Designer Interview - Eina Ahluwalia
If it’s meaningful jewelry that you’re after then Eina Ahluwalia is the designer for you. Based in India, each and every piece she creates is lovingly hand-made with each and every piece representing a different and highly emotional message. We sat down with this inspiring designer to discover how she gets her inspirations and just what she wants to achieve with her creations.
Hello Eina – can you just tell us a little bit more about yourself?
I was born and brought up in Kolkata, India’s intellectual and cultural capital. A passion for art, poetry, music and literature runs through this city and was probably absorbed by my collective unconscious, and I did not become aware of this till much later. During school I took painting, dance and music lessons, but only because my mother wanted me to!
Growing up, I wanted to be a veterinary doctor or a psychoanalyst, but everyone said these professions didn’t really make any money and were not ‘sensible’ choices. In college I wanted to study English literature but I was told I it wouldn’t get me a job so I decided to study Commerce, and followed it up with an MBA in Mumbai.
I came back to Kolkata to be with my family and worked for four years, until one day when I realized that I didn’t relate to my life at all, and I did not want to wake up a few years later and be 65, super successful, but having lived a meaningless life. I decided I wanted to do something I loved, and to live the quality of life I wanted- to have time to travel, trek, read, write, spend time with family and friends, do something meaningful, and not wake up feeling exhausted every morning! In all the madness and rushing about at the job, I missed stillness…
A lot of people thought it was stupid to quit a job and walk straight into uncertainty, but for once I was sure of what I wanted, and I was not going to listen. That’s when I set up Breathing Space, with the byline “I need my breathing space”…
How did you decide to become a jewelry designer?
I always loved silver jewelry, even though in those days in India it was only used for traditional and tribal designs. If I wanted to wear something edgier and more contemporary the search was futile. So in January 2003 I set up my label Breathing Space, and decided to make contemporary silver jewelry. I knew nothing about making jewelry, all I knew was that I had a passion for silver and jewelry, and thinking about the new designs I wanted to work on would not let me sleep at night!
The first few years I learnt a lot from the craftsmen I worked with. I drove them quite insane with what I wanted, because if they said a certain thing was not possible they had to explain to me how and why! From 2006 for about two and a half years, I worked as a consultant for a jewelry export company, looking after their design and international marketing.
After two and a half years of working with this factory for 3 days a week, and running Breathing Space for the rest of the four days, I decided I needed to refocus my energies to take my own work to the next level.
I had discovered the world of conceptual art jewelry just by chance, and it felt like coming home. My jewelry could now be my expression, my language, and my way to place myself in the world.
Also, after 8 years of making contemporary jewelry in India I was beginning to feel limited in my vocabulary as I was confined to playing with the traditional skills of the craftspeople I worked with. I needed a new language because I had so much more to say. I also needed to hone my bench skills for a smooth flow between my thoughts and my hands, without the loss in translation with the craftsman in the middle. So I went to Alchimia School of Contemporary Jewellery in Florence for a 2 month long intensive training on experimental techniques and material.
I realize that working on each piece with my own hands is a painstakingly long process; it requires patience, precision, a calm spirit and a quiet soul. It provided the stillness I always search for, it’s like Zen meditation, just sitting on the bench, shutting down your mind, and creating from the soul….
What are your inspirations?
My inspiration is life and my interaction with it. Is the life around us real or the one we live in our head? Perspectives- from my eyes and yours, and the space in between.
You live in India – how does the country influence your style?
India is a country of diversity and contradictions. It can inspire you with a hundred different visuals per minute, and drive you insane with the same! But no matter how we’re growing as a country, our psyches are rooted in tradition and spirituality, and that gives us a really strong base to stand tall on.
My work is rooted in the same base of tradition and spirituality, and all my quests and thoughts, which find expression in my jewelry, arise out of living life in the Indian context.
