Of ob­jects and fa­bles

Neue Luxury - - News - By Hung Tran

Punks, pa­tri­cians, and any­body else strain­ing to­ward their chic all adorn them­selves for the same rea­son: an au­da­cious dis­play of mak­ing-do with the one body they have been as­signed and con­fined in. Jor­dan Askill is part of an as­cen­dant school of new jew­ellery de­sign­ers whose small glo­ries— sugar spun heart rings, for ex­am­ple— and swirling friezes of horses, birds and pan­thers have stymied our idea of what art can do, and what it can do with­out. In Novem­ber 2015, Askill won the Bri­tish Fash­ion Award for Emerg­ing Ac­ces­sory De­signer. When we spoke, he was pre­par­ing for a flight from New York to Mu­nich to speak at the In­hor­genta In­ter­na­tional Jew­ellery Fair, where he has been twice be­fore to show­case his work. “Af­ter win­ning the award, they were re­ally ex­cited and wanted me to come back. I’ll be speak­ing about my com­pany, how I’ve man­aged to get my­self to where I am, my col­lab­o­ra­tions,” he beams, be­fore slid­ing to a halt. “That sort of stuff.”

Askill was born in Syd­ney, Aus­tralia, raised in an im­prob­a­ble bo­hemia, by par­ents whose artis­tic fan­cies were zeal­ously im­bibed by their three sons. Askill’s older brother, Daniel, is a film­maker who reg­u­larly col­lab­o­rates with record­ing artist Sia; his younger brother, Lorin, ed­its the mu­sic videos. “I re­mem­ber from a young age mak­ing home videos with my fa­ther, who’s also a mu­si­cian, and we’d all play a char­ac­ter and he’d di­rect,” Askill says. “Mum was al­ways paint­ing, and there was re­ally no other op­tion for us. We had this force of cre­ativ­ity that had been put in­side us and had to ex­press it in some way.” In his penul­ti­mate year of high school, Askill’s mother tore out a mag­a­zine ar­ti­cle about the late Alexan­der Mcqueen and placed it on her son’s desk. “Do you know about this de­signer?” she asked. Askill had in­deed con­tem­plated a ca­reer in fash­ion, but his muses dithered and shuf­fled. In­spi­ra­tion soon struck again. “Daniel later moved to Lon­don, work­ing in the same build­ing that housed Alexan­der Mcqueen’s of­fice,” Askill re­mem­bers. “He called me and said, ‘Dude, you’re not go­ing to be­lieve who’s here!’”

In her book, Love Looks Not With The Eyes, a ro­bust ha­giog­ra­phy of Mcqueen’s sem­i­nal work, pho­tog­ra­pher Anne De­niau cap­tures the es­sen­tial patina of the Brit’s ex­clu­sive pow­ers: the love and trib­ute of a warped artist to the hero­ism of Woman, uni­ver­sally. Askill worked closely on VOSS, Mcqueen’s 2001 spring-sum­mer col­lec­tion, in which mod­els flut­tered deliri­ously in­side a mir­rored cham­ber that un­folded to re­veal a portly woman in a gas mask, wreathed in live moths and her own grandios­ity. “I’ve al­ways been closely con­nected to an­i­mals, and felt drawn to Mcqueen’s love of fish, dogs and birds,” Askill says. Bri­tish model Erin O’con­nor wad­dled like a stray pa­rade float in a bodice of plex­i­glass scales erupt­ing into cas­cades of os­trich feath­ers (mak­ing it im­pos­si­ble to dis­robe in a bath­room stall: Mcqueen never cared about fem­i­nine na­ture so long as his own was up­held); Kate Moss slith­ered in pleated silk with co­ral-like gath­ers; Jade Parfitt stood haloed by a crown of taxi­der­mic hawks.

Though he was sym­pa­thetic to Mcqueen’s play with an­i­mals in sen­su­ous and suf­fer­ing flesh, Askill hadn’t worked ex­ten­sively on a sin­gle piece of jew­ellery un­til he in­terned at Dior Homme. “Cou­ture is her­itage for a brand like this,” he awes, as if high­born taste, like na­tion­al­ity, is prac­ti­cally eu­genic. Askill worked in the stu­dio un­til Jan­uary 2007, when Hedi Sli­mane pre­sented his fi­nal col­lec­tion for the house. Jew­ellery was not vis­i­bly worn on the run­way: tar­nished metal might have been too dé­classé on Sli­mane’s mod­els, drugged and doomed as they were, hav­ing al­ready been paid to mock French piety in $ 4000 skinny suits. “I left Dior and re­alised I didn’t want to keep churn­ing out the same things in fash­ion. Since then I’ve been in­clined to jew­ellery be­cause I love the idea that you can give a story to a tan­gi­ble ob­ject,” he says. “It’s some­thing you can keep with you, whereas in fash­ion you can only keep some­thing with you for a cou­ple of months be­fore the cy­cle is re­newed.”

