In conversation with jewellery designer, Archana Behede

by Radhika Sathe Patwardhan | November 30, 2018, 12:00 AM IST

Archana Behede

Getting the most exclusive jewellery for D-Day is every bride’s dream and brand Gautam Banerjee does just that. We have a tête-à-tête with designer Archana Behede where she talks about her journey, the design process and the brand’s collections.

“I did not know much about jewellery,” says Behede, “I was only a buyer.” But it was when she started learning jewellery design that she had found her calling. “I never knew my potential till then. I used to design for a few jewellery houses and seeing the good response my designs got, I decided to start this brand. I trained under designer Gautam Banerjee – whose name is given to the brand. I learnt everything (about jewellery design) from him.”

Archana Behede

Designer jewellery is considered very expensive by most, and it is something that one gets only for occasions – how much ever one may like it. “We wanted to clear this myth when we started this brand. We wanted every woman to wear a nice (jewellery) piece. When one spends one’s hard-earned money, they have the right to get one of the best pieces. As a designer, I always make something which fits the pocket of everyone. I want every woman to relish the jewellery she buys from us. We give good designs at good rates also. We don’t target to make only expensive jewellery; we are very flexible. We make jewellery so that a woman can keep it lifelong.”

Archana Behede

The brand has all the types of jewellery – cocktail jewellery, wedding jewellery or simple daily wear jewellery but “while designing we make sure that every design is really unique. We have simple designs because few people want really simple thing and therefore we have something for them too. But despite being simple, it is also unique in its own way,” Behede elaborates, “When it comes to the techniques we use in manufacturing, the quality of polish and the setting of the diamond, we always take lots of care and pain to see that there is no fault in them when they come to the store as well. After a jewellery piece is made – be it earrings, neckpiece or rings, I personally check it if it is done right, and there isn’t any problem with it like if it is uncomfortable to wear, any joints are stiff, etc. We have a very strict quality check.”

Archana Behede

The inspiration for design, Behede claims, comes from anything and everything. “Sometimes, even an ensemble or a motif on the dress inspires me to a particular jewellery piece. The inspiration can sometimes be something vague; sometimes it is just whatever catches my attention or my eye. For example, once I was travelling to Mumbai and was looking outside the window, and I saw multi-storeyed buildings. So I thought I should do something in multi-layered jewellery. So I designed a bangle which was multi-layered which had three layers. Anything can inspire me when it comes to work.

[“source=gsmarena”]

How To Become A Jewellery Designer

Gemstones, diamonds and precious metals: jewellery is born of nature’s finest handiwork. It’s unsurprising, then, that it carries an intrinsic emotional value too. It’s not only the act of buying, receiving or wearing jewellery that invests a particular piece with meaning – jewels are charged with their designers’ experiences and values, too. “It’s important to have a personal relationship with the people or stores that are buying my jewellery,” muses Danish designer Sophie Bille Brahe. “If I made it, I want to make sure it has a good life when it leaves my office.” Thus, jewellery is where personal stories, luxury and traditional craftsmanship intertwine, and any aspiring designer needs to have a handle on a broad mix of artistic, technical and commercial skills. Want to know what it takes? Vogue speaks to six industry leaders for a step-by-step guide to becoming a jewellery designer.

What does a jewellery designer do?

The breadth of a jewellery designer’s job depends on whether you work in-house for a brand or set up on your own. Either way, the most important part of your role is to provide a strong artistic vision. At Bulgari, creative director Lucia Silvestri lays out coloured gems, picks combinations and fixes them in putty to model her preferred constellation. The process involves creating a technical sketch, modelling it with computer-aided design (CAD) software and selecting the stones. Production then follows, starting with a 3D-printed prototype and ending with the work of the goldsmith, which includes metal-casting and stone-setting as well as engraving and enamelling. Unless they are going it alone, most designers won’t be physically involved in this part of the process – but they’ll still need to understand the mechanics of how jewellery is made if they want their designs to be wearable.

Lucia Silvestri.

DAVID ATLAN

Guidance from industry leaders and famous jewellery designers

Whether you want to design in-house or run your own brand, the first step is to get educated. And while you can expect to be in school for up to six years, the good news is there’s a lot of flexibility to jewellery design courses. London’s British Academy of Jewellery (BAJ), for example, offers programmes that last from six months to three years, including paid apprenticeships. Depending on the level students apply for, the interview process can include a bench test – in which you’ll show off your measuring, cutting, forming and soldering skills – and a portfolio review. So how do you get that portfolio to the top of the pile? “I would certainly want to see what’s behind a finished piece,” says Sofie Boons, BAJ’s head of academy. Students should always include moodboards and prototypes in their presentations – “so that I can see their thinking, their problem solving, [and] how they have come to a certain solution,” adds Boons.

