Teresa Tiong, jeweller, creative genius and owner of international jewellery brand Au Revoir Les Filles sits down with us to share her latest collection Madly Wildly, the inspiration and process behind what it takes, as well invaluable advice for those wanting to take the leap and enter the jewellery industry.
We’re also incredibly excited to announce we have partnered with Au Revoir Les Filles to give away the Lumiere Pavé Ear Studs and Oath Ring to one lucky reader. You can find entry details at the bottom of this interview.
Madly Wildly is an incredible collection, what was the inspiration behind it?
Femininity and sisterhood. I have 4 little nieces now, they are a constant source of inspiration and joy. I was watching them play in the garden, and it drew me to my own childhood dreamings of witchcraft. Witchcraft, nature, women and femininity have historically been connected. This inspired me to design a collection of modern heirlooms that speak to the AU REVOIR LES FILLES girl, who is playful yet fierce, gentle yet strong. She loves effortless designs that are steeped in story and romance.
Tell us more about the pieces, what can we expect in the collection?
We focus on the beauty of precious white gemstones in the Madly Wildly Collection. The dreamy iridescence found in white opals, the alabaster sheen of a fresh water pearl and the sparkle of a white topaz diamond – these subtle hues blend and meld together beautifully, symbolising the theme of white magic that threads through the collection. The jewel of this collection is the Madly Wildly Ring, which features crescent moons (a wiccan motif) curled around a playful tiara setting. Astral symbols of elemental power are featured in the Lumiere Pavé Ear Hoops, with incandescent white stones streaking through a lightning bolt design. Our signature chain ring is re-designed with a brilliant solitaire, a modern interpretation of a traditional engagement ring, and aptly named Oath Ring.
The imagery for Madly Wildly is stunning, how do you come up with the overall creative direction for the shoot?
I have always been quite lucky, in that I often can visualise the campaign when I am designing the collection. The story we created is that of 2 sisters in witchcraft, Madly and Wildly, who evoke spells through the jewellery they wear in a modern alchemical garden and getting up to some good old-fashioned mischief.
The creative direction is a group effort. Our photographer Carine Thevenau and hair/make-up artist Desiree Wise (both of whom we had worked with on our previous campaign starring Margaret Zhang) helped bring the vision to life. We wanted to explore the mystical and mysterious visions of femininity, and looked at films like Picnic at Hanging Rock by Peter Weir and The Beguiled by Sofia Coppola, drawing inspiration from their lace-drenched muses and soft ethereal looks, which our stylist Virginia van Heythuysen helped to re-create. I also found some antique apothecary bottles dating back to the 1920s from a vintage bottle collector, and we used them to inject some old-world charm and magic to the campaign.
From the first idea to the first sale, walk us through what the process of creating a new collection looks like?
It starts off with an inspiration for the collection, what the central themes are and designing motifs that fit within this universe. Once the core design is confirmed, we build accompanying pieces around it, like adding a necklace and earrings to a finished ring so that it makes a nice jewellery set, or designing more rings that complement and stack back together nicely. This creates a cohesive collection, and different pieces can be worn and layered back with one another. Once the proto designs are finalised, we shoot them and use the images for our lookbook which then gets sent out to press and stockists. We order production, which can take a few months to finish. In the meantime, we plan our social media strategy for the release of the new collection and update our website with the new styles. In the lead-up to the release, we might do a little teaser on social media. Once production is finished, we check it for quality control, and it is ready to sell.
How would you describe your design aesthetic?
Modern, effortless and sensual. I prefer simpler designs these days, and place more emphasis on silhouette and shape. I used to love loud colours and prints (and in a way, I still do), but veer more towards white and neutrals, as I can focus more on detail and craftsmanship.
That said, my design aesthetic has evolved so much over the years. I used to have blonde and coloured hair for over ten years, and experimented with street and bohemian fashion. Nowadays, I like the French je ne sais quoi style, and to look more “done” and polished, and this translates back to my jewellery designs for ARLF.
Working with manufacturers and suppliers can be a lot of trial and error. What advice would you have for someone who is about to start or in the early stages of sourcing and managing those relationships?
Attend trade shows to source for suppliers, and experiment and work with different companies, as they all have different specialities and strengths. I value people who can not only interpret my vision and designs, but also are reliable and honest. Time is too short to be wasted on chasing on people who are constantly late with their deliveries / promises, no matter how talented they are. And last but not least, be respectful and polite, because how you behave to your supplier is how they will treat you back in return.
You’re an incredible hustler and have nailed some incredible media features, what’s your secret for getting your name out there?
Just put yourself out there. Designing is very different from selling your collection, and some designers can find it hard to switch over to promoting their collection once the designs are finished. Until you find the right person to push your product, you have to wear all the hats, and approach the press so they hear about you. We have been incredibly lucky in that we worked with a PR agency when we first launched, and now have developed relationships with stylists and magazines who are constantly looking for jewellery to shoot. ARLF has been worn by musicians like The Veronicas, Kimbra, models Samantha Harris and Fernanda Ly amongst others. The media or celebrity feature is never guaranteed, as a stylist always sources more than she needs, and sometimes our jewellery might not get featured during the shoot. But just keep putting yourself out there, and one day you will strike gold.
This is your third collection, are there any surprises now or have you mastered the whole process?
Haha, there are always surprises! Its great having your own label, not only can we design and create what we truly love, but we are constantly learning and overcoming new challenges that come with running a business. The journey is never boring, and as a person, you adapt and become comfortable with thinking outside the box. It does get smoother as we start to develop a good network of suppliers and creatives who we constantly work with, but we always strive to be better and grow, and with that comes new surprises that challenge (and delight) us.
Finally, any lasting words to aspiring jewellery designers?
Dare to be different. There are so many brands out there, it is important to have your own voice, and break away from trends that might hinder your creativity. Design what you love, and the world will find you.