Up Close and Personal with Zohra Rahman

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We chat with the talented jewelry designer about her latest collection that has taken the fashion world by storm

What led you to choose this name (The Gold Are Venomous) for your collection?

It’s from a verse by D. H. Lawrence ‘The voice of my education said to me, He must be killed, For in Sicily the black, black snakes are innocent, the gold are venomous.’ I thought this fit so well with the collection; it embodies the mysteriousness of the collection’s subject matter where dark hues merge with gold, textured by scales and wild themes. It’s suggestive without being too literal.

This collection seems to be a huge break away from your previous work. What was your inspiration with this?

I had previously experimented with the idea of scales in metal but decided at the time to leave a more detailed exploration for later. When I decided to collaborate with Mahgul for her #PSFW16 show, that idea came together with her concept of animals and wildlife so well, that I finally had my opportunity to explore and develop my abandoned experiment. The idea was to create a new metal animal skin, which was fluid, and I started researching right away how this could be done. I then realized that there is an armour-making technique that has existed for years and no one has explored it for more than basic cosplay! My mind went into overdrive and I started researching everything about it, excited to consider all the possibilities like adding different textures and colours to weave together patterned creatures. These probably are not the most commercially viable designs I have come up with, but I could not give up the opportunity when it presented itself. I think people will really see the time, effort and thought that went in to this collection. In terms of it being a break from my previous stuff, I do like to push myself and keep evolving, and creating new work which keeps things exciting for myself as well.

How would you describe your design aesthetic?

Bold in design, pure in concept and mostly androgynous in execution.

How long did it take you to execute, from end to end?

Don’t ask! This collection kept going on and on as there were so many possibilities to explore – I simply did not want to miss any opportunity that presented itself. If we hadn’t committed to showing it at PSFW with Mahgul I’m sure we would still be working on it! It took months of experimenting with design possibilities and proportions, because the construction of even a tiny patch of scale took time. When we did finally commit to the eventual designs, the actual manufacturing of the piece was extremely time consuming and we had to hire a whole team – trained from the ground up – to make these pieces to finish them in time for the show.

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Any funny incidents that happened during the making?

When the initial samples were made, they were so accurately snake-like that we would use them to play pranks on each other in the workshop.

What’s the hardest thing about your job? What’s your favourite thing about the job?

Managing the production of the pieces, particularly their quality, is always a pain. My favourite thing is coming up with new ideas, producing and experimenting with materials and then seeing it all come to life.

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What kind of person wears your jewelry?

Progressive people with design sensibility as well as an appreciation for new ideas and quality craftsmanship. It ultimately appeals to a person with a deeply personal sense of style.

What is the biggest risk you ever took with a design?

Launching my brand into the Lahori market with a collection composed of torn scraps of jewellery!

How important is colour to your design? What are your favourite materials to work with?

Colour is important, but I find I can easily work within restrictions. Some stones are not easily available for commercial endeavors so I have to learn to adapt. For now, I’ve been working mostly with metals as the local market is not currently very receptive to unconventional materials. That said, I hope to introduce new, different and exciting materials as my work progresses.

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What are some trends in jewlery design that you love? Some trends you’re ready to see die?

I love the fact that traditional Subcontinental jewlery, which nearly faced extinction, is coming back as reinvented and reinterpreted contemporary pieces.

Pieces that show for what they are in an objective light and without the burden of their associations. I wouldn’t mind if hand harnesses died – what on earth are they anyway? They look pointless, forced and impractical.

What accessory moment in cinema do you find most memorable?

I remember the cross Sarah Michelle Gellar wore in Cruel Intentions. It was multi-functional.

How would you say your work has evolved though the years? How has it stayed the same?

I used to be primarily interested in bold conceptual statements – it was an added pleasure for me if they were particularly hard to wear and pushed boundaries in impractical ways. Now, I feel as if I’m moving in a direction where I don’t want pieces to exist in the rarefied spaces of galleries but want to see them worn and flourish among people, by creating pieces that are wearable and that can actually influence the personal style landscape.

Before I was more interested in art for art’s sake… Now what fascinates me is culture and craftsmanship.

Something you’ve learnt the hard way:

No one will execute my ideas for me – I have to figure it out myself and make it happen.

What’s next for you?

I’ll be doing some shows internationally now and will soon have to get to work on new collections for next season!

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