With an ambition to disrupt material hierarchy by combining craft skills and technological processes in unexpected new ways, Vrinda Agrawal's jewellery practice is as intellectually stimulating as it is physically engaging.
Fresh from graduating with an MA Design (Jewellery) from Central Saint Martins, Vrinda has launched Behind The Seen – a jewellery collection that is witty, provocative, and a touch rebellious.
Adorn's Maia Adams caught up with Vrinda to learn more about the role that cross-industry collaborations play in her work, her unique 'stone in action' setting, and who her dream jewellery client would be.
Hi Vrinda. Lovely to chat jewellery with you! Let's start with a bit of background. What led you to this point in your jewellery career?
I have always been drawn towards objects and their relation to the body. This fascination led me into studying Fashion and Lifestyle Accessories from National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), New Delhi. Right after graduation, I established my practice as a luxury jewellery and accessory designer and production consultant in India.
I was fortunate to be offered projects across the luxury fashion, crafts, and fine jewellery industries. In five years I built an expansive body of work, while executing everything from designing to defining brand narratives, to developing concepts into real collections, establishing supply chain and production systems,
and developing concepts for international runway fashion shows as per the client’s needs. I have worked with global brands like Swarovski, Rahul Mishra, Amrapali, and Titan group to name a few and many emerging brands from India.
Subsequently, my passion for crafts propagated close relations across craft clusters and communities in India, followed by routing as much of my work to skilled artisans instead of factories, leading to many of them emerging as micro entrepreneurs.
You recently completed an MA Design (Jewellery) at Central Saint Martins. What drew you to this course and how has the experience informed your practice?
Having had a wide-ranging experience in the industry, I really wanted to navigate my core values and aesthetic as a designer, and refine it to be true to my personality. My aim for this Masters was to synergize my luxury and craft sector experiences through design, and not just through production. This desire for discovery led me to the MA.The course has had a profound impact on my practice – it has refined it, aiding in filtering out the noise and helping me come to the point.
I found myself thinking in the future but executing for present, which allowed my work to grow in a forward-looking but not merely in a speculative manner. It is very real as a designer and that is the quality I wanted to hone and seek. My innate comprehension of form, materiality, and colour – the elements that coalesce an object's visual essence – surfaced as my core strengths.
Your Behind the Seen graduate collection struck me as playful, thoughtful, irreverent, and innovative. Please tell us more about it.
I yearned to create intimacy between my materials and the form, which is often missing in traditional jewellery. Behind the Seen, exactly does that. It disrupts material hierarchy by transforming humble materials like glass scrap into an enticing product through the combined use of a generational skills and technological processes.
My focus was to bind energy in the object, to capture movement without any kinetic features. The research led me into studying tension structures and exploring material qualities of elasticity to develop sculptural forms. Also, to reflect co-dependency in materials and make them appear interactive and engaged.
I experimented with creating an illusion of movement by capturing surface tension of the form. The collection features, “stone in action”, where the stone seems to impact on – and interact with – its setting surface, creating unexpected material features such as soft creases, knots and layering in metal. Through the use of dynamic sculptural form, colour and texture, the collection challenges the gravitas of stone setting, shifting it into a youthful and energetic space. The visual features shift from abstract forms to recognisable balloon knots hugging the gemstone, binding the viewer with a playful emotion of familiarity. My intent is to create rebellious objects that are sleek and sophisticated, but not very well-behaved.
At Adorn, we’re very interested in the synergies that arise when traditional craft skills are combined with modern technologies. Your work seems to explore these synergies. Why does this approach interest you?
To me, craft is a way of thinking, it is a sequential process that allows opportunity and experimentation. The physicality of it makes it intuitive instead of fabricated, and that is what excites me about design. I use this thinking process combined with my understanding of the technological advancements to push the physicality of an object.
My focus is on creating a product that is exciting to the consumer as a whole and lures them in closer to the product, and then leads to the discovery of its multiple assets - the meticulous craftsmanship or technological achievement, and not the other way round. Hence, I use the processes (mostly without bias) best suited to realising the vision of an object without compromise.
I do not choose to leverage the literal visual vocabulary of crafts, so as to render a refreshing understanding of crafts. The familiarity inhibits the perceptual shift in its status that I aim to achieve through my practice - portraying craft as young, energetic and playful, not merely meticulous. In my opinion, technology and craft are co-dependent, one aiding the other, not eliminating; bridging the gaps through the individualistic qualities that each possesses, and this is what urges me to synergize the two.
