TREASURE SEEKER

Ge­org Jensen has re­turned to its roots with a col­lec­tion by So­phie Bille Brahe, the first home­grown cre­ative to de­sign for the Dan­ish house in more than a decade. By Jeni Porter.

VOGUE Australia - - CONTENTS - So­phie Bille Brahe

So­phie Bille Brahe is the first home­grown cre­ative to de­sign for Dan­ish house Ge­org Jensen in more than a decade.

Dan­ish jew­eller So­phie Bille Brahe has had a life­long fas­ci­na­tion with a 1730s Chi­nese chest passed down to her fa­ther through gen­er­a­tions of his noble fam­ily. It’s an ec­cen­tric piece with in­tri­cately painted doors that are so wonky they’re hard to open. Inside are nine gilt-edged draw­ers full of cu­ri­ous trea­sures amassed over the cen­turies. “It’s com­pletely crazy. There’s a whole drawer of old toys, a whole drawer of weird lit­tle boxes col­lected by weird mem­bers of the fam­ily: there’s one from Nice from 1901 with a hand-painted beach, and inside some­one has put tiny pink shells. Ev­ery time I look through it I find things I haven’t seen be­fore,” says Bille Brahe. When she was a child, her fa­ther would let her choose a drawer and she’d sit all morn­ing in a reverie lay­ing out and re­ar­rang­ing its con­tents. For her the chest was the equiv­a­lent of the wardrobe lead­ing to the mag­i­cal land of Nar­nia, a por­tal through which she would dis­ap­pear into her imag­i­na­tion, dream­ing up sto­ries about her fore­bears.

Last year, Copen­hagen-based Bi l le Brahe ac­cepted a com­mis­sion to make a jew­ellery col­lec­tion for Ge­org Jensen, her first out­side her own brand, which has a cult fol­low­ing among the fashion crowd. It was a coup for Ge­org Jensen, not only be­cause she brings It-girl street cred – she’s also the first Dan­ish de­signer to cre­ate a jew­ellery col­lec­tion for the sto­ried Dan­ish brand in more than a decade.

The first thing she did was to visit Ge­org Jensen’s archive of rare jew­ellery and sil­ver­ware, which is con­sid­ered a na­tional treasure, and her­itage-pro­tected by the Dan­ish govern­ment. Let loose in the at­tic, Bille Brahe was like her young self lost in her thoughts, as she laid out ear­rings and bracelets that caught her eye. “I had a whole day al­most by my­self and I started gather­ing things. Some looked re­ally mod­ern and some old. I wasn’t wor­ried about who de­signed what, but I was try­ing to see where I could find room for my lan­guage.” En­er­gised and in­spired, she went away and within weeks pre­sented Ge­org Jensen’s cre­ative direc­tor Nicholas Manville with the equiv­a­lent of three col­lec­tions based on a sim­ple round shape and hoops. “It’s easy talk­ing about it now, but when I’m de­sign­ing it feels like walk­ing when you can’t see. When you’re in it, you use your in­tu­ition, use the metal, use your source of in­spi­ra­tion and then play around un­til it some­how takes the right form,” says Bille Brahe.

Ten years ago, she cap­tured the Zeit­geist with her first piece, a sin­gle ear­ring in gold, curved to the shape of the ear lobe, with an arc of grad­u­at­ing di­a­monds. Called Crois­sant de Lune, it re­de­fined fine jew­ellery by mix­ing pre­cious ma­te­ri­als with a street- style at­ti­tude. It’s hard to credit now, but Bille Brahe was told she was crazy mak­ing a solo ear­ring and even cra­zier us­ing 18-karat gold and di­a­monds. But it took off, and from her work­shop in a con­verted 18th- cen­tury school­house she’s won in­ter­na­tional renown and a celebrity fan base that in­cludes Madonna, Ri­hanna and Zoë Kravitz.

Un­fazed by the fame, and prob­a­bly to her fi­nan­cial detri­ment, Bille Brahe re­mains to­tally her own per­son, a mix of con­trol freak and self-doubter, with five-year-old son Jo­han to care for and a bor­der col­lie called Snoopy con­stantly at her side. She ag­o­nised over align­ing her­self with a cor­po­rate brand, but said yes be­cause of the special place Ge­org Jensen has in her heart. “I’m life- or- death with ev­ery­thing I do. I had many doubts, be­cause I was con­cerned about my own com­pany and my own brand and merg­ing into some­thing where I don’t have con­trol over ev­ery­thing. But in the end, I wanted to do it, be­cause I feel it’s a re­spon­si­bil­ity as a Dan­ish jew­eller. I love Ge­org Jensen, be­cause of the craft and its his­tory. As Danes, it’s part of our story in a way.”

