Described as “a crossover between something that’s primordial and archaic, and something quite futuristic,” Kiki Karayiannis’s Athens-based jewellery studio creates emotional, “wonky” handmade pieces
- Who is it? Vasiliki is the Athens-based jewellery studio of Kiki Karayiannis
- Why do I want it? Ethereal and emotional handmade designs that reach into other worlds of mythology and science fiction
- Where can I find it? Vasiliki designs are available through the studio’s own website as well as LN-CC, SSENSE, Dongliang, Hug, SET&SEKT, Taxidi Tinos and Moda Operandi
Who is it? Shortly after graduating from Goldsmiths in London with a BA in Fine Art and History of Art, Kiki Karayiannis relocated to Athens, Greece, where her mother grew up, for a six-month “change of scenery”. Yet, wanting to add purpose to play, Karayiannis defined a goal for her sojourn: to delve into the art of jewellery-making by crafting ten pairs of earrings based on avatars drawn from ancient mythologies and science-fiction. Now, four years on, the designer is still in Athens and her simple project has metamorphosed into Vasiliki, a jewellery studio brought to life by its more-than-human, regal designs.
Although Karayiannis had no formal education in jewellery design, her background in sculpture and ceramics aided in the development of her unique, visceral visual language which is “a crossover between something that’s primordial and archaic, and something quite futuristic.” Then, in Athens, local artisans generously taught her the technicalities of the craft: “I was waking up at 5am and going on the bus with loads of old Greek men to a proper kind of classical revival jewellery workshop,” she laughs. Such an experience immersed her in the magic of jewellery-making from start to finish. “I go into my caster’s, into a really boiling hot room, and see them do everything,” Karayiannis explains. “The casting process really mythologises the transformation because you’re changing an object through alchemy.”
The designer’s silvery vision has since expanded beyond the initial ten pairs of earrings to two full trans-seasonal collections – but each design remains rooted in its own otherworldly inspiration. “I like reaching into these fictional narratives, these built worlds just an imagination away, where someone else explained the world before we had science,” Karayiannis muses. “For example, the fact that the Aztecs thought that gold was the gods’ excrement. All these cheeky, funny things.” In a nod to the alchemy of her practice, she names the designs after “transformational characters who have gone through a metamorphosis” – or fungi. “Fungi is often seen as something gross, but they are these regenerative kinds of beings. So, I like putting a really fancy stone in one of them and being like ‘yep, go out there’.”
Why do I want it? With her cryptic, performative designs, Karayiannis transforms the fantastical and the fey into technically rich masterpieces. In a world where digital technologies enable jewellery design to be streamlined with precision and uniformity, her hand-crafted pieces – which are naturally asymmetrical and beautifully “wonky” – are a vehicle to an alternate dreamlike world. Their abstractions and imperfections hold the spiritual weight of ancient relics or family heirlooms, opening an emotional space where the wearer’s personal story twists into the design’s mythological roots.
Take, for example, the House of Asterion, a ring inspired by a Jorge Luis Borge tale of the same name. The four-sided obtuse labyrinth motif reads as a classical Grecian frieze, a seemingly never-ending and repetitive narrative based on Borge’s belief that the maze is “a reference to life, a spiritual journey, in which we always find the endpoint,” explains the designer.
By using the ancient method of Lost Wax Carving – where the pieces are cast in recycled gold or silver from a hand-carved wax mould – Karayiannis adds a palpable texture to the surfaces of her designs: “The technique allows you to imprint your fingerprint into it, or to create droplets, which I see as water-like and quite an emotional touch.” Each part, down to the clasps, is handmade either by herself or local artisans.
At the heart of Vasiliki is a deep concern for sustainability and Karayiannis is constantly on a Zelda-like mission for fair-trade, ethically mined stones. Working only with a tight-knit community of suppliers who can trace the materials back to the very mine they were sourced from, she admits that “it is difficult to find ethical sources, but I feel better buying something that’s beautiful but of no damage to the people doing it. As I hunt for these stones, I feel like I’m on an ethical mission video game.”
As the designer allows her core collection to grow organically, her intimate bespoke jewellery will remain central to her studio. “Nowadays, with the constant influx via social media of lots of people doing stuff, people have a lot of anxiety, of feeling less special, less that they have a part in the world,” she says gently. “So, I kind of like my position where I’m making it for one person, for them. And I, hopefully, can make them feel a little more special.”
Where can I find it? Vasiliki designs are available through the studio’s own website as well as LN-CC, SSENSE, Dongliang, Hug, SET&SEKT, Taxidi Tinos and Moda Operandi.