AR.M | slowly and honestly handcrafted
As Anna Rosa pointed out, contemporary design is often associated with high-end prices and handcrafted products with simple DIYs. We couldn't agree more and that is why we are excited about her young Antwerp-based label AR.M aiming to bridge the gap between the two and change this perception.
TELL US A BIT MORE ABOUT YOU, HOW DID YOU GET TO WHERE YOU ARE TODAY?
I grew up in Athens, Greece, in a small studio apartment that I shared with my Dutch mother. I studied architecture in Crete, which was my ultimate and only goal as I was growing up. I had never imagined that I wouldn’t become an architect after all. While studying, I felt the need to move away from all the digital ways of designing. I remember spending too much time in front of my computer and missing creating tangible objects. I was exposed to so many different "new" technologies; from 3D printing to parametric design and laser cutting. All of these even strengthened my need to experiment with raw materials and rather manual ways of manufacturing. This need was initially translated into the launch of a DIY blog. It was my creative outlet, my way of experimenting with all these different materials and techniques without having a specific agenda. I spent so many hours in hardware stores for material scouting and DIY brainstorming. That's how I discovered my love for good craftsmanship and, frankly, how the first seed for becoming a jewellery designer was planted.
YOU HAVE LEFT GREECE AND SETTLED IN ANTWERP. WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT THE CITY?
The design scene in Antwerp is really great and very inspiring. This is actually one of the reasons I chose to move here. We were discussing to move to Antwerp with my boyfriend and we visited it one day to check it a bit. I remember him saying to me "it is your city, it is like it's made for you". And it's true. All of the boutiques and cafes here are beautiful and inspiring. Everyone has great style; you see it on the street, people care about their appearance but in a casual way – looking hip and aristocratic at the same time. There are a lot of new talented designers emerging every day with very clean, minimalistic style and really good prospects. The idea of Pop-Up and Concept stores is very popular here too, which makes the city an ever-changing design environment. Every month there is a new "in" place opening its door and thus the opportunity for networking is a given at any moment. Of course, it is a bit challenging if you don't speak Flemish, but that's only a small barrier because everyone is willing to talk in English if you ask them to.
IT SEEMS LIKE YOU WERE ALWAYS ATTRACTED TO DESIGN...
I think it is safe to say that my mother cultivated my love for design, in all its forms. She is a very talented and creative woman. Being a single, working mother meant that for the most part of my childhood she was taking me with her to her work as a stylist and interior designer. As a result, I was exposed quite a lot to the design world from a very early age. Her impeccable taste can't be ignored and for sure can't leave you untouched. Our house was always full of design “coffee table” books, furniture like Mies Van Der Rohe's famous Barcelona chair and her wardrobe were a combination of amazing vintage and design pieces. It was almost inevitable for me to grow a soft spot for design.
BEFORE AR.M YOU’VE WORKED AS AN ARCHITECT. WHAT HAS PROMPTED YOU TO SWITCH CAREERS AND ESTABLISH YOUR LABEL?
Anyone who has an architect in his life knows that architecture is a very demanding industry – highly competitive with long working hours being considered standard. Don't get me wrong; I never had a problem with working hard and for many hours. I probably work more now, when I run my own business than ever before. However, when you work so hard it feels better if you do it for you and for building your own dream, rather than for someone else's. I had the privilege to work alongside a very talented architect in the Netherlands. I feel really lucky that I had this experience when I started working because I have found that I work better when I work for people I care about, understand and admire. My former boss is very ambitious and working for him cultivated my ambitiousness too. Seeing someone so focused and determined to succeed fueled my dreams and made me realize that I want to create something like that for myself too.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO MAKE JEWELLERY RATHER THAN SOME DIFFERENT TYPE OF PRODUCT?
That's a very good question. It is really interesting because I see my work as design in general rather than related to fashion. There is a strong fashion aspect of course, but I never work on my jewellery in order to follow trends, to go well with certain clothes or to be worn in a specific way. I always see what I make as objects that can look just as nice displayed as they are worn. I think it boils down to the small scale of jewellery that allows me to work on each piece in detail that made me stick to it.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
The urban environment is my first source of inspiration. It happens completely unintentionally; I just walk down the street and an electrical pole or something might inspire me. I know - it is hideous. ;) Hardware stores are also a great inspiration spot. But the truth is that most of my ideas come to me when I am actually interacting with different materials. In fact, I feel like the materials guide me into shaping them into something new. No matter how many ideas I have sketched and thoroughly thought of, the moment I touch my tools and materials I really start designing.
WHAT IS YOUR BRAND’S MOTTO?
" Cause you don't need diamonds to shine "
WHERE ARE YOUR PIECES CREATED? WHERE DO YOU LIKE TO WORK?
All of my pieces are designed and made in my studio in Antwerp. Before renting that place I was making everything in my apartment, which was rather chaotic and frustrating. I like to wake up and get dressed in order to go to work. I like to work in places with as much natural light as possible. But I also like variety - if I need to do more administrative or digital work, I take my laptop to a nice coffee place or I stay home for a change.
WHAT DOES YOUR TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE?
Well, running your own creative business is equal to not having to do the same thing every day. Literally, no day is similar to another one. Some days I work for 12 hours straight in my studio making jewellery or designing and other days I spend all day running from hardware stores and suppliers to networking events and business meetings.However, not having some sort of routine can get very overwhelming - at least for me. So, every day I wake up with my boyfriend, send him off to work and spend a solid hour relaxing, having breakfast and walking our dog. After that I start my working day, not knowing when it'll be over. I try to finish working by 6 pm - 7 pm, so I can enjoy some downtime with my boyfriend, but that's not always the case, unfortunately.
