• Interview with Maria Nilsdotter

    Written by Michaela Widergren

    It’s the 28th of August and it’s fashion week in Stockholm. I’m on my way to the event of Maria Nilsdotter, where the Spring / Summer 2013 collection “Lost World” will be presented.

    It’s a busy time at the party, people are conversing and drinking wine while admiring the new collection worn by angel-like models and exposed in showcases like exotic installations.
    Maria and I have a seat at a small table on the terrace, crowded by bloggers, PR-people and other fashionistas.

    The first question I ask her is about the choice of material.
    -Because I’m quite traditionally schooled, material and quality always comes first. I work mostly with precious metals. I love working with gold, it’s soft, yet strong and very worthwhile to work with, but silver is my main material and sometimes I also use bronze, which is a lasting and beautiful metal.

    How much time does the process of creating a new collection take? And how important is the practical part?
    Hmm when I do my jewelry I always start with research and sketching, after that I start creating models to try the ideas. Next I make the first original. It takes quite some time and a lot of puttering with details. It’s all a long process connected with everything around it. The practical part is important because I am able see the process from idea to reality. There are a lot of changes made when the jewelry takes form in 3D.

    She tells me she feels contempt and is well aware of the dirty business connected to mining, and that it’s often hard to find well regulated distributors. She always buys her metals from relatively local distributors in Sweden and England; countries where the regulation and standards are high. Some of her pieces contain details of fur and leather, which are all vintage and hand colored.
    It’s evident that her love for animals can be seen in both her aesthetics and her way of production. One animal, specifically the raven, is frequently recurrent in her pieces.

    Tell me about your fascination with ravens and their symbolism? Which other animals do you incorporate into your jewelry and which animals do you avoid?
    I like the raven because it’s such a powerful bird! If you ever see one you’ll be astonished by how big they are! They are just so interesting, for example: they often pare up to form lifelong relationships, then there are also interesting ravens in mythology such as Hugin and Munin.
    I often find inspiration from mystical and scary animals, I like to combine them with precious metals and sparkling stones, it’s a fun and unexpected combination. I don’t think I would avoid working with any kind of animal. In school I made fun little animals like pigs, donkeys and monkeys :)

    Which jewelry would you not leave your home without? And which is the most precious to you?
    I always ware one of my silver claw rings on my pinky. One of my most important jewelry pieces is a big Zuni (Native American) Indian ring from Santa Fé, that I got as a gift from my husband.
    I love how jewelry, because of its solidness can wander through generations, possessing a lot affection and stories.

    The new collection for Spring / Summer 2013 is called Amaranth, inspired by the book with the same name. Amaranth is about an old lady during the 17th century who finds another world, a place that becomes her escape from reality - her own personal truth, her own lost world.
    Maria read the book during her study at Central Saint Martin in London, and now it’s become one of what I think will be her most prized and recognized collections.

    Will sagas and folklore be a continual inspiration for your designs?
    It will always have a place in my heart, I’ve loved sagas and mythology since I was a little child, so I’m sure the fascination will last forever.

    Her artistic vain can be also be seen in the scarves she makes for each collection. The garments are often covered with beautiful and enigmatic illustrations, incorporating everything from animals, insects, skeletons and female silhouettes.

    You’re a brilliant illustrator, if you weren’t working with jewelry, would you be a painting artist?
    Oh, thank you, I don’t see myself as an illustrator but I do enjoy drawing. I draw and sketch a lot during the design process and I think it’s fun to use my sketches for look books, etc.. If I didn’t work with jewelry I would definitely do something else creative, possibly painting.

    Our time is running out and there are a lot of important people for Maria to meet. I feel grateful that she had time for our conversation, on probably one of her busiest days.

