“I am about to go to war and I hope I’ll never see you again” sings Erykah Badu, golden blood slowly rolling down the corners of her lips. Blood-dripping lip accessories and ear cuffs, bold skin textured rings – these creations are not for happy kids who are about “good vibes only”. Conor Joseph, a gifted twenty something fine jewellery designer based in London is the creative mind behind these pieces. His work represents an ongoing shift in our relationship with wearing accessories. To put it simply – the relationship has changed, confusing the heck out of those, who were always told to keep their bling safely stored until those very special occasions. And god forbid, do not ever mix silver and gold! Well, forget all that.
What is the place you grew up in like?
I grew up in Liverpool and went to high school there. Liverpool is great. Scousers (people from Liverpool – VB) are really nice people, very warm. When I hear a seagull in London, I get nostalgic. It makes me think of home, the beach, of Liverpool.
Liverpool is a relatively small place. Was moving to a big place that is London always the plan?
I did textile for GCSE (high school qualification in a specific subject– VB), I was the first boy at school to do that. Now everyone is just…being themselves, but back then it was a bit of an odd thing to do. When I was 14, I asked my textile teacher Miss Newey whom I really liked about the fashion school to go to. She said Central Saint Martins was the one. I said: “Cool, I’ll go there”. I was the first one from my foundation (higher education qualification – VB) to get into it.
That’s amazing. Were you already thinking of focusing on jewellery back then?
I thought I will study fashion initially; I also had a knack at making jewellery from a young age. My first piece of jewellery was a necklace I made for my sister. She had a pair of earrings that broke so I used wire from a tennis racket, put all the beads on it and gave it to her. She thought it was great!
My cousin used to have a market stall in Liverpool with a dressmakers’ stall opposite and once happened to mention its owners that I was making jewellery. So I started selling my jewellery at the market at the age of 14.
And a few years later you are learning how to make proper jewellery…
… and realising how little patience I had to make the real stuff! We are talking about hours and hours of painstaking work; the whole experience can be quite solitary. I am used to it now, but the naïve 19-year-old kid was not impressed with it.
So you studied for three years and then were ready to set sail to the jewellery making world?
Oh god, no! I worked in retail for a year because I needed a job, then I did a few internships with jewellery companies. They taught me a lot more about the technical side of things than I had learnt at the university. University was more about “creating the concept”, “building the brand”, “defining yourself through jewellery” … The industry is a lot different – it is about the skills, the speed and a good eye for detail.
Your themes are quite dark and obscure – dripping blood, skin textures with wrinkles, freckles and scarring. What inspired them?
The concept of what is deemed to be appropriate for a certain conception of a social class to wear provoked an initial idea for my Bleeding Rings. Also, the 70s horror movies. Showing all your jewellery was once seen and is probably still seen as trying to buy your place in the society, up the social ladder. I grew up hearing: “do not dress like that, it’s tacky”. It is quite ironic how the things have changed and how things that have previously been frown upon become inspiring and even popular in the mainstream. Just look at me, I am sitting here in my tracksuit bottoms!
Big people wearing your stuff and the power of PR, let’s talk about that!
It is weird. When I first saw an email with a headline: “FKA Twigs Met Ball” I thought that something was wrong with that email. Once I made the piece, I received some great PR and it has kind of progressed from there. It was a big turning point.
Who would you not want to see wearing your work?
Piers Morgan. I hate him.
What is one awesomely strange thing about what you do?
I really like meeting clients. I made so many new friends through crafting one-off pieces. If they have ordered the skin-textured stuff it means, literally, moulding their hand. It is quite an intimate process. These people are strangers and then all the sudden you are holding their hand for three hours. Or holding their ears! You can’t help but create this weird bond then.