Posted 16th May 2017
This award winning jewellery designer was born in Wuhan, China. Currently based in London she cemented her stay in 2014 by founding her own design studio in this very place. Isabella started her jewellery design journey gaining a BA in Jewellery Design and Related Products at Birmingham City University’s School of Jewellery, then achieved an MA in Arts and Cultural Management at King’s College London. 2014 she went on to win the first place of the finalists at Barcelona ENJOIA’T Award. March 2015 saw her honoured with three gold and two silver awards at the Goldsmiths’ Craftsmanship & Design Awards, which is regarded as the ‘Jewellery Oscar’. The same year she also won two gold awards at the Milan World Expo China-Italy International Jewellery Design Competition. Being honoured as Exceptional Talent in Craftsmanship and Design by Arts Council England has encouraged her to contribute to the jewellery and crafts industry from business, academic and a cultural level. As ‘The Jeweller’ Magazine from National Association of Jewellers reported, ‘Isabella Liu – bringing China and Britain together’.
1. Where did you grow up and do you feel this influence your design?
This is a very good question. The answer is yes, I think growing up in Wuhan, a big city located in the centre of China influenced my personality, as well as my design. Interestingly, your question mades me think about my first solo exhibition in Shanghai, named “Ocean Flame”. Reason for naming my exhibition this is because of the two important parts of my collection. Symbolising the ocean, “The Sea Rhymes” collection is inspired by the great Japanese artist Hokusai’s The Great Wave, and my fantasy with sound of the sea. While “Scar is No More a Scar” and “Mending” collection, whose theme originates from a burned scar, is symbolised by the concept of flame. My point is that I never thought my design or concept would be influenced from where I grew up, but looking back I now understand how my cultural influence somehow reflects on my work as well as my concept!
Trained as an oil painter from 6 years old, I came from an arts and culture focused background. My fine arts background continued until my age of 20. I realise that apart from self-expression, I need to connect myself to the world. For me, fine arts is a form of internal expression, whereas design is a form of external expression. A designer has to serve both the market and the customers. At age of 20 I was lucky to meet my first jewellery design teacher, Lisa June in Shanghai. She opened up my mind to the amazing world of jewellery, craftsmanship, and creativity. Through the years my confidence grew as my hard-works and talents gained support and appreciation nationally and internationally. I still remember the date, when I was honoured three gold and two silver awards at Goldsmiths Craftsmanship and Design Competition in London, I felt so fulfilled and encouraged. As time goes on I believe jewellery designing is my destiny, influenced by my cultural and international environment.
2. Who has been the greatest influence on your decision to launch a jewellery brand?
In terms of business, I guess it’s natural growth. Business wise I don’t think I have been influenced by anyone. Simply because my main concentration and passion is creativity, people and culture. I try to focus on content input, rather than output. Nurturing a brand with great products doesn’t need to have desperate ambition, it needs more patience and care, especially at beginning.
In the creative jewellery world Wallace Chan is my favourite artist, in fact one of the top jewellery artists in the world today. He sculpts with a delicacy of touch that defies the abilities of most artists and uses light as the leitmotif for his colourful and sensual jewels. As well as jewellery the arts world is major inspiration. Anselm Kiefer hugely touches me, he has to be one of the most important contemporary painter and sculptor in today. Kiefer has interwoven themes of history, politics and landscape into his work, revisiting imagery and symbolism through different forms and media. Those two great artists are inspirational, they inspire the design and creation of my work as a form of meditation and the process of cultivation.
3. What have been the highest and lowest points on your journey so far?
In 2015 I achieved seven awards internationally within one year. Honored three gold and two silver awards at Goldsmiths Craftsmanship and Design Competition in London, which is known as “Jewellery Oscar” in the industry. Seven months later, I achieved another two gold medals at Milan Expo, New Designer Gold Award and Best Fashion Design Product Gold Award. It was the year my work was pushed to the public, and recognised by the people in the industry. Most importantly it helped build my confidence and faith for the jewellery path .
