I dislike silver jewellery that's pristine and shiny. For me, jewellery needs to look like it was born from the earth. Obviously over time, as the jewellery is worn and loved, somewhat ironically, it becomes more polished and bright but that initial opening has to be dirty.
I first internet 'met' Alicia Hannah Naomi back in 2012 when she sent me a piece from her previous label, Drown. I went on to become an avid reader of her blog, Sea of Ghosts. Alicia's blog was a place of utter serenity. Beautifully written and insightful it was a far cry from the usual vacuous blogging fodder back then and even more so now. As she quietly wrote her blog, we also got occasional little glimpses of her jewellery making. Little hints that was there was even more to this girl than we first knew.
I first featured her work as we know it now in 2014 and felt it was high time I dedicated more love to this incredibly talented creative.
AHN's pieces are dark and organic. Each piece, entirely hand-crafted, looks it's been plucked from nature itself. Everything appears as if it's been carefully carved from a mountainous rock formation. It's no surprise my favourite pieces are her bangles and bracelets. The Ash bracelet has my name all over it.
I caught up with Alicia to tell me more about AHN.
The reason I love your work so much is the rawness of it. Nothing is polished or clean. It looks like it belongs in the earth. So I'm guessing nature is a big inspiration to you. Can you tell us more about that?
Thank you so much. Natural texture and forms are the core of my inspiration; raw landscapes; mountains, oceans, glaciers; space, sky, vastness and emptiness... open places undisturbed by humanity. It's almost more of an emotional connection than it is a tangible one. Maybe because I've always lived relatively close to cities, there's a part of my heart that feels attached to desolate surroundings. I often have very acute nostalgia for places I've never been and lives I've never lived. I don't know what that means because I'm not a spiritual person, but I've felt those pulls all my life.
The fashion industry is having more conversations about ethical fashion, and while we're still a long way from the industry being ethical enough it's good that those conversations are happening. You embrace what you call "sustainable luxury". Where does sustainability feature in your own business? Is that a focus for you?
As an environmental concept, the work is sustainable because all of the precious metals I work with are recycled. But when I talk sustainable luxury I'm coming from the perspective of functional slowness; the pieces are made from materials that have longevity beyond most standard lifetimes, if treated well; quality jewellery can function as heirlooms, passed down generationally, acting as symbols, familial treasures, as talismans of good fortune and of love.
You offer a bespoke service too. What has been your most challenging commission so far?
I had a commission a while back where the client requested his family crest hand-engraved on one of my signet rings. I don't personally perform engraving, it's an art form in it's own right and so I entrust this to dedicated engravers. However the job was risky - engraving works best on smooth forms, and because of how my pieces are usually textured there was a lot of consideration that had to go into creating the right surface for the engraving to come out successfully. That kind of thing is challenging for me because I'm not the only artist involved, I have to make sure that I'm setting the work up right for someone else and not just in a way that's visually pleasing to me.
What's your personal favourite piece from your collection?
I wouldn't say I have a favourite - different pieces suit different moods. I have a pair of chandelier earrings in the new collection - the Ishbel Earrings - that I love wearing when the occasion calls for a statement piece. On an everyday basis I tend to wear the Augen Pendant almost exclusively - it just goes with everything.
I still have a very early AHN necklace you gifted many years ago. A necklace with a galactic print inside. (I still love it!) but it's a long way from the AHN we see now. What provided the impetus to finally move into using precious raw materials? It's a big, costly step I should imagine.
Well I'd been making those galaxy necklaces and getting a really positive response. I took them to a very well-known local store called Alice Euphemia, that championed a lot of young jewellery designers at the time, and the buyer told me that they loved the concept but only carried precious jewellery. It was this really powerful moment where I realised that my design work had merit, but if I really wanted jewellery-making to be my career I needed to be a real jeweller. Sadly, the shop actually closed down before I finished my qualification so I never got to have my work represented by them.
Up until that point it was never about the cost of transitioning into precious materials, it was about my lack of skill. I had worked as a sales assistant for manufacturing jewellers for years so I felt that if I was going to make precious jewellery myself, I really wanted to do it properly; I wanted to learn from professional jewellers, not from youtube. Financially speaking, the hardest part was going from having a job with a full-time income and making jewellery on the side, to being a full-time student again with very little income, but still having to buy precious materials just to practice with.
We're very much into the same music (hi NIN!). Does music influence your creative process?
Definitely. I tend to fixate on albums for ages while I work. I was listening to Koi No Yokan by Deftones repeatedly while I was working on the 2018 collection. Much like the way I'm always refining and adding detail to the texture in my work, I always manage to feel out new tiny details in music every time I listen to it, so when I go all-in to an album I'm able to stretch out my relationship with it and feed off it for a really long time.
What's a typical day for you?
I'm still trying to figure out what routine works best for me both creatively and entrepreneurially. Right now a typical work day for me is getting up and out the door at 5:30am for the gym. I work out for an hour, come home, shower and cook breakfast. I try to limit the amount of time I spend online each day as it can be a huge drain on productivity so I tend to answer some e-mails or check Instagram over breakfast and then try not to go back online until later.
I like to get through my online orders as early as possible in the day so I try to finish up as much as I can before lunchtime. After lunch things tend to get a little less regimented - I might pack finished orders for shipping, or work on models for new or bespoke orders. I'll usually do my supplier runs in the afternoon too.
At around 6pm I begin preparation for dinner, when my partner comes home we finish cooking together and will catch up on whichever TV series we're watching while we eat. I'm quite useless after dinner so I don't go back to work; this is the time I usually catch up again on social media. Lately though I'm trying to read more.
Because I get up so early I also go to bed very early, I aim for 9:30pm but usually don't really get to sleep until 10:30pm. I used to be a total night owl, but it's not for me anymore. The idea of staying up into the small hours is romantic but it doesn't really help me get anything of quality done. I've been reading the book Daily Rituals and it's reassuring to discover that many important creatives throughout history had similar inclinations to get up early as their best work was also done in the morning.
In terms of your personal style you are a huge Rick Owens fan but what other designers are currently exciting you?
When I was in Paris earlier this year I shared a showroom with Japanese designer Rei Takana who has a menswear label IERIB. His work is really incredible, using the most magnificent textured leathers in a range of jackets, bags and shoes. Having conversations with him about the work and the intentions behind certain elements from stitching to seam placement and choice of hardware was really inspiring. As far as my personal style goes, I see fashion as an extension of my sustainable luxury / functional slowness philosophy. I spent years tailoring my personal aesthetic which naturally lends itself towards brands with similar philosophies - designers that integrate longevity and clarity into their work across multiple seasons. So most of the designers I turn to for this have been around for enough seasons - like Rick Owens and Ann Demeulemeester - to lend credibility to that vision. And that's not to say that I don't like change - fashion and style should have fluidity - I just personally prefer when it moves slowly like honey rather than gushing through like rainwater.
And finally, what can we expect from AHN in 2018?
I've just released my 2018 collection which is a little more specifically feminine than some of my previous collections. The collection was inspired by one of my favourite literary characters - Ishbel Brunelle Persimius. She begins her story arch as the arch-priestess of a religious sect called The Order of the Coil, who foretell the future by disembowelling human sacrifices. In later books she also becomes the Lady of Elcho Falling - a title you may recognize because I've named some of my pieces after the works of fantasy author Sara Douglass before - but this entire collection was really specifically inspired by Ishbel and her time in Serpent's Nest, the home of The Order of the Coil. I'll be releasing some more works that will tie in with this collection next year.
Alicia is based in Melbourne, Australia. Shop her beautiful work here.