North & South - - Cover Story -

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.”

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