Even as India is growing, our traditional crafts are dying due to competition from machines or purely from irrelevance in the modern world. One of the agendas of my work is to work with skills that have been passed down generations, but are getting lost because they take days to make something a machine takes a minute to mass produce. Consequently, the costs of hand making each piece are much higher too.
Your jewelry is striking and eye-catching – does this your own personal style?
My personal fashion style is very simple, but I always wear a striking piece of jewelry. And the jewelry I wear is always something that has a special meaning for me, either symbolic of my state of mind, or my direction in life. It may also be something that gives me strength or stands for an ideology or philosophy I believe in.
You have said that you want your jewelry to be subtle yet powerful and emotional. Can you tell us a bit more about this?
I believe that understated is more powerful than loud, and fine craftsmanship is more special that anything else. Also a special meaning has a deeper emotional connection than high fashion. So in each of my pieces I work to keep the concept or the message strong, yet rooted in intricate craftsmanship, and this to me, makes the pieces precious.
How would you describe your designs?
Our designs are intricate and intense, subtle yet strong. They are rooted in traditional craftsmanship but have contemporary expression.
How would you describe the Eina Ahluwalia woman?
The Eina Ahluwalia woman is an independent, individualistic, thinking woman, who is confident enough to express herself. She is spiritual and searches for meaning through her life and experiences. She values art and craftsmanship, and only wears jewelry that she identifies with, jewelry that moves her, expresses who she is and what she feels; more as an extension of her personality than for ornamentation.
Your wedding vows collection is designed to make a stand against domestic violence. How has the reaction to this from your customer base been?
We presented Wedding Vows at Lakme Fashion Week in March ’11, with a short presentation before the runway show. A lot of people came to us after the show and said they had "Goosebumps" or were crying through the show. The idea was that even if 2 people in the audience went home and said “No! This is NOT okay”, we would have made an impact.
This collection has had the strongest emotional connect with women across the world. I think every woman has either experienced or witnessed violence of some kind in their lives, and at some level they identify with the thought behind the collection. The pieces are meant to symbolically remind them of their power to stand up for themselves, and also that they need to love and respect themselves enough to protect themselves from any kind of disrespect.
Talking about Lakme fashion week, can you tell us a bit more about this and how it came about?
In 2009 we applied for a booth at Lakme Fashion Week, Mumbai, and were thrilled to be accepted. In 2010 they launched runway shows for the Accessories category and we showcased ‘Truth’ and ‘Sunset in Nice’ in AW 10, and ‘Containment’ and ‘How I felt’ in SS 11. This year in AW11 we presented our ‘Wedding Vows’ collection, and from this year onwards, we have decided to showcase only one season at Fashion Week each year, as our jewelry is not season or trend driven but more timeless and meaningful.
We find Lakme Fashion Week is a great platform to present a body of work, and a runway show is the best way to communicate an entire collection.
What are your personal favorite pieces of jewelry?
Rings! And for the past few months I’ve been wearing an arrowhead pendant on a short chain, and a Saxon knife pendant on a long one everyday. (Both from the Wedding Vows collection)
What 5 accessories do you believe every woman should have?
1.A big bag to carry her whole life around in
2.A small evening bag to give the shoulders a break
3.Beautiful but flat comfortable footwear
4.Some pieces of everyday jewelry that are almost a part of who she is
5.Some pieces of jewelry that carry personal meaning and start conversations, for special occasions.
Because Boticca runs on passion. There are many online websites that showcase ‘designers’ in a commercial way, but Boticca looks for ‘artists’ and their stories. They hand pick each of their artists, and once you’re a part of them, it’s like a family. I love the way I feel cared for at Boticca, by everyone at each level. And even as they’re growing everyday, the personal connection remains. This is the differentiator that will always keep Boticca head ahead of others.
What’s next for you?
In November we’re showing at Sieraad Art Jewellery fair in Amsterdam. And we’ll be back at Fashion Week next season. I hope to spend more time on my bench, and look forward to some interesting collaborations next year…