    Lastly I ask, if there’s anything that journalist’s write about you, with which you disagree?
    They often write that Madonna wore one of my head pieces during her Super Bowl performance. And actually she didn’t, her dancers did ;)

    tank top NORRBACK

    RALPH LAUREN sequin skirt

    dress JAN AHLGREN

    styling MEGHAN SCOTT / Magnolia

    MICHAELA MYHRBERG hair & make up

    model CLARA J/Stockholmsgruppen

    SAMUEL ÖFVERSTEDT photo assistant

    all jewelry by MARIA NILSDOTTER

  • Match Girl

    Written by Ellen Rogers by Michaela Widergren

    Sepulchral: A Journey in the Necropolis by Ellen Rogers: 1888

    The history of the workers strike most certainly did not start here. In fact the more I look the more it seems apparent that it might even be innate in workers to revolt when exposed to such extreme situations, we are an animal of pack mentality after all. Records of workers striking go back as far as the ancient Egyptians. So this is not anything new. What this story is however, despite its rough start is, well, quite uplifting.

    In June 1888, Annie Besant, a young Fleet Street journalist (and spearhead of the striking movement In the Bryant and May Factory), wrote a pivotal article for the newspaper “The Link” entitled “White Slavery in London.” Both women and children worked in the Bryant and May Factory in Bow, London using “White Phosphorous” to make matches. The work itself was arduous to say the least. According to Besant’s 1888 article, they were required to work from 6:30 AM to 8 PM and stood the whole day. The work each day raised the paltry sum of roughly 50p a day in modern money (that is according to my workings out at National Archives). To add further salt to the wound, there were a series of sadistic fines offered to those who made simple mistakes. At the end of Besant first hard hitting article about these women she wrote:

    Failing a poet to hold up their conduct to the execration of posterity, enshrined in deathless verse, let us strive to touch their consciences, i.e. their pockets, and let us at least avoid being “partakers of their sins”, by abstaining from using their commodities. Her attempt here to persuade the public from busying these matches worked and gained great attention.

    The health of the workers suffered greatly at the hands of these factories. The effects of the “White Phosphorus” itself ranged from “a yellowing of the skin, hair loss, phossy jaw (a form of bone cancer where the whole side of the face turned green and then black, discharging foul-smelling pus and finally death)” to dissentions, growths, tumors and numerous external burns from matches and countless occupational hazards caused by the extreme working conditions.

    After Besant published her article in “The Link”, “Bryant and May”, reacted by attempting to force their workers to sign a statement that they were happy with their working conditions. When a group of women refused to sign, the organizers of the group was sacked. The response was immediate; 1400 of the women at Bryant & May went on strike. William Stead, the editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, Henry Hyde Champion of the Labour Elector and Catharine Booth of the Salvation Army joined Besant in her campaign for better working conditions in the factory. So also did Sydney Oliver, Stewart Headlam, Hubert Bland, Graham Wallas and George Bernard Shaw. However, other newspapers such as The Times, blamed Besant and other socialist agitators for the dispute.

    Annie Besant, William Stead and Henry Hyde Champion used their newspapers to call for a boycott of Bryant & May matches. The women at the company also decided to form a Matchgirls’ Union and Besant agreed to become its leader. After three weeks the company announced that it was willing to re-employ the dismissed women and would also bring an end to the fines system. The women accepted the terms and returned in triumph. The Bryant & May dispute was the first strike by unorganized workers to gain national publicity. It was also successful at helped to inspire the formation of unions all over the country.

    My homage here is the women who suffered at the hands of their employers, whilst researching this article I could not find any images of the injured women other than one image of a small group of protestors. My attempt here is reconstruct as accurately as I can what it would have looked like in the hospital ward 1888, I admit it is not without my poetic licence.

    Sources are John Romer, Ancient Lives; the story of the Pharaoh’s Tombmakers. London: Phoenix Press, 1984, pp. 116-123. See also E.F. Wente, “A letter of complaint to the Vizier To”, in Journal of Near Eastern, Mernick, and Spartacus.

