Bibi van der Velden walks into the Couture Lab store in the quieter part of Knightsbridge and immediately you realise this lady’s personal Dries van Noten meets chic world-hippie style radiates difference. What else would one expect from a jewellery designer who is also a conceptual sculptor and whose mother is also accomplished sculptor, Michele Deiters. Van der Velden’s jewellery is more than just statement jewellery. In fact, it could be described as fashion artisanal, under-statement jewellery, seeing her penchant for making unique works that attract attention while secreting precious stones in her amethyst or smokey quartz Cloud Collection or in the Memorabilia Collection, where a hollow dome is filled with loose diamonds or pearls.
Bibi van der Velden approaches her jewellery design like mini-sculpture works, so her very choice consumer can wear wearable works of art. She says, “I always say I’m a sculptor/jewellery designer and I think both enforce each other. I love sculpting as well as it is much more conceptual. So physical. The technicality of jewellery making and challenge of making something that’s wearable is what inspires. (My) jewellery brand collaborations have boundaries to work within so this challenges me to be at my most creative.”
And indeed, Bibi’s jewellery fits well in the locations is sells (Couture Lab, Dover Street Market, Bergdorf Goodman) as well as inspiring a very niche brand of devotees of successful, artistic and well placed women including Sienna Miller, Zaha Hadid and ladies-in-waiting from the Royal Court in The Netherlands. (Bibi likes the fact that these older chic women have enough confidence and style to choose challenging yet beautifully modernist jewellery). Oh, and one of her newest fans who gave Van der Velden a global stage was Kanye West. Her clientele is as varied as her one-off masterpieces but all her customers have one over-riding element: individual style with an appreciation and eye for the unique.
At this point in our conversation, I proffer that her jewellery would match Daphne Guinness as the ultimate customer for Van der Velden’s works. Her jewellery is suited to a bold persona who isn’t part of the crowd, who defines their own style. Indeed, Van der Velden jewellery is suited to catwalk. Her approach is similar to that of Alexander McQueen under Sarah Burton or Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy where couture gives rise to fantasy as well as fashion as art. Catwalk is something she has done before during Amsterdam’s early days of Fashion Week, but used this much more as experimental and experiential – “When I graduated from the Royal Academy of Arts (in The Hague), I did a fashion show in Amsterdam at their Fashion Week – lots of edgy, conceptual designers taking part. My work took a big leap from then on. My shows were not a platform for me commercially but more of a performance. Each time I tried to challenge myself with using a new material or a new technique – it wasn’t about being sellable or wearable. One year I was working with a glassblower and the works wrapped around the body and another time, I worked with a taxidermist using colourful birds which have since become unique art-works.’
Taking her creativity and honing it for jewellery, Bibi van der Velden works prodigiously. She has numerous different jewellery lines: one-off pieces that often incorporating re-worked objects belonging to her clients. She states that putting things in a different context begins a completely new story and gives the object new life and has between 15-20 commissions on the go at any one time. Then there’s other one-off pieces, she makes of her own accord, to sell as they are. And her different collection including the fine jewellery collection as well as the kryptonite, art deco (pictured below), memorabilia, mammoth, bridal, cloud and polky diamond and pret-a-porter collections.
The cloud collection fascinates me – technique and beauty combined that’s highly new-wave and tactile – like cloud bubbles. Says Bibi, “It’s a clean, sleek design but very complicated to make – rock crystal carved hollow. To polish the inside is very difficult so we have to be very careful. It’s difficult to make these rounded concaves so it took us two years to create a perfect cloud. Diamonds are contained and almost hidden inside – the ultimate understatement.
The Mammoth Collection is made of obviously extinct mammoth ivory that has re-appeared from the ground due to global warming melting vast expanses of ice in the Siberian tundra. I ask Bibi about this. “Finding unusual materials and the re-cycled element is big in my work. Mammoth ivory is, of course, an ancient material but used in n a modern way that I first found out about through National Geographic and then researched the source.” Bibi carves seahorses, frogs, snakes and dragons into the mammoth ivory and dots with diamond – a little humorous detail in each piece of history that’s been re-interpreted in a 21st Century way.
The Kryptonite collection is one of my favourites incorporating large and small sterling silver pieces that are almost under-polished and studded with single cut diamonds. Then there’s the fine jewellery collection which includes organic pearls with white gold horse heads set with black and white diamonds and the art deco collection which features an 18ct white gold ring with dazzling white diamonds and a sea green aquamarine. Just breath-taking.
I ask Bibi what’s next on the horizon? She replies, “I’m looking to different types of craftsmanship to incorporate into jewellery. I’m currently sculpting in marble so would like to translate this into jewellery – though it’s very heavy and could crack and chip if dropped, so I’m looking into how to develop this. It keeps it very interesting and challenging to work with new materials. And, the we’re also expanding the existing collections. There’s a lot that I still want to still do commercially. Certainly not mass market but I’m working on an online platform which will also incorporate other brands – promoting niche craftsmanship. And, I’m working with my mother on our next exhibition (sculpting). There’s also a book and that’s something we’d like to have finished by next year – and on wide release.
Bibi leaves the interview and quickly gets to work, re-arranging her works on show at Couture Lab and making plans for her new projects.