In contemporary jewellery, the names Alan Preston, Warwick Freeman and Jens Hansen have long been at the forefront of the design discussion. But two of the most recognisable pieces in recent years have been produced by a trio with no training in the craft: singer Boh Runga and fashion design power pair Karen Walker and Mikhail Gherman.
Gherman drew the “Runaway Girl” in just two hours as the motif for the first collection Walker showed at London Fashion Week in 2001. Now, although memories of the clothes in that collection have faded, the image of the girl and her rucksack has become the label’s most iconic design.
“She emerged fully formed and hasn’t changed since,” Walker told North & South. “She does represent the mood of our brand – one of constant movement forward and a sense of adventure. In some ways, her name’s a misnomer. I think she’s heading towards something, with curiosity, strength and independence, more than running away. But there’s something lyrical about the name ‘Runaway Girl’ that I’ll never change.”
Walker says she makes sure she doesn’t overuse the image. “We’re very careful with her. It would be easy to fall into the trap of putting her to work anywhere and everywhere. She will never be ubiquitous.”
Runga introduced “Feather Kisses” in her third jewellery collection in 2009. The miromiro cross was an instant success and remains her biggest seller. “I love the idea of the kiss motif, but it’s such a dumb motif – it’s just a cross and you see it everywhere. When you’ve got two feathers doing it, it’s a little bit different – and feather kisses sound like some of the softest kisses you could have.”
When she started designing jewellery in 2007, as part of NZ Mint’s efforts to revitalise their jewellery brand, Runga says, “I didn’t know what I was doing. I just knew I didn’t want it to fail. I wanted something that had a little bit of Aotearoa, which wasn’t really there. There was
kitschy Kiwiana, but not a lot else.”
She drew the images she wanted and had a jeweller craft them. Her first collection was called Birdlands, and the birds and feathers theme continued in her second, The Messenger Stories. “I’ve never seen my jewellery as a fashion brand – it’s a gifting brand.”
She believes the timelessness of the feather kisses image has helped it endure. “It’s not a fad piece, but it’s instantly recognisable for a lot of people.”