Antonia Pearce caught up with the jewellery designer Zena Khan on the island of Bali, to talk mosques, Maharajas and beauty….
What impact has living and working in Bali had on your design aesthetic?
Bali is a very spiritual and creative island. It has profoundly changed the way I work. I’ve become much calmer and more confident about the directions I want to go in. Island life forces you to take on only what you need and let everything else slide away. This comes through in my designs, consisting of simple yet exaggerated shapes.
You moved from London to Malaysia to Bali – how has this changed the way you work?
After graduating from Central Saint Martins, I honed my design skills at various companies including Garrard Fine Jewellery and a host of well-known UK retail names. The experience proved to be invaluable. When I moved to Bali and started focusing on my own label, I began channeling all my inspirations and efforts into much more personal and less trend-led work. Bali has allowed me to work very closely with my artisans, which has led to the highly sculptural quality that is now my calling card.
What has inspired your designs?
I have been deeply inspired by the Indian Maharajahs of the last century and the way in which they styled and carried themselves. I believe the sexiest accessory on a woman is an oversized man’s watch or ring, so with these references in mind, I am also exploring just how large I can take the shapes of my rings, incorporating super-sized, semi-precious stones with decadent names such as “Whiskey Topaz” and “Fire Opal.”
What inspired previous collections and what are the three most beautiful objects you have ever seen?
My jewellery draws inspiration from the architectural forms of mosques and churches of the world. For example, the majestic shimmering gold of the Dome of the Rock Mosque in Jerusalem and the decorative peaks of the Notre Dame Cathedral. I also take inspiration from the significance of the buildings to all who worship within them. Regarding the most beautiful objects, I would say Fragile – a painting by the Malaysian contemporary artist Ahmad Fuad Osman. Seven perfectly executed canvases make up a large, thought-provoking piece that discusses the transience of life. The famous “Tiffany Yellow Diamond” canary yellow diamond, which I saw in an exhibition in London and sparked my love affair with very large coloured gems. Lastly, a pair of Azzedine Alaia python skin and bell shoes. The bells are arranged like the bell anklets worn by Indian dancers, yet the shoe itself is highly contemporary.
Do you do bespoke pieces?
I design bespoke pieces, usually exaggerated, gem-encrusted versions of my ready-to-wear line. I love creating fantasy and so I design show-stopping pieces for my clients. Bespoke gives both the client and the designer the opportunity to live out inner fantasies. I also design jewellery and hardware for fashion designers, most recently for the acclaimed Middle Eastern designer Hatem Al Akeel’s Spring/Summer shows at Dubai Fashion Week.
What makes the perfect ring?
The perfect ring is one that suits your personality, makes a statement and is so comfortable you never want to take it off. My rings feel like little companions that come with me on all my adventures and bear witness to all my experiences, like tiny sculptural diaries.
Zena Khan jewels are stocked at the London concept store, Darkroom. For more information, visit www.darkroomlondon.com.