A bird in glistening dark wood sits pretty on the slender neck of accessory designer Annah Chakola. It is one from ‘The Caged Bird Sings’ series in wood, her latest line for Boho Gypsy, a label that she’s setting up in Kerala. Currently she retails her line from Joe Ikerath, a designer boutique in Mattancherry.
The bird is an early image from a host of childhood memories that Annah cherishes. It came about when she sat eating chaat beside a wood carver in North India who was making candle stands. “I took out my sketch book and showed him this bird from my childhood. He made it and my caged bird began to sing,” she says, metaphorically summing up the spirit of creativity that simmers in her.
Annah’s designs burst forth from a restless energy that forces her, like a gypsy, on the roads to travel to unusual places and seek out remote crafts. This results in quixotic and fresh jewellery made from unconventional materials like dyed porcupine quills, shark tooth, natural druzy, Indian fern, tribal fabric and such.
“Travel and a bohemian spirit pretty much make my story,” says Annah
An early move, as a 17-year-old, to America to study business and art, quite unconsciously landed her in a hard new world. “It is not like here,” she says about the rough transition. Alone in strange surroundings but for her music, art and a world to discover, Annah took to the next best thing she loved — travel. “I began travelling to places, visiting flea markets, collecting odds and ends that inspired me.” Nothing seemed to miss her keen gaze. Trinkets, stones, beads, unusual patterned materials, fabrics, all became a part of her collection. In the days to come she began designing these tid-bits into playful, quirky but impactful accessories. In 2003 Annah opened her first boutique The Mango Tree in Oklahoma City, all by herself.
As she grew as a designer, she worked hard as a director of Development for her University of Texas, where she was studying. Despite the wealth of experience from her job, Annah felt restricted. She switched to working in an art gallery that exposed her to the art world. She began holding small shows of jewellery crafted by her.
Even if it was a high period for Annah, she longed for home. “In Kerala there is the sense of inexplicable peace. It was just the urge to be back on the soil I was born on… but I would never have got this perspective had I not gone away,” she says, contrasting her two worlds. In 2011 she registered her business Boho Gypsy in America and strangely began toying with the idea to return home.
“My creativity comes from my parents—my late father John Chakola, a businessman and an artist in his own right and my mother, an independent business woman,” says Annah.
In 2011 she with her mother undertook a dream journey driving through Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam meeting tribal communities and exploring their arts. For Annah it was an experience of a lifetime as she mingled with tribes whose work would reach designer boutiques through her accessories. “I got the feel of sourcing directly from the communities during the trip. I would go to little markets and work with the crafters.” This was also the time when she gathered pluck to return.
Back in Kerala, in the comfort of home, Annah is busy designing, crafting and setting up her studio. Her travels have enabled her to source from and work with communities across the world. Her latest line of bags is made from fabrics sourced from the Hmong tribe, the long neck tribe, from Thailand. This year they will be sold from the racks of the largest gourmet stores in the US called Wholesale Foods and in the prestigious fashion website called Jaypore
Her warrior necklaces are inspired by the Masai figures from her parents’ collection, the colourful beads sewn together in bright combinations. She has used dyed porcupine quills, shark tooth dipped in gold, natural druzy set in gold overlay and burnished Indian fern as pendants and rings. Her ‘Goddess Collection’ is a reinterpretation of the ethnic. “I don't think jewellery should be so serious. Growing up and seeing the serious business of gold is one reason I choose my pieces to be playful. I think you can create a powerful impact with everyday materials. I believe in simplicity. I think keeping it simple usually says so much more.”
Boho Gypsy products are available in India through the website—www.anditsnew.com