“There’s a famous line that my grandmother liked. She said, ‘There’s no such thing as a society… find the people you want to be around and create your own.'”
For South African designer Katherine-Mary Pichulik, the society she has created is one that clearly adores her; a global following of fashionistas who rave about her elaborate and ostentatious jewelry.
Her pieces are regularly featured in Vogue magazine — in both Spanish and British editions. Exporting to 14 countries across the globe, Pichulik was also named among Vogue’s top ten African fashion brands to watch in 2015, finding itself in the company of Orange Culture from Nigeria and ART/C from Morocco.
CNN sat down with Pichulik to discuss exactly why her pieces are “intimate experiences”, and explore the process behind these beautiful works of wearable art.
From her studio in Woodstock, Cape Town, Pichulik explains that symbolism is integral to her jewelry — “working with precious stones and parts that have their own meaning.”
Agate from Mali, Toureg talismans, Turkish totems: Pichulik is a cultural magpie, throwing together civilizations with beautiful abandon.
“It’s quite exciting,” she says. “Often you’re creating these assemblages that are cross-continental… they represent what the brand is about; they are the materialization, the metonym.”
“I work with certain dealers: a Gambian gentleman, also Senegalese, and they source all these objects from across Africa, ” she explains. “A lot of them trade beads, and so you’ve got parts coming in from Ghana, Niger… from Morocco, from Mali… I meet with them in warehouse temporary warehouse spaces.
“What I find so exciting is the informal relationship I have with these merchants. In Johannesburg I see a guy called Abucar and he will arrive with a car and I will follow him deep into the center of Johannesburg — and with absolute trust.
“I will be driving behind him by myself and then we’ll come to a random warehouse, go through three or four doors, and arrive into a room filled with a bunch of precious, precious objects… There’s no formal economic structure to it. It’s an incredibly multifaceted, ambidextrous way of doing business that’s incredibly inspiring and exciting.”
An unlikely source of inspiration
For Pichulik, her highly-prized creations are a continuation of her experiments as a child.
“I think I’ve always made jewelry haphazardly,” she says. “I was born in 1987 and so when I was growing up my mom’s style was of the era… diffused hair and lots of costume jewelry.
It was a time of epic shoulder pads and violet and tangerine and crimson and red lips and lots of big gold earrings. When I was little [mom] would always have a box of all the broken ones and I would always assemble them into my own jewelry.”
The designer also cites her grandmother as an inspiration. “She used to travel to beautiful places,” she recalls, “and would bring back a kind of chest of fantastic jewels.” But it was Pichulik’s ex-boyfriend’s father who became a crucial piece in the career puzzle.
“My ex boyfriend’s dad Johann owns a shop that predominantly supplies the yachting sailing industry. He gave me some ropes and said: ‘Play around with these.'” Rope World, the shop in question, is now one of her main suppliers.
Pichulik’s aim is to create”bold jewelry for brave women” and rope is the medium through which she does so. “It’s using a material such as rope, which does have a history of withholding, but through these pieces and through the creation of them — and through the wearing of them — you’re able to expose who you truly are, and perhaps feel a freedom of self.”
“Ropes were used for restriction, I guess now — through their re-imagining — they are [used] for liberation,” she adds.
The Pichulik brand isn’t just about making a statement; it’s about self-empowerment.
“Taking something that is not considered valuable, [the] same as with ourselves when we don’t think we are valuable and good enough, and through your engagement with [it], you see it as precious, valuable… That is how we would treat the jewelry, and that is how we would treat the women who wear the jewelry.”
“I love the idea that in something like jewelry we can imbue meaning, and we can imbue healing and we can imbue feelings.
“Yeah, I guess it is quite a poetic thing going on.”