Whether making a political statement or just having a little fun, jewellery brand Tatty Devine has been around for two decades (can you believe?) and is a much-loved name amongst creatives.
You might know them for that famous Lobster Necklace or perhaps the Original Name Necklace where you can, that’s right, hang your name around your neck. Or perhaps the range of pro-EU jewellery. Either way, this is a fashion label we just can’t get enough of.
Founded in the heart of East London in 1999 by Harriet Vine MBE and Rosie Wolfenden MBE after graduating from Chelsea School of Art, all of their jewellery is still designed and handmade in house by a female-led team.
They often collaborate with artists, designers and their favourite cultural spaces to create special collections throughout the year. All of Tatty Devine’s collections are sold online and in their two London stores in Covent Garden and Brick Lane.
This summer, you can view some of their highlights in Misshapes: The Making of Tatty Devine – a special Crafts Council exhibition featuring over 100 pieces from the past 20 years. The show, which launches on 20 July at Lethaby Gallery, Central St Martins, explores the power of creativity and innovative British design and making, alongside the glamour and humour that Tatty Devine is known for.
Coupled with the recent launch of their new Make Your Future range, as part of a campaign to champion craft, we thought it was an excellent opportunity to chat to Rosie and Harriet about this and their success so far.
Can you tell us more about your own backgrounds? How did the idea for Tatty Devine come about?
Harriet: We met at Chelsea School of Art where we were studying Fine Art. Tatty Devine came from a happy accident when I found a bag full of leather sample books which I made into wrist cuffs and sold on a market stall with Rosie. We didn’t want to get “proper” jobs and were making money to pay the rent while we worked out our pathway to becoming artists. Within six months we went from market stall to selling to Harvey Nichols and being in Vogue and we’ve never stopped or looked back since!
Wow! So it’s been 20 years since you launched Tatty Devine together. What have been the biggest lessons?
Rosie: So many but we’ve learnt how important it is to trust and listen to your gut. So often you’ll turn to an “expert” when essentially you are the expert of what you do. Realising the importance of happiness and the holy grail of a work/life balance has also been a big lesson.
When was that moment when you realised this brand was a success?
Rosie: Up until 2007 we were very much a fashion label but with the rise of social media came the rise of our community who helped form our brand. It felt like a success from day one. We were so young and full of energy that everyday something extremely exciting happened (and still does) and therefore felt like a success. It was so motivating and inspiring.
With such a huge and strong archive, how on earth did you whittle them down for this exhibition? And are there any favourites?
Harriet: It was completely overwhelming. Luckily we have images of most of the things we have made so we were able to make a very long list of jewellery from the images and then focused on the structure and themes of the exhibition and book which helped inform which pieces to show. Space was our biggest challenge as it required so much of it, but we managed to access some unused spaces in London through our network so we could spread out a bit!
We really enjoyed curating the early years as there are as much ephemera as jewellery which brought back so many memories. For example, we couldn’t believe we still had the original receipt from our first market stall.
Although all wonderful and unique, can you tell us any interesting stories behind any of the designs?
Rosie: I’d chose the Sweetie Bracelet from 2000. We found a ceramist in the Yellow Pages (we didn’t have the Internet yet) because we were keen to make a porcelain version of the childhood sweetie bracelets. He offered me a flat next to his studio space and it became my home and our office. It was a magical place, with a greenhouse full of cacti and a shared courtyard occupied by a family of tortoises, who occasionally mistook our varnished nails for cherry tomatoes as we glued gems onto belts for our next batch of orders.
Harriet: For me, it’s the Plectrum Kilt Pin, SS01. I lived with a houseful of boys on the corner of Princelet Street and Brick Lane in East London. They were all in bands and left plectrums wherever they went. It didn’t take long to drill a hole in the plectrums, turning them into necklaces, earrings and attaching them to kilt pins. Our art school training left us with a fascination in the intrinsic value of objects and we were excited by how a simple plectrum embodied all that is cool about music.
To date, what has been your most popular design? And can you share your own thoughts on it?
Harriet: It has to be the Name Necklace. This was designed in 2003 when I doodled all of our friends’ names to laser-cut as Christmas presents, we’d never seen Name Necklaces made in acrylic and as each piece of jewellery we make is made individually it isn’t difficult to do personalisation. All of our friends’ friends wanted one so we started selling them as a product.
In 2013 we opened a concession in Selfridges making them on the spot. This was phenomenal and we ran the concession for three years across all of the Selfridges sites. People never seem to get bored with them.
Your Pro-Europe designs certainly seem to be flying.
Rosie: Indeed it is. We designed the collection as a sad farewell for when Brexit was originally planned to take place, however as March approached we realised that Brexit was not going to happen then so we launched it early as a laser-cut love letter to Europe and rallying cry to Revoke Article 50. The jewellery has been featured in the New Statesman, The Guardian and Observer and it has been exciting to create jewellery with a political message in the tradition of the suffragettes’ love of political jewellery.
Have you always felt you know your audience inside out? Or has that been a work in progress?
Rosie: We have always made jewellery we’ve wanted to wear so by default our audience is quite similar to us, so yes we know them pretty well. We want our jewellery to express our individuality, creativity and also show the world what we’re into, it’s like wearing your heart on your sleeve.
We have been connected to our customer from day one, whether on the market stall, in our shop or through social media which has been a really important part of our story.
Misshapes: The Making of Tatty Devine will launch on 20 July in the Lethaby Gallery at Central St Martins. Find out more about Tatty Devine at tattydevine.com.