Askill left Paris for Lon­don, where, in 2010, he fi­nally launched his line at Lon­don Fash­ion Week. He re­ceived an Elle Style Award and two Bri­tish Fash­ion Award nom­i­na­tions. He di­vides his col­lec­tion into ‘chap­ters’ with fab­u­lar names. His first chap­ter— Rose, Boy and Bird— fea­tures a golden pen­dant that at first im­pres­sion re­sem­bles an acorn, be­fore you re­alise it’s a boy’s head that splits in two. Askill’s de­signs are in­deed darkly hu­mor­ous but cer­tainly no joke: they reek of an artist’s melan­choly gush­ing into florid form. His Mi­gra­tion se­ries is vol­cani­cally pretty, fea­tur­ing air­borne swal­lows pet­ri­fied by some in­vis­i­ble grace so as to ap­pear to melt into one an­other. In To­wards the Flame, his avian in­signia have pur­ple amethysts thrust into their cores and the ear­rings look to be mak­ing a slight de­scent, as if alert to the pass­ing glances they at­tract.

His team’s lat­est col­lec­tion— Take Me Home— fea­tures the en­dan­gered Florida pan­ther in Protean pose, leap­ing, with its ex­quis­ite mus­cu­la­ture dim­pled in gold. Chunks of amethyst, agate and rock crys­tal ap­pear less melded to the sil­ver and gold work than cra­dled by its sinews, del­i­cate and pre­cise, like the lick of a pan­ther’s tongue. The pieces are pro­duced in New York and Thai­land; stones are sourced in In­dia and Gam­bia, where Askill works with fair trade gem mines. “Re­cently, I’ve started us­ing an­tique stones and re­pur­pos­ing them, which is great be­cause you’re not tak­ing any­thing new from na­ture—you’re re­cy­cling,” he says. The new col­lec­tion’s cen­tre­piece, how­ever, is a fa­tally fussy chain of Vi­ola canaden­sis, an en­dan­gered white violet, that Askill de­signed util­is­ing CAD (com­puter aided de­sign) and had an­i­mated so that it re­sem­bled “emo­tion cap­tured in time”. Swedish model Sara Blomqvist stars in his ac­com- pa­ny­ing cam­paign im­age, with the flo­ral chain cradling her neck like a mar­mo­real wreath.

In 2015, Askill be­came the first de­signer in 15 years to col­lab­o­rate with Dan­ish sil­ver house Ge­org Jensen. “I chose to work with the monarch but­ter­fly be­cause it’s a rel­e­vant dis­cus­sion point for our gen­er­a­tion and our times,” he starts. “At the mo­ment, the but­ter­fly’s mi­gra­tion from North Amer­ica to Mex­ico is threat­ened by mas­sive land clear­ing, and some­thing so sim­ple like a miss­ing tree has mas­sive reper­cus­sions for the en­vi­ron­ment.” Askill worked closely with Meel­ing Wong, the com­pany’s man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of jew­ellery and pres­i­dent of North Amer­ica, whose vi­sion ran in par­al­lel with Askill’s. Askill mined Art Nou­veau de­signs and vis­ited Jensen’s home in Raad­vad, Den­mark. Much of the de­sign process em­ployed the 3D sculp­ture of the but­ter­fly, which is ex­cep­tion­ally pho­to­re­al­is­tic for its sym­me­try. Once the mod­els had been printed and cast, Askill shaped the in­di­vid­ual but­ter­flies around the neck­line and bust— aug­ment­ing and stretch­ing the sil­hou­ette. “I wanted to make it more ab­stract, so that from a dis­tance it looked like an in­tri­cate piece of melted sil­ver,” he ex­plains. “It’s not un­til you get close that you can see they’re in­di­vid­ual but­ter­flies.”

Any cre­ative per­son adrift knows that pas­sion, in­sis­tent as a headache, won’t go away. Askill con­sid­ers the Re­nais­sance the great­est pe­riod of “pi­o­neer­ing and for­ma­tion”, as it was pop­u­lated by mas­ters who flaunted lofty tastes along­side base de­sires. If Askill ever finds that royal road to Heaven, and could slough his co­coon, he’d emerge as a bird. “Some­thing strong and fast, with the po­ten­tial to be in­vis­i­ble,” he says. He dis­dains the no­tion of own­ing a pet un­til he can claim vast re­serves of his own land in or­der to “give it the best life pos­si­ble”. Askill’s tele­phone voice flut­ters er­rat­i­cally when asked what makes him laugh, and you might only be mildly dis­ap­pointed to know that his an­swer is can­didly hu­man: “My friends and my fam­ily.” If you don’t like it, take it up with na­ture.

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