- Why do I want it? Beautiful modernist-inspired jewellery that doubles as sculpture
- Where can I find it? Isabel Bonner is available from Sincerely, Tommy in New York and orders can also be placed through the label’s website
Who is it? The New York-born designer and stylist Isabel Bonner remembers playing with her mother and godmother’s jewellery when she was a child. “They have beautiful collections, consisting of quite avant-garde designs, like Italian minimalist settings and chunky masculine rings,” she tells AnOther. “They are the kind of women who wear a €10 ring bought in a marina market next to Buccellati or Celini ... I’ve always held their hands and studied their rings.” That childhood fascination would see Bonner go on to study jewellery design at Central Saint Martins in London. “I love jewellery for its ability to conduct and store energy. There is magic in taking a ring off a friend and trying it on and feeling the warmth from their body.”
Though her time Saint Martins inducted her into the city’s creative community – “we were always working and making a mess in the living room ... when I think of Saint Martins I think a lot about the lifelong friends I met,” she says – by the time she finished her degree she felt disillusioned with jewellery as a medium and instead pursued a career in styling. “Jewellery making can be quite an isolating experience, but I need people around me to feel creative which I think is why, when I graduated, I rebelled from sitting at a jewellery bench and turned my mind to image-making.”
After the beginnings of a successful career in styling – a career she continues today – she sought a counterpoint to its ephemerality, where projects could be begun and wrapped in just a few days or weeks. In 2018, she returned to the medium in which she had begun, launching an eponymous jewellery label and studio. “The jewellery really grounds me,” she says of how she now balances the two strands of her creative life. “It’s an entirely different process, from sketching to production that can take months to see a design manifest.”
Based in London – after graduation, Bonner stayed in south London, where she lives with her husband and dog, Winnie – Bonner’s designs are profoundly influenced by sculpture, citing Barbara Hepworth, Isamu Noguchi, Walter De Maria and Donald Judd as her primary influences (in fact, she says if she weren’t making jewellery she would be a sculptor, and hopes her pieces “feel like a small piece of sculpture on the dresser or nightstand”). Other influences include the work of designers such as Rei Kawakubo, Martin Margiela, Yohji Yamamoto and Helmut Lang, who she looks to for “energy”, as well as more esoteric obsessions – currently, mid-century cutlery.
Why do I want it? Bonner’s most recent collection – titled Isabel Bonner Collection II – sees the designer hone her signatures. “I am consciously growing in a gradual, slowed down and edited way,” she says. “The first collection was my introduction, large pieces, that root all the other collections. Collection II focusses just on earrings, that are more wearable day to day.” These collections, and the upcoming Collection III which she is currently working on, are not seasonal – consumers will continue to be able to purchase pieces from each, all at once. “Those following the brand will go on the journey with me.”
For this latest collection, though, Bonner sought to make her own iterations of classic styles – like the pearl earring, an adornment which has been around for centuries. “I wanted to play with the idea of negative space, balance and bold simplicity,” she says. “So pairing a boxy shape with the softness of a pearl feels all at once both minimalist, almost Brutalist and entirely feminine.” Indeed, her jewellery – from the Cosima and Iona earrings, which resemble shards of corrugated metal, to the cubic Benedict earring – recalls the rigid geometry of Brutalist architecture and design, or the minimal lines of modernist furniture (the lookbook itself, photographed by Benedict Brink, was captured in furniture showroom Béton Brut in east London).
As with her initial collection, Bonner wants her pieces to be as pleasing to the eye off the body as they are on. “I think we have so much jewellery in the world and so, it had to be more than that; I wanted to create something that could exist on the body and also be a beautiful artefact,” she says. With this in mind, she doesn’t use generic fastenings, like the butterfly backs you find on most commercial earrings. “I wanted the reverse of the earring to be just as considered as the front,” she explains. “The way the back attachments function means you can play with how the earring stands – you’re the auteur. Some of the earrings are weighty so it’s also nifty because it acts as a counter balance on your earlobe to prevent the earring from pulling and tugging.”
When her jewellery is on the body, though, Bonner hopes the wearer feels “empowered, adventurous, elevated, and comfortable”. “I love that sweet spot, where you’ve got this outfit on, and you feel great – it’s really you but it’s also a little performative, and playful,” she says. “You have become a more elevated version of yourself. I hope my jewellery gets people to that place.”
Where can I find it? Isabel Bonner is available from Sincerely, Tommy in New York and orders can also be placed through the brand’s website. More stockists for Collection II are set to be announced after Covid-19 restrictions are lifted – stay tuned to Isabel Bonner’s Instagram to find out more – while pre-orders can be sent to Bonner via email.