Style: Michelle Oh

” It was said that when a couple came together in marriage, you are like this playdough, maybe one of you has blue colour, and the other has yellow colour. When you become one in marriage (or living together, not necessarily in the formal marriage), you are melting into each other, you are not blue anymore and the other is not yellow anymore. You become some kind of green. And when you need to separate from each other (divorce or else), you will not be able to go back to being blue and yellow. Both of you have changed into something else. That’s exactly how I felt. “

These words from mother to daughter sparked the inspiration for CSM Jewellery Design student Michelle Oh’s final BA collection, We Were Here. Oh found her parent’s divorce after three decades of marriage particularly hard to deal with and started the collection almost as a way to capture certain elements of her own life and freeze them in time.

“It was really strange for me to deal with because at this age I’m old enough to understand why these things happen,” she explains. “But at the same time I wasn’t ready to accept it at all. So I decided to channel my frustrations productively through my final collection.”

“Initially it was definitely quite sad, because I first approached the project with a mentality that believed nothing good really lasted forever, which spurred me on to want to ‘capture’ fleeting intangible moments and make them permanent through my objects / jewellery, as if wanting to prove myself wrong.”

“As my work developed, so did I,” she explains. “In a way the whole process of this project from start to finish was like therapy for me. Towards the end my focus shifted from trying to rebel against changes but rather to welcome and celebrate them as part of the subtleties in experiencing a relationship.”

We Were Here is a collection of  multi-textured jewellery that takes as a starting point every-day objects in the designer’s own life. For example a morning shower is turned into a pair of dappled silver earrings. A favourite jumper crumpled on a bed becomes a pair of 9 ct gold lint ball earrings. Tellingly, images of her boyfriend figure prominently such as bristle broach which takes a man’s stubble as its point of reference.

“All the textures on my pieces have been collected directly from their original surfaces, so although they are still ‘copies’ at the end of the day, the essence of the memory and my personal impression of that particular moment / feeling / sensation remains,” she says. “It made me appreciate how time can make you look at hurtful experiences differently. So in the end it became a positive message.”

Growing up in Jakarta, Indonesia, Michelle never saw herself studying at the prestigious Central Saint Martins but an interest in art and design led her to a foundation course at the college, before embarking on the BA in Jewellery Design. “Even then I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” she says. “But eventually I ended up in the BA Jewellery course because I think I just like the immediacy of making with my own two hands.”

Michelle’s final collection is currently being featured in the BA Jewellery Design exhibition at the soon to be closed campus on Southampton Row (the college is moving to a new state of the art campus in King’s Cross next year). For someone who spent the first two years of her degree impatient to get designing in the real world, Michelle has found herself greeting the end of an important period in her life with a little sadness. “Now that it’s over, knowing that I won’t ever be able to go back to Southampton Row to reminisce makes me even more sentimental, which is surprising,” she says. “It is pretty great though to be part of the last group of people to show in the original building, I feel lucky for that, it makes me feel like I have an official relationship with the place.”

So what’s the next step for the young designer? “Well, I’ll be exhibiting at New Designers 29th June – 2nd July, so that buys me more time to fine tune my life plan,” she muses. “And I’ve been looking for a studio space to share with some people from class. The idea is to form a little design collective, do collaborations and hopefully have another body of work to exhibit by 2012. I’ve also been selling jewellery online through the online boutique Boticca. I hope to eventually be entirely self sufficient through my jewellery but of course rent still needs to be paid, and I still need to eat, so I’ll probably have to work a couple of part time jobs in between to fund ‘the dream’ but I think I can do it! I just want to be able to live from what I enjoy doing, and have more good times than bad. That’s all really.”

The CSM BA Jewellery Design Exhibition is on Monday 20 – Thursday 23 June, 12-8pm Southampton Row, London, WC1B 4AP

Visit Michelle’s website here…


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