Alternatively, you could hone in on your preferred craft. Bille Brahe trained as a goldsmith for almost five years at the Copenhagen Technical School of Design & Technology before enrolling on an MA course at London’s Royal College of Art. “Without having the craft, [the design process] becomes quite hollow,” she explains. Or how about gemology? Among Silvestri’s team at Bulgari are graduates of the European Institute of Design (IED), the Academy of Costume and Fashion in Rome, and the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). Other designers place less emphasis on technical expertise. “I don’t think it’s useful to go deeper if you [want to] create your own brand,” says French designer Anissa Kermiche, who advocates a short technical course to provide the necessary introduction to 3D printing, sketching and stone-setting. It suited her perfectly, combining two technical courses at the BAJ – CAD for jewellery production and Level 2 jewellery manufacturing – with a creative BA in jewellery design at Central Saint Martins.

Lucia Silvestri’s Rome studio.

DAVID ATLAN

How do you go from a student to a working jewellery designer?

Silvestri’s advice on getting that first break? “Shadow expert leaders, maybe abroad, even as an office assistant,” she says. And once you’ve got your foot in the door for an interview, you’ll need a strong portfolio of existing work showing competency at technical sketching and CAD. The BAJ advertises jobs through its social channels, but Boons advises students to keep an eye on trade publications and websites such as Benchpeg, Retail Jeweller, The Artists Information Company and The National Association of Jewellers. In some cases, it’s worth reaching out to companies directly, and important to bear in mind that the jewellery trade still relies on word of mouth. Applying for competitions such as HRD Antwerp or Talente in Munich – which in turn can lead to exhibitions – is essential to let yourself be known to as many industry professionals as possible.

The job interview process varies widely. Small businesses might require only one stage, but established companies can involve up to five, including bench tests, interview panels and, in some cases, a written exam. “Research is key,” says Boons. “Students should look into why their skills can contribute to the company, read their strategic plan and see how they could complement it. [Ask yourself] what job could get me the experience that they are looking for? It’s about planning and being resilient.”

Practice makes perfect

If you’ve been hired by a big brand, expect to keep training for the first two years of your career. “School is good, but practice is essential,” sums up Silvestri. “Even if our new recruits have commendable degrees, they always start by copying jewellery sketches from the Bulgari archives.” It’s the same at the Japanese heritage jeweller Mikimoto, where trainees spend 18 months learning Japanese traditional ink and fine-point brush techniques while sketching the entire Mikimoto design archive. The goal is to better understand how to manage your artistic goals with the mechanics of making jewellery. “Pearls are spherical and it’s quite difficult to incorporate round objects into jewellery,” explains Akira Haga, Mikimoto’s general manager of merchandise development. “It’s not something that you can learn in a day or two; you need a lot of experience.”

Akira Haga.

Learn how to communicate

At Mikimoto, designers compete to have their sketches chosen among dozens of other drafts, so it’s important to learn how to sell your design internally. “We line up all the rough designs on a table, followed by each designer’s presentation,” explains Haga, adding that communication skills are also essential between designer and craftsman. It’s this latter relationship that’s essential for a designer to master, as it’s the artisans who will interpret your design. This is easier in smaller houses; Bille Brahe, for example, manages a team of seven in her Copenhagen workshop. For bigger houses, it can be more complicated: at Cartier, the designers and craftsmen work under the same roof to ensure smooth communication, with Pierre Rainero, the brand’s director of image, style and heritage, describing “an endless discussion between the designers and the jewellers.”

When launching your own business, start small

When launching her brand, Kermiche transformed her house into a jewellery lab, crafting her first prototypes with small, relatively inexpensive stones. “I managed to save money because I spent [the previous] years learning how to make my own prototypes, so I didn’t have to spend on manufacturing,” explains the designer. “I don’t recommend mass producing right away,” adds American designer Jennifer Fisher, who was a wardrobe stylist before launching her own label. “You have to start small, grow from there and see what is successful.” Fisher made personalised dog tag charms for clients on set before setting up a customer-facing website, while Bille Brahe began making bespoke pieces while sourcing the financing for her brand. For the investments you do make, be strategic. “[It was important] getting a team that had the experience I didn’t have,” says Bille Brahe, while Fisher adds the simple but all-important advice to “make sure that the infrastructure of the business is sound.”