WHAT PART OF THE PRODUCTION DO YOU ENJOY THE MOST? WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER TO BE THE MOST CHALLENGING?
When I started working on AR.M full time, I assumed that the administrative part would be the most challenging for me. Up until then I was only making jewellery, in super small quantities and never felt very overwhelmed by it. It came as a surprise to me when I realized, that I actually enjoy the production less and the admin role more. My favourite part is designing though. Τhe first ideas, sketching, sourcing new materials, figuring out new techniques and eventually making the first samples and prototypes, make me the happiest. I still make most of the jewellery that goes out there, but I feel that I'm moving towards building an in-house production team to help me with that. For the moment I have a part-time employee that comes once a week and has been very helpful.
YOUR NEW COLLECTION IS BEAUTIFUL, TELL US A BIT MORE ABOUT IT...
This collection is basically the first real new collection that I've designed. I used to add a couple of new designs every now and then, but I had never created a full seasonal collection before. This time I decided to make a bolder move and introduce completely new designs and shapes. It is scary and overwhelming, but I think it is essential in order to grow and discover my brand's full potential. The more time I spend working in the fashion and design industry the more I realize that you need to be flexible and always open to re-evaluate your work and values.When it comes to the design inspiration behind it; I felt I had to move towards a softer colour palette and focus on balanced shapes. I'm always drawn to the lack of colour, but I thought I'd step out of my comfort zone and create a pink-ish, nude, beige palette with a few colour accents. Symmetry and balance are also very important to me - they are my design vocabulary. The starting point of the new collection was merging my geometric approach of my previous designs with the circle as a shape and symbol of balance.
HOW DO YOU SELECT THE MATERIALS YOU WORK WITH, WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE MATERIAL AND WHY?
Sometimes I feel that the materials choose me because I don't spend a lot of time deciding what I want to work with. The decision process is very organic. I usually spend a lot of time in different hardware stores, where I find a lot of inspiration too. Sometimes I have an idea but I'm not sure how I could implement it, so I visit the store and start searching and asking. I'm pretty sure I've made many employees laugh with my questions. But that's how I learn and eventually choose my materials and tools. My favourite material by far is copper. It is the material I started working with and gave me the inspiration to create my unique product. After more than 3 years of working with copper, I still learn new things about it, find new ways to polish it and shape it. I really like that it is a very durable material and that you can always restore its shine without damaging it.
JUST WONDERING, HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE FOR ONE OF YOUR NECKLACES TO BE MADE?
Usually I need anywhere from an hour to three hours to finish a design. But it depends on how much wrapping a necklace needs and whether it has metal parts that need polishing. I try to work on more than one design at the time though because it makes the production process easier. One day I cut, polish and lacquer metal tubes, another day I wrap and so on …
WHAT IS UNIQUE ABOUT YOUR PRODUCTS?
They are contemporary, well-crafted and accessible. My products are made to be easily worn and highlight the wearer’s confidence. They are contemporary enough to add a structured, unique note to their outfit, but light and soft enough to be worn easily and with many different garments. I like to see them as the perfect blend of contemporary and casual design.
EXCEPT FOR AR.M, WHAT ARE YOU PASSIONATE ABOUT?
That's a tough question because I feel that jewellery design is all I'm doing lately. But when my schedule allows it, I really like travelling. I'm glad because my boyfriend is a total travel-freak so he keeps me on my toes when it comes to it. On a more personal note though, I'm really passionate about learning new things and evolving. I recently joined a master program for brand owners that has been quite challenging but it is a great way to understand better how the industry works and also to keep my creativity going.
WHAT IS YOUR PLAN FOR AR.M IN THE FUTURE?
My plan is to put together a strongly connected team that loves good craftsmanship and responsible design. The ultimate goal is to create accessories that empower women, help them embrace their uniqueness and compliment their intelligent personalities. I aim at enforcing the value of slowly and honestly handcrafted contemporary design accessories. Unfortunately, many people associate contemporary design with high-end prices and handcrafted products with simple DIYs. I want to bridge that gap and reinforce the authenticity and uniqueness of well-made design jewellery.
THERE ARE SO MANY INSPIRING PLACES IN ANTWERP, WHERE SHOULD WE DEFINITELY STOP BY?
I could spend hours talking and talking about all the amazing places in this city but I'll keep it as short as possible :). The MoMu is a great place to start; it is the fashion museum of the city and there are no permanent collections, only biannual exhibitions that showcase incredible projects from small or famous designers. St.Vincents is a rather new concept store that has already won the hearts of the local designers. It offers a great variety of products - from garments and accessories to furniture and plants. It also serves great coffee. The Middelheim Sculpture park is every Instagramer's dream. It is full of lovely works of art and it is perfect for an inspiring bike ride or a picnic. And finally, the bookstore COPYRIGHT that focuses on art and architecture books. Great collection, lovely environment, you won't be able to leave without a book or two.
ANY UP-AND-COMING BRANDS YOU ARE FOND OF?
I recently had the opportunity to meet and collaborate with the girls behind the Meraki Bags and I have to say that they are as amazing as their bags are. They are for sure on my favourite upcoming brands list. I also love Laurence Leenaert (lrnce) and her modern Moroccan vibe. When it comes to jewelry, I'm in love with Contour Studio and their geometric and contemporary approach to elegant jewelry design. Lastly, I've recently stumbled upon the work of Nathalie Teugels (nteugels); she is a young Belgian furniture designer and I really like her minimalistic style.
WHAT DOES MINIMALISM MEAN TO YOU?
"Minimalism is not the lack of something, but the perfect amount of something."