London-based jewellery designer Mawi Keivom speaks about the mixed influences behind her pieces, and the Queen

A piece of good jewellery is a joy forever. And now, more than ever, creating one seems a greater joy — what with more and more people seeing a fine piece not as something with which one shows adherence to tradition but, rather obviously, departs from it.

London-based Mawi Keivom is part of that increasing little group of accessory designers who are relying on customers who look for fun and individuality in design, and not necessarily the age of the brand or the ubiquity of its logo. You know she's in the right place. Her jewellery label Mawi (pronounced ‘moy'), set up in 2003, now retails from stores like Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Liberty and Browns Focus, and her celebrity client list includes the likes of Kate Moss, Scarlett Johansson, Kylie Minogue and Samantha Cameron, the British Prime Minister's wife.

Retailing from Ozel in Greater Kailash – I in New Delhi, Manipur-born Mawi paid the city a visit recently.

The label comprises two distinct collections — Costume Luxe, the bold futuristic line of pieces that are sculptural and architectural in inspiration and feel, and Heirloom, her take on the classics.

There are the designer's signature watch strap pieces, as in the watch strap bracelets with jewel clusters in place of the dial; gold-plated skulls dangling from a ruby beads necklace; jade tusk necklaces with black crystals and skulls; gold-plated tube and spike earrings with crystals and others in lines such as ‘Punk Nouveau', ‘Dynasty', ‘Industrial Deco', ‘India Rose', ‘Deco Noir' and ‘Dynamite'. Bold pieces that dictate that other adornment be kept nil or to a minimum.

Mix of cultures

Inspiration comes from being exposed to a mix of cultures, courtesy a diplomat dad. “I've lived all over the world — Africa, the Middle-East, South-East Asia, New Zealand, Europe, and the U.S. So, I think it's a juxtaposition of lots of different things, be it different cultures or rock ‘n' roll or punk,” explains Mawi. “When you look at the pieces from afar they look glamorous and classic, yet when you get closer they're slightly rebellious. I like to take something and turn it on its head. So, it might be inspired by a vintage piece or Maharani jewellery from hundreds of years ago, and I'll just put a skull in. Kind of bringing it into a different context from what already exists and putting my spin on it.” Therein, she says, lies the label's USP, that it is always “original and different and has a point of view.”

Jewellery designing was quite a change of course for Mawi, who trained in women's wear design in Auckland, New Zealand, and later did a stint in women's wear at Isaac Mizrahi. Handbags, not jewellery, started the accessory fixation. In London, during the course of experimenting and creating for family and friends, The Cross boutique in London's Notting Hill snapped up her capsule collection of bags. Then, big things happened. “Soon Selfridges stocked them. We were merchandising alongside Prada and Miu Miu! We never envisioned starting an accessories label. I started with handbags and experimented with jewellery and accessories, things like belts and stuff, and that had a really great response. It came to a point where we had to choose whether we wanted the bags or the jewellery,” Mawi recalls.

It was decided it would be jewellery. “Now the plan is to go back to handbags and incorporate in the handbags what we do with the jewellery.” Mawi has won the New Generation award at London Fashion Week thrice, a big achievement for someone who never thought of going down the “trinket path”.

Her modus operandi, she says, is to work in the reverse. “I sometimes don't really draw stuff. I don't plan a specific collection. I work back to front. Most people start with drawing and they might find materials and stones to fit into it.” Materials, for her, are where things take off. “I play around with the materials and suddenly out of that something amazing comes out and I build a story from that.”While materials could range from semi-precious stones and metal to plastic, Perspex, and leather, present favourites, Mawi says, are crystals and pearls, the latter being part of “every single collection” she's done.

Personally, Mawi's loves the “old stuff”, brands like Cartier, Chanel, and Boucheron. A contemporary favourite, however, is another London-based creative mind — Solange Azagury-Partridge, the jewellery designer well-known for her ‘Hotlips' rings and a very, very lovely Bond Street store, who incidentally was once creative director at Boucheron.

Despite being from India, Mawi has resisted falling into the trap of catering to Western perceptions of ‘Indian'. “Mawi was never conceived as an Indian label per se. It was just to do beautiful things that were inspired by Indian jewellery, as much as by African or European. It's just fashion jewellery that's very fashion-led,” Mawi explains.

Indian element

She, however, carries India along and strings it with other things. “In a lot of what I do there's always an Indian element; somewhere I kind of sneak one in. Sometimes it's not that obvious but if you look at the stuff closely there's always there.” It's more about looking at inspirations from here and putting it in a different context, she says. It's about giving it a “new space.”

With an already-impressive client list, is there a new addition that Mawi seeks: “I would love to dress the Queen. I mean, who else? She's got amazing jewels but it'll be nice to get her away from her diamonds and emeralds and maybe wear some costume jewellery… yeah, the Queen would be great. You couldn't get bigger than that, right?”