Jennifer Fisher.

Learn to tell stories

“Journalists love telling a story,” says Kermiche. Designing personalised pieces with a narrative can help you create an identity for your work in the international marketplace. Fisher, for example, created her dog tag design to celebrate the birth of her first son, while Bille Brahe started incorporating pearls in her jewels after her mother gave her a pearl necklace to celebrate her pregnancy. “You cannot offer anything as amazing as some of the big jewellery houses do,” she explains. “The only thing you can do is offer something that is very different and personal.”

Social media vs traditional PR

If you’re launching your own brand, social media can be your friend in getting the word out. Kermiche used her Instagram account as a lookbook, creating a fully-fledged visual identity for her new-born brand at a minimal cost. She then used the app to find journalists. “It won’t be long before they notice if your product is right,” explains the designer. Hiring a PR agency is another option, but for Kermiche the decision boils down to the designer’s personality. “If your friends are influencers, just do it yourself,” she explains. “But if you’re more of a creative mind, then of course a PR is vital.” However, thinking carefully about commercial partnerships you make and being aware of legal implications, including avoiding long contracts, is paramount. “I would have loved to have had a background in law,” she adds. “It would have saved my life on a daily basis.”

Sophie Bille Brahe.

Value your relationships with retailers

“I think it’s very important to respect relationships in this business, stay true to your word and respect the people who have respected you,” says Fisher. Barneys was the first US brick-and-mortar department store to approach her and she has maintained that relationship exclusively ever since. Similarly, Kermiche manages up to 20 face-to-face monthly meetings with retailers and mines these relationships for consumer insights she can feed back into her design work. “I ask them what sells in [their] shop, what’s the price point they like the most, what’s the colour of gold [they prefer],” she says. “It really helps me target my designs in a way that will sell.”

A step-by-step guide to becoming a jewellery designer

If you want to work for an established company:

  1. Choose a degree in fields like Design, Gemology or Fine Arts.
  2. Scan trade publications for job offers. Applying for competitions, exhibiting your work and networking are the easiest ways to get noticed by future employers.
  3. Get in touch with established brands, even if they are not publicly advertising for a role.
  4. When applying for a job, your portfolio should showcase your technical, manual and creative skills as well as your thought process. Include sketches, prototypes and moodboards.
  5. Do your research and keep up-to-date with industry news. Showing a good knowledge of a company’s history and commercial strategy can give you the upper hand over other candidates.
  6. Communication is key: as a designer you will be required to work with artisans, so practise explaining your thought process and concepts in a clear and concise manner.

Sketches at Akira Haga’s studio.

If your goal is to launch your own business:

  1. Combine a short technical course with a creative degree.
  2. Be financially aware: start with a small production, support yourself with bespoke orders, make your own prototypes and find people with the experience you don’t have.
  3. Self-promotion is essential: learn how to use social media to your advantage by creating a strong visual identity and connect with journalists, clients and retailers. Be mindful of your relationship with retailers: nurture them with personal meetings and use them to better target your designs.

[“Source-vogue”]

The Shoe Designer Who Built Her Brand From The Sole Up

Designer and founder of Alejandra G. ShoesALEJANDRA G.

What woman doesn’t love a great pair of shoes?  When you can’t find what you are looking for it would be great if you could just make your own.  Shoe designer and entrepreneur Alejandra G.  had been creating a mark for herself with her out of the box style.  Since her first collection launched in 2012, the company hasn’t stopped growing.   Her shoes have been worn by Kylie Jenner, Tyra Banks, Giuliana Rancic, Adrienne Bailon, Christina Milian and many more. With comfort and style being of equal importance in her designs, women love them.

Joresa Blount: When did you first get inspired to create a shoe line?

Alejandra:  I’ve always been in love with fashion. I have a picture of me when I was about three years old, holding a special designer fashion kit.  My mom said I always loved drawing, and coloring in coloring books. It would always be really creative with the colors.

I didn’t always know that it would be shoes.  I’ve told this story before, and it’s the absolute truth. I was working for a television production company at the time.  I was making really good money, and I was saving up. I knew I wanted to start something. One of my friends had started a clothing line. She would take me downtown to all the manufacturers, but I noticed that there were no shoe manufacturers.  So, I was playing with the idea of first starting a clothing line.