As cliche as it sounds, but why not have the best of both the worlds?
You have said that you have an interest in the:“transformation of materials through specialised skills and techniques” and that you strive to “engage in devising alternative routes of manufacturing". Tell us more about this please.
I see processes, materials and techniques in isolation, and rearrange them in multiple permutations and combinations to create newness by bringing a process from one industry to another, more like adapting an existing system to a fresh context and not necessarily inventing one to create newness.
Very often, objects feel monotonous because the sequence of making them has been considered a whole. Break it into parts, re-imagine the resources, and we have a broader range of possibilities. In my practice, I try to uplift the material value using specialised craft skills or technological processes, to transform them visually and physically. I use my understandings of different industrial and handcrafting techniques to construct new opportunities through existing processes. As a designer, and not a maker, I get a bird’s eye view of systems, and this critical distance allows me to interrupt a system, question the sequence of actions, and meaningfully realign them to create unfamiliar results from familiar processes.
You studied in the UK and worked with artisans in India. What influence have these countries and cultures had on your work?
I think they have made things even more real for me. My learnings ranged from working in extreme rural craft communities to uber luxury spaces. I was constantly navigating through the pyramid. It sensitised me to issues and motivations across cultures and equipped me to adapt myself to be as relevant as possible to the situation and its stakeholders. I was living in parallel worlds, to synergise and create one. During the process, I developed a deeper appreciation for my inherent cultural knowledge which is now a crucial tool of my practice.
Upon reflection, I realised my exposure to different material cultures has defined my new perspective that strongly reflects in the work. The visual vocabulary is now more honest, without any particular geographical dominance.
Where are you based?
I am based in London, and travel back and forth between here and India - my home country. My fabulous little team back home makes everything possible over a million (perhaps slightly fewer) coordinated calls and DHL shipments.
Your press release mentions that you embark on ‘intimate collaborations across industries’. What do these look like and how do they shape your work?
I perceive my work as akin to stringing beads onto a necklace. For instance, in this particular project, I collaborated with a family of generationally skilled hand gemstone cutting artisans from Jaipur, and subsequently a technology expert in London to 3D scan my physical mock-ups to capture the form and energy of the elastic material accurately. This was followed by editing them with an animator in New Delhi while upskilling him to implement the process to a physical product that goes on body. Assembling them in their materiality in small jewellery artisans workshops in Jaipur and finally adding uniquely developed coloured coatings with a chemical engineer.
What would be your dream collab?
I want to design for Michelle Obama. I think she is one of the idols that champions the spirit I am trying to reflect through my work. Elegant but fun, mischievous in a way, and ready with a cheeky joke. Powerful to voice and kind enough to listen, and always at the forefront of pushing the boundaries.
Accessories are my passion and eyewear steals the top spot after jewellery. I really want to design a range of eyewear, in fact, have done a couple of prototypes as well. A dream collaboration would be to design an exquisite range of eyewear working with Luxottica’s industry expertise (I hope they are reading!).
Which designers – past or present, jewellery or non-jewellery – do you admire, and why?
I admire Elsa Peretti – a woman so ahead of time. I think of her as a very ferocious person and that reflects in her sculptural and bold use of form. She stripped the formality out of jewellery and shifted the material status of silver to luxury. An absolute rebel; an absolute genius!
Beyond jewellery, I have a strong appreciation for the work of Isamu Noguchi. I particularly appreciate the tension he creates in his forms through simplicity, even as abstract structures, to me they feel quite alive and full of character. I also look up to Campana Brothers Studio’, ability to derive humour from everyday objects and shape them into clever artifacts through a shift in context.
What’s next for you and your brand?
Honestly, working across countries has not been easy, especially as a young designer with limited resources. We are looking to smooth our channels for a more efficient functioning. Currently, we are working on the orders from the MA show and looking to expand the collection further. In parallel, I am also working with Lenovo (technology company) in their design headquarters in the US to learn more about technological processes and finding opportunities to integrate them with my craft specialised design thinking.
How can interested parties get their hands on your jewellery?
It is currently available through our Instagram or via mail/WhatsApp. We can share the catalogue as our website is currently work in progress. I do continue to work as a jewellery designer/consultant on commissions for clients (both individuals and brands) from ideating to production of what they might be seeking. Let’s make something fabulous together?
Images courtesy of: Vrinda Agrawal