Manville says af­ter col­lab­o­rat­ing with in­ter­na­tional jew­ellers “it’s nice to have a Dan­ish de­signer work­ing with us. So­phie is tak­ing us back to our Scan­di­na­vian roots”. Her col­lec­tion is a lighter take on gold, he says, that strikes a bal­ance be­tween her sig­na­ture pre­cise clean lines and the sculp­tural sil­ver jew­ellery the house is known for.

He’d wanted 10 pieces but was so en­am­oured with her de­signs he se­lected 19, in­clud­ing var­i­ously sized sin­gle ear­rings, pen­dants and a cock­tail ring with a di­a­mond float­ing in three del­i­cate cir­cles. As a trib­ute to the her­itage, Bille Brahe made a bracelet with a lock like one made by Ge­org Jensen him­self.

She called the col­lec­tion Halo, ref­er­enc­ing di­a­monds and stars. “A halo is like this glow around a star. Then also I wanted this col­lec­tion to be ef­fort­less, and I think Beyoncé’s ‘Baby, I can see your halo’ some­how cap­tures this.” She wants women to wear her jew­ellery the way she does, all day and ev­ery day with ease.

Lucky is the word the 38-year-old uses to de­scribe her ca­reer, but you could also say it was des­tiny – writ­ten in the stars, even. She went to a school that nur­tured cre­ativ­ity, and her teacher set her up in a work­shop where she could work with fire and glass. By the time she was 14 she was mak­ing ear­rings and chan­de­liers that she sold to her par­ents’ friends. Af­ter high school she trained as a gold­smith in Copen­hagen, an ex­act­ing ini­ti­a­tion in turn­ing lumps of metal into pre­cious ob­jects, which, she says, was all “sore, sore fin­gers and tens of mil­lime­tres” and not es­pe­cially cre­ative. “You learn the craft from start to end. But when you’ve done that you al­most lose your­self. My fas­ci­na­tion is the fire, work­ing with gold, the way it looks when you heat it up.”

In 2007, the year she de­signed the crois­sant ear­ring, she de­camped to Lon­don, where she spent two years do­ing a masters in jew­ellery de­sign at the Royal Col­lege of Art. Then she fol­lowed her heart to Paris, and when that proved a ro­man­tic dis­as­ter re­turned home in 2011. Fame found her: she made a triple ring as a com­mis­sion from a Swedish fil­min­dus­try friend, who gave it to Madonna for her birth­day. The pop star wore it when she was mobbed by pa­parazzi at the Venice Film Fes­ti­val.

In Denmark the name Bille Brahe has a cer­tain aris­to­cratic ca­chet. Her fa­ther, a sur­geon, is a baron, al­though you’d never guess it meet­ing him, and his chil­dren in­her­ited ti­tles. They are de­scended from the 16th­cen­tury as­tronomer and no­ble­man Ty­cho Brahe, and in an­other arm of the fam­ily were wealthy pa­trons of Hans Chris­tian An­der­sen and the sculp­tor Ber­tel Thor­vald­sen. The fam­ily lin­eage is im­por­tant to Bille Brahe: the night sky is a re­cur­ring theme in her work, as is sto­ry­telling and the sense of be­ing part of a long and con­tin­u­ing his­tory. “I don’t care that I’m a baroness; it doesn’t give me any money or a cas­tle. It’s just a ti­tle that was very dif­fi­cult to have as a kid. But the way it mat­ters is that it’s his­tory and it’s hav­ing a fam­ily that has this Chi­nese cabi­net where you just find these things and you can only guess what this box has been used for or who was us­ing this pipe with lit­tle dogs carved in ivory on it. The funny thing is my son has now started ask­ing about it and I’ve only shown him one drawer and he com­pletely loves it.”

“You use your in­tu­ition, use the metal, use your source of in­spi­ra­tion and then play around un­til it some­how takes the right form” – So­phie Bille Brahe

Ge­org Jensen dou­ble-row ear hoop, $2,750 for a set, and Halo ear­ring, $3,200 for a set. Soli­taire ring, $11,550, and dou­ble-row ring, $3,200. Halo ban­gles, $13,750 each.

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