Designer Interview - Alexandra Simpson
Alexandra Simpson comes from an art and design background but has always retained her true passion: jewelry design. She is becoming known for her delicate, romantic and intricate flowers. However, she is inspired by many things from nature in general and Art Nouveau. Her designs have garnered so much interest that Alexandra won the prestigious Coutts New Jeweller Award Winner in 2009.
We sat down with Alexandra to find out more about her background, the inspiration which drives her design and what is coming next for this talented designer.
Hi Alexandra. Tell us your unique story!
I grew up in London with the travel bug instilled in me by my parents. My mother was the daughter of a diplomat and my father a dentist from New Zealand. I love traveling abroad and especially discovering and experiencing new cultures and Arts.
I had a lovely childhood growing up with my brother and sister next to Richmond Park. We were spoilt as we had a lovely, big garden to play in too, my mother being a keen gardener instilling the love of plants and flowers in us.
My creative streak ran across the arts. I sang in the local church choir (becoming a senior chorister) and learnt to play the flute to grade 8. I now enjoy going to concerts, musicals the opera and the ballet. I still enjoy visiting galleries and museums and have developed a particular love for the Art Nouveau period. When I was younger, I also learnt ballet and have continued to dance up until the present (Ceroc – a mix of Jive and Salsa) on a regular basis.
Where does your inspiration come from?
I loved drawing from a young age and went on to study art at O and A level. I did a joint degree in Art and Education (BA Hons) and taught Primary Education for a rewarding number of years. I had specialized in glass at University and followed a creative need by designing and making indoor and outdoor colorful glass fountains. These were popular but I still hadn’t found my niche.
I retrained in the jewelry making, design and business on a part-time basis at Sir John Cass, St Martins and Westminster. My design skills further developed on from university and I feel I now have a strong sense of my personal aesthetics. I have always been passionate about jewelry and now I design and make it.
I am inspired by all sorts of things that adhere to my aesthetics. Nature forms the basis of most of my designs. I like to think of it as being imperfectly perfect. Other influences include Art Nouveau and in particular Rene Lalique
and Alphonse Mucha
So it seems that there are constant attributes that appear in your work. Wouldn't you say?
Indeed. Attributes that run through my work include: delicacy, intricacy, romanticism, elegance, beauty, difference and the feeling of something special.
Who is the typical Alexandra Simpson customer?
My customer appreciates beautiful, pretty and handmade things. Something that is unique, different and not mass produced on the high street. They are usually buying for themselves or a close friend or family. A large proportion of my customers are women in touch with their feminine side, but we get a fair proportion of husbands, lovers or boyfriends who knows what their other half likes – or who treat themselves to some cufflinks!
Unlike some designers, I do not have a typical customer as I find buyers from all age ranges and economic backgrounds. They are obviously interested in the delicate nature of my pieces. As a result, I don’t have the same following from people who prefer larger, chunkier pieces.
As we all know, being a designer has its challenges. What are the greatest ones you've faced?
I am a perfectionist. Sometimes this can be uneconomical if designing for a commission. In this situation, I try and develop a collection around it so the time costs are distributed more evenly.
I have done well in the British trade press but with retail magazines and publications the lead time is longer (approximately 5 months) and I may not even have finished the collection that I will be launching then.
I put so much effort and energy into each of my pieces that sometimes I have to leave it a little while before I sell a piece because it has almost a part of me in it.
Can you tell us a little bit more about your design process?
When designing I usually go from a primary object rather than something that has already been designed and made by someone else. Therefore, nature is a huge source of inspiration from the way things move, to patterns of petals or on the surface of the water, reflections, shadows, forms… This is how I get something that is unique and different.
Keeping to the KISS philosophy (keep it simple stupid!) is important in order to ensure simplicity and balance to the design.
It doesn’t matter what I am working on, I am always collecting ideas, things that inspire me or that I think are beautiful. I take photographs, collect cards, postcards and rip pictures out of magazines, go for walks and look at the compositions in nature and picking up a leaf, flower or seed pod.
I am told I have a playful approach to design. I play around in particular with composition to see what works well. I know something will be popular if I love it.
A lot of research goes into my designs. Often I start by taking a form or object from nature, for example, for my sea horse inspired collection I spent weeks finding out as much as I could about it, tried and see it live, took photos, collected pictures, quotes, and other information. Then I started sketching, painting, playing with form, patterns, repeating parts, coming up with paper designs and then maquettes.
Once I am happy with a model, I hand carve it into wax or metal, enabling it to be cast in precious metal. Finally, a lot of time, care and attention goes into the finishing of the piece, through filing and polishing it.
Do you have any favorite pieces?
Two of my favorite pieces are on Boticca.
One is the ‘Winter Blossum’ lariat
I love this piece because the pendant is also the clasp. The texture of the piece gives it a sparkly quality without having diamonds and it has a little bit of movement in the swing of the silver twig draped at the bottom. It is very easy to put on and take off. It has a sensual and elegant quality about it and of course adheres to the KISS philosophy!
The other is the ‘Blossum’ bangle
This combines my favorite ‘Inspired Flower’ and a solid silver twig. I love the mixture of the gold and silver and the sparkle of the diamond makes it really special. The flower has a delicate look but yet when you feel it is quite substantial. The delicate texture of the petals is very romantic and the 18ct gold stamens add a special ‘je ne sais quoi’. The high, smooth polish of the inside of the twig makes it feels comforting and yet sensual on.
In addition, I love some of the tiaras I have made – especially the one I created for my wedding (which is not for sale but I do take commissions on similar designs so send me a message on Boticca if you're interested).
This again combines a mixture of gold silver and diamonds with a delicate vine that interweaves them. Because of the romance of the object, the fact that one can dress up like a princess on her wedding day and that it makes you feel really special. It also holds special memories and is a sentimental piece. I made matching gold flower cufflinks for my husband to wear too.
Do you like any other designers on Boticca in particular?
I have chosen a couple of designers that appeal to me because they have a defined style and I find their creations aesthetically pleasing.
– the kimono clutches are simple and luxurious with an added twist: the kimono and its story.
– I love the delicate romance of the flowers and the strong yet simple shapes and compositions of the fascinators.
So what’s next for you?
At this moment, I am working on a new collection called ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. Think flowers and vines with a delicate, romantic, fairy tale feel. Mainly silver with hints of 18ct gold. I will be launching this collection to the public at end of May at The Fountain Gallery, near Hampton Court in the UK.