tessa packard thinks design

July 2014

Thoughts on Design

Two collections on, Tessa puts some thoughts on paper about her design journey, what drives her inspiration and what matters the most when it comes to creating jewellery

I believe in symbolic meaning beyond material parts – that there should be a theme underpinning any commission or collection of jewellery, whether it be a personal story or historical context. It is for that reason (coupled with the focus and direction that a theme gives you) that I choose to base each of my collections on a particular visual storyline.

For what reason I chose Mexican architecture as the platform for my debut jewellery collection (Mexicana) I have no recollection. It was a whole-heartedly instinctive decision. It could have been anything from an ethnic sculpture I saw in a museum to a travel postcard of a Mayan temple that set me off in that particular direction. With No Smoke Without Flowers it was an article I read in an old copy of Vanity Fair that proved to be decisive. “Confessions of an Opium-Seeker” by Nick Tosches explores the romanticized myth of the Eastern opium den with the writer travelling from Hong Kong to the Golden Triangle in search of his smoker’s nirvana. Whilst I have never wanted to smoke opium I found his account to be as addictive as opium itself, and it began in me a quest for knowledge – to learn more about the customs and traditions of the Hua-yan jians or flower-smoke rooms of eras past.

Both collections to date have resulted in visual, photographic campaigns that bring to life the very theme I immerse myself in for many months prior to that point. For Mexicana we shot the jewellery on small scale paper models of the Mexican buildings the pieces were inspired by; for No Smoke Without Flowers we styled an opium-den shoot in a studio in London under the brilliant directorship of the photographer Greg Williams who understood the importance of narrative in jewellery. In both cases I feel the campaigns have allowed the viewer the chance to better understand the themes underpinning my jewellery. Without them I feel in part much of the design magic would be lost.

Of equal importance to the campaign shoots are my sketchbooks. They disclose everything anyone would ever want to know about me as a designer and how I approach each collection from a design point of view. They reveal my working style, the materials I favour when putting pen to paper and my technical conundrums. They lay bare my frustrations, inspirations, muses, thoughts and ideas. It is where I explore colour combinations, play around with stone settings and finalise the names for each of my pieces.

Each collection is tackled differently. With Mexicana, I spent hours visually dissecting Mayan, Aztec and Modernist Mexican architecture in an attempt to uncover a common geometric and decorative language – or Mexican-ness – which I could replicate in the jewellery. It was a continuous process of distilling, simplifying and assimilating. My intention was to create a collection inspired by Mexican architecture and its decorative culture, not a literal translation of it, and for that reason I deliberately avoided any Day of the Dead iconography or overuse of ethnic patterns. With No Smoke Without Flowers I designed the collection based on what might have been found inside an imaginary Chinese courtesan’s jewellery box – the gifts of jewellery she may have been given over time by her admiring customers in the opium den. For this latest collection I chose a variety of carved and richly coloured stones to represent the opulence of the East, whereas by comparison the gems in Mexicana where chosen for their brightness and relationship to the Latin American architecture and land on which the buildings stood.

In which direction my designing will take me next remains to be seen. Sources of inspiration are too frequently found – the merest discussion or flick through a novel is food for thought. We live in a culturally rich and decorative environment in which no jewellery designer with a thirst for narrative could ever grow tired of. Whilst varied in their mediums, the arts such theatre, couture and cinema jointly aim to transport the viewer into another world, and I would like to believe that my jewellery has the potency to do the same – that it has the power to make the wearer believe they are carrying a little bit of Latin history or Eastern opulence each time they wear a Tessa Packard London design.