Zohra Rahman is one of the most interesting new jewellery designers to come out of the South Asian subcontinent. After studying jewellery design at London’s Central Saint Martins, she moved back to Lahore and launched her own jewellery line to instant acclaim both at home and in Europe, where she routinely shows her collections. Here, she talks about following through on an idea and the importance of a formal design education.
What’s your morning and evening regimen like?
Aveda’s Botanical Kinetics Purifying Gel Cleanser, rosewater, Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Moisturiser, and Ren’s Micro Polish Cleanser.
Because it’s interesting, especially when you think of it as design that you can wear. It’s an expression of creativity, but it ends up being a lot closer, literally, to the final user than art can ever be. Its sole function is to adorn, which is fascinating, and it’s also one of the oldest forms of expression, which is also quite interesting to explore and to be able to add to.
What does the ideal piece of jewellery look like?
It doesn’t exist – not for me, anyway. I appreciate a whole range of designs, so maybe it's unfair to call one piece ideal. That's what's interesting about jewellery – there's no right way of doing it. Besides, wearing the same piece of jewellery every day is a whole other level of commitment, like getting a tattoo on your face. The perfect piece is the one that feels the best for how you’re feeling at the time.
What’s the most exciting thing about what you do?
It's fun exploring forms and pushing boundaries. I’m a bit impatient and I’m always looking to get started on my next idea, but creating a collection means that I'm not done until I've explored an idea or a technique until I've exhausted it.
It’s important for me to be sure that I'm not just superficially touching upon one thing before I jump to the next, and that means really seeing an idea through, which is often how I stumble upon designs that feel fresh or innovative.
Is there a piece you’ve designed recently that you’re particularly excited about?
That would have to be the bangle from the Unsent Letters collection. It was a breakthrough for me, because it came after a period of feeling quite stuck; sometimes you can come up against a wall when you’re designing, and this was one of those times.
It’s a sterling silver torn page from a notebook that is folded and wrapped around the wrist to look like a cuff; that happened as a result of really seeing a technique through, and playing around with lots of options until I came up with something that I was completely satisfied with.
Who are some of your favourite artists?
I have a real problem with favourites. I think it’s because I don’t like the idea of committing to a name and then having that define me in some way, but I really like Malevich. He’s a Russian artist whose work I first saw in London, and he’s influenced my aesthetic a lot, especially with my more abstract designs.
Does it help to have a formal education in jewellery design?
Definitely. Before I studied jewellery design, I didn’t know how to think in three-dimensional form, and now I do. Besides, if you know how to make something you can explore it far more than having to rely on someone to interpret your designs and make them in a way they believe works best. I'm always discovering new designs on my workbench.
It’s limiting in a way, having studied design, because you’re only using the techniques you know – but it’s also freeing because you can build upon those techniques. One of the key elements of my design, for example, is a way of setting stones that isn’t commonly used, with rivets – it sandwiches the stone between sheets of metal instead of pushing the metal over the stone. I discovered it by experimenting with techniques of working metal that I learnt in school.
It’s a different way of approaching it, I guess. When you’ve studied jewellery design, you can experiment yourself instead of depending on someone else’s knowledge or their enthusiasm to show you something new.
You live in Lahore now. What's life like in Pakistan?
In some ways, it's like it is anywhere else; you work, you go to restaurants, you meet your friends. And obviously in other ways, it's different. After the Peshawar attack, for example, all the schools now have heavy security, with gunmen behind sandbags at every corner of every school. The country has been changing around us and we keep adapting, but I don't know if it's always in the right ways. It's crazy to think of all these children growing up with the fear or someone killing them.
They say that Pakistan is resilient but sometimes I think it's just that we're getting numb to everything that's going on around us. But life does go on. It has to. Things might look difficult from the outside but when you live here, it feels normal.
Zohra Rahman photographed by Usman Saeed. View more of her work here.