WORDS BY THE AUTHOR / In the last year, sustainable fashion has become a lot more mainstream. But not so long ago, when I told potential customers that my jewellery was made from recycled silver, I’d see in their faces a sudden question: a scepticism about the quality. If it was made from old silver, could it be as good? ‘It is the same quality as new sterling silver,’ I’d say, ‘just no mountains were mined, no forests destroyed, no people exploited, and waters polluted to get it.’ The silver I work with is Ecosilver by Cookson – it is 100% traceable silver recycled from electronics, medical equipment and old jewellery. I source my stones and pearls either from old jewellery I find in vintage and antique shops or from Kingsclere Gems who have a selection of stones that are unused stock collected from retired jewellers. These are ‘new’ as they are unused but since they were mostly cut in the 1980s or earlier, I feel buying them does not support the current mining and gem-cutting industry. But I could see there was some magic still missing from the story.
I researched myths and legends around jewellery and metalwork and discovered that smiths in the past had an almost magical status. They took rocks from the earth and turned them into beautiful items that spoke of social position and ritual and symbolism. Smiths bridged the gap between the mysterious natural world of dwarves, elves and gods, and the human world. In one story from the ancient Icelandic Poetic Edda, one such smith fell in love with a swan maiden called Hervör Strange Creature. She was a shapeshifter who crossed between the worlds as she pleased, spending time as a swan in nature and as a woman among people. In Hervör, I found the story I needed for my recycled silver jewellery.
I consider my process with silver a kind of rewilding. The silver is recycled from such prosaic human things as electronics and medical equipment, and to make my jewellery I melt it and let it flow. It chooses its own path and makes shapes like those in the natural world – coastlines, islands – and textures like wind-ruffled lakes and clouded skies. At times I feel more midwife than designer. I am interested in the effect my jewellery has on the people who wear it; the shine that comes into their faces when they look in the mirror. There is a kind of primal appeal that comes from organic shapes, and even people who usually wear minimal jewellery find my larger, bolder pieces gentle enough to wear every day. They tell me they feel confident and more like themselves. And it makes me think about the way so many of us live, being city folk during the week, and escaping to nature at the weekend to forest bathe and connect with something bigger. Perhaps the natural shapes of my jewellery give some of the spirit of the wild back to daily life. Transforming us with a little of Hervör’s power.
And so ‘New Mythology’ as a jewellery collection, photo-story and film was born. A new swan-maiden myth for our times where recycling is much more magical than mining things from the earth. It is magic to shapeshift human waste and return it to beauty and use.
The location for the film feels like a pilgrimage place to me. The Palava hills, rising out of the flat land around, are visible for miles – even from Brno, where I live. I think of the mammoths that used to roam there, and love the salty weedy smell of the reservoir from the steps at Strachotín. I can almost imagine I’m at the sea. It is a place full of ancient history. Archeologists have found the oldest human settlements in the world on the Palava slopes, and some of the oldest artwork, including a ceramic Venus. They are fertile hills and the ancient bones show that the people who lived there had excellent nutrition, and yet, facing the hills across the water, and strangely mimicking their shape, is a giant agrochemicals plant. The tension here, between old and new, nature and man-made, purity and corruption felt to me like the perfect set for my drama. On the day we were shooting we found it veiled in mist and looking more magical than ever. The swans were also pure luck.
For the music I wanted a strong female voice with an ancient folk quality to match the ethereal power of my model’s gaze. I was considering recording a new version of a Slovak lullaby I liked, but then I heard ‘Call’ by Sealionwoman. I love the combination of the strong jazz voice with folk-style whoops like those I’d heard at Czech folk dances, and the dark, brooding electric double bass as the only accompaniment. The lyrics too speak to the distress of our times as the natural world is being stolen from under our feet. But we are powerful and will fight to restore it, ‘You’ll see.’ The whole album, Siren, is about the Scottish legend of the Selkie – a seal-woman shapeshifter. It couldn’t be more right.
I had a whole team on site for our shooting day and it was a real collaborative effort. Huge thanks to Jan Baterka for his gorgeous camera work and editing, photographer Patricia Kvasnovska, stylist Anna Bohla, hair Rambi Vera, makeup Anastasiia Sobina, assistant Maria Nisu and our incredible model Jesenija Sitnikova.
ABOUT / Queen’s Wood Studio is a contemporary sustainable jewellery brand by British designer, Hattie Wragg. Founded in north London, in a studio overlooking Queen’s Wood in 2014, Hattie moved to Brno in 2015 and became inspired by Czech folklore and the closeness of nature even in the city. Sustainability is at the heart of everything she makes. All pieces are made from certified recycled silver and vintage gems, using non-toxic chemicals in the production process, and presented in recycled and recyclable packaging.
All materials in this article / Queen’s Wood Studio