One night I was having a dream. It was a very vivid, vivid, vivid dream of shoes. They were all candied shoes. One looked like Skittles. They were candy inspired shoes. The next day I went to sketch out what was in my dream. It was so powerful. The dream would not leave me.  I felt like it was my calling. I went and told my friend and family. They were like, what are you talking about? I didn’t know a single person in the fashion business.

Joresa: How can someone who doesn’t have a traditional background in fashion launch a business?

Alejandra:  I always recommend going to some type of school to understand what you are getting into.  With fashion specifically, it’s only 20% designing and the rest is knowing how to run a company. When I met my mentor who referred me to go to school in Milan, I just jumped in when I came back [to Los Angeles].  Before you decide to jump into running any company, especially fashion, make sure you get some form of education. Do as much research on how much it is going to cost to start a company, how much it will to take to run. The more you educate yourself in business 101, the less money you will lose and mistakes you will make.

Alejandra G. ShoesAGS

Joresa: Did you have a good support system when you decided to quit your job and go after your dream?

Alejandra:  Most people said, “what are you doing?”  I didn’t know anyone. It was like, okay, you have a great job.  How are you going to support yourself? How are you going to do this or that?  Why go backwards if you are already moving forward in the television production career?  They supported me, but they were surprised. No one said don’t do it. It was more shock. Then I literally packed up to go to Italy.

Joresa:  Did you have moments of doubt?

Alejandra: Before I was leaving [for Italy], I had a couple of those moments of doubt.  I had a boyfriend at the time. I had best friends I would see on the regular, and I was just putting my whole life on hold to go chase a dream.  I was excited, but I was scared. I felt like it was a complete new chapter in my life. When I got there, it was a whole lot more difficult than I thought.  Not just the school, but it was difficult being away.

Joresa:  You started school in your late 20s.  What would you say to someone who is changing careers later in life?

Alejandra:  People say, oh my God. I should have it figured out. I’m twenty-five [years old].  You have to play in so many different careers. I was a teacher’s assistant, then I got my real estate license, then I got signed to J Records when I was in a rap group, then I was a television producer.  I dabbled in a lot of different things. This is the longest I’ve done something, and I don’t see myself doing anything else. I always tell people it’s never too late to start any of their dreams. You can start in your 40s if you want to. People become successful at all different ages.

Alejandra G. sporting her recognizable shoe line.AGS

Joresa:  How did you gain visibility with your brand?

Alejandra:  My mentor referred me to a shoe rep. I didn’t even know I needed a shoe rep. My mentor asked me how I was going to get into stores. I didn’t know.  I got these key accounts very quickly like Shopbop. My designs took off. I found out later I need public relations, but I didn’t have the money at the time. Everyone I brought on board were independent contractors.  I brought on a PR person, who had been in the business awhile. She fell in love with my brand. She took me to do desk sides with editors, because she’s from New York. So, I met up with all these editors at big magazines, and they fell in love with my brand. We started to get a lot of press in magazines.  Then we started to push that I was latina, and Latina Magazine and Cosmo For Latinas gave me press. They were very supportive.

Because I have lived in L.A. all my life, I have a lot of celebrity friends. I was constantly contacting people to get my shoes on people.  A lot of celebrities who tag me are my personal contacts. It’s all about who you know too.

Joresa:  What defining setback have you experienced on your entrepreneurial journey?

Alejandra:  Spending too much money in the wrong places.  I would think do I have to stop for a minute, and get an investor. It’s always been the money. It takes money to make money.  If I had an investor right now, I would be further ahead.

Joresa:  What advice would you give to someone who feels stuck or not progressing in their business?

Alejandra: They say most startup companies fail within two to three years. If you can get pass those two to three years, then you are in good shape.  It’s the same thing that my dad always tells me. If you have a car and it keeps breaking down, you have to get a new car. You got to figure out how to do something different.  It doesn’t mean to stop doing your dream, but it means revamp. I’ve had revamping moments. If I don’t see a lot of sales coming in then I need to revamp the collection I just did.  I need to come with a new idea. When you don’t see something moving, you can’t keep doing the same thing. It doesn’t mean to switch into another career. It means you have to take another route on how to get it done.  A lot of people want to keep pushing forward on product or even music. If it’s not working you have to figure out a different way to do it. There’s a reason why things are not working.

[“Source-forbes”]