  • photography by SANDRA MYHRBERG model MADELEINE L / Mikas

    The Commodification of Christ

    Written by Philip Warkander by Michaela Widergren

    The expressions of contemporary fashion – as a cultural, social and financial phenomenon – are characterized by two great paradoxes. The first concerns the connotations of the actual fashion artefact in the shape of a garment; it is simultaneously a commercial commodity (and as such part of a global market economy) and part of someone’s personal life, integrated in someone’s everyday existence. The garments we wear communicate to others in a multitude of ways, while at the same time being affected by experiences and charged with emotions and memories.
    The other great paradox is connected to the very core of fashion itself, its constant need for reinvention. Fashion is characterized by a strong need to continuously change its appearance; organized through the temporal flow of fashion seasons (though lately this system is spinning so fast the seasons now are almost blurred, new collections appearing online already a year before the actual garments reach the shops).
    The relation between fashion and time creates a need to articulate the contemporary. This is done by questioning the ingrained, breaking social taboos and undermining the normative.
    Think, for example, of Chanel’s reinvention of luxury goods by using jersey and mixing diamonds with glass stones, or Yves Saint Laurent’s female version of le smoking, creating a new silhouette for women.
    However, at the same time, the dominance of fashion in contemporary culture also makes it a strongly conservative force, whose sartorial expressions create distinctions between the same categories it claims to undermine. Fashion determines how femininity should be aestheticized, and through its distinction between high street and high fashion, it enforces the differences between the poor and the affluent. This way, fashion simultaneously questions and reinforces the notion that gender, class and lifestyle are defined through sartorial differences.

    Fashion can thus be said to hold multiple dimensions, existing side by side. Some are aligned with each other while others have a paradoxical relationship, at times even operating as each other’s opposites. Because of this, fashion is the most culturally charged form of expression of the modern era; carrying the possibility to strengthen normative forces while at the same time threatening them, conflating macro economy with artefacts of the personal and private.

    Many designers are aware of fashion’s paradoxical double-nature, deliberately interlacing personal references with commercial expressions. The Italian design-duo Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana have for a long time incorporated – both into their sartorial creations but in particular in their jewelry design – the Catholic aesthetics of their home country. The figure of Christ, gold crucifixes and other religious symbols have been incorporated into embroideries, and turned into overtly sexual necklaces and large, luxurious earrings, combined with the famous Dolce&Gabbana-logotype. The Catholically charged aesthetics are thus distributed internationally as a fashion commodity.

    Another example of this practice is French designer Christian Lacroix, who successfully reworked the Christian cross of his childhood into a symbol of his luxury goods.
    The opulent cross is now intimately connected to his fashion brand. His fellow-countryman Jean-Paul Gaultier seems equally fascinated with the legacy of Catholic imagery and symbolism. Focusing on the female icons of Christianity, he has transformed religious artworks and turned them into corporeal versions of the holy women of the Bible. Designing intricate sets of dresses, jewellery and entire halos around the models’ heads, the young women appeared on his catwalk as if it were a church aisle; Christian archetypes materialized in flesh and blood. The dresses were the colour of church glass windows and in his S/S 2007 collection, the models posed in front of a heavenly staircase, as if directly descended from heaven. The Christian symbolism was transferred from churches and cathedrals to shops and department stores; the style of the holy Madonna now possible to purchase, to wear to dinner parties and nights out on the town.
    Gaultier’s childhood memories from Catholic France became interwoven with his present career, brought to life in a context where they would act as novel commodities instead of eternal symbols of belief.

    Also Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci has sought divine inspiration, creating gold necklaces in the shape of the thorn crown of Jesus. When this ancient symbol of his humiliation and degradation is re contextualized within a contemporary fashion discourse, it is transformed into a costly and conspicuous symbol of consumption.
    The Christian connotations are combined with the logotype of a French couture house, the thorns now made out of precious metals. This way, Catholic imagery in high fashion both questions ingrained notions of what is sacred and holy, while at the same upholding class boundaries through the exclusive prices.
    The transformation of Christ into a commodity has become the ultimate sign that fashion and shopping is the religion of modern life.

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