I don’t have specific lowest point, but I do have many challenges in my career. Not only has my work been greatly influenced by two cultures, Chinese and British but also my lifestyle and mind-set. My passion is to bridge the culture difference through creativity, arts and design. It has challenged my individual critical thinking, I’m learning how to balance my creativity and commercial work by bridging gaps and dialogues. Somehow I find myself a bit like Alberto Giacometti’s sculpture, ‘Walking Man’. Determinate in mind at a spiritual level, I find myself in a path where nobody has experienced. The feeling is like driving a car in the darkness of night, I don’t know where the path leads, but I knew that as long as I follow the car spotlight, which brightens a few meters route ahead, it will lead me to my destination.
4. Please tell the inspiration behind your current collection?
The Sea Rhymes collection is inspired by the great Japanese artist Hokusai’s The Great Wave, and my fantasy with sound of sea. “I know a place where the world is still, where time and space have no hold; I know a place where my heart and soul are one…”
A sense of romance and joy is brought to the Sea Rhymes collection with the swirling and curling lines that represent the ocean. The curves of each work seem to embrace each stone like the ocean encompasses the body. Inside each piece from the collection is a stone, when moving inspires the sound of waves gently lapping against the shore and transports the wearer to a place of tranquility. Wearing a Sea Rhymes piece on body is like playing instrument which is full of a sense of purity, calm, and joy. The collection not only engages audiences with visual aesthetics but also the auditory sense.
5. What is your personal jewellery style?
My background is influenced by both oriental and western culture, my jewellery has international attachment influenced by European and Chinese design culture. I focus on genuine originality whether in terms of design, innovative use of materials or striking colour combinations, they are all individually unique. My jewellery captures the cutting-edge colours, textures, shapes and motifs in a forward-thinking collection. All these become my personal jewellery style.
6. What’s your most positive quality?
My most positive quality I think is transboundary forward-thinking, which comes from who I am and my background. Firstly, transboundary of design and art, I have always applied multidiscipline to my creativity. This mainly comes from my background of fine art and designer. Secondly, tranboundary of jewellery and sculpture, take the “Mending” collection as an example. I bridge the dialogue of jewellery and object. Thirdly, transbundary of creativity and commerce, I always try to balance the point of creativity with a commercial awareness. Fifthly, transboundary of east and west, it happens not only on a work level, but also my lifestyle.
7. Who is the Isabella Liu customer?
My audiences and clients tend to be educated and acknowledgeable people with a great appreciation of creativity and arts. Normally they are a traveller, dreamer, reader, educator, thinker, ect. They have good taste with a unique and individual insight on things. Jewellery is a link of creator and wearer. It not only is the expression of creator but also brings together people who share same sprits and values.
8. If you could only wear one piece from your collection, what would it be and why?
I think it would be a piece from my signature collection “Mending”. I utilised a narrative approach to design from flawed ceramic tableware. Instead of hiding their damaged areas I opted to celebrate and highlight their fragility into a wearable piece of sculpture. Exploring the celebration of fractured objects and the fragility of life I looked to change our perspective about life’s challenges by encouraging the wearer to embrace the beauty in flaws and mending, with joy and peace. The collection has truly shaped my design and life phyliopshy, therefore a piece from the “Mending” collection is definitely one that I would choose to wear.
9. Which Alice in Wonderland character would suit your style of jewellery and why?
This is a very interesting question. I think Alice definitely! Because both Alice and I are adventurers, travellers, and dreamers. We share same sprit and value.
10. Where do you see the Isabella Liu jewellery brand in 5 years time?
In the coming 5 years I plan to participate in international exhibitions and trade fairs. Also join some jewellery events to widen my horizon and get to know more professionals in the industry. My philosophy is to grow my brand with great products stage by stage, carefully present my work to right people and right market. Before I reach 30, my main concentration will be focused on the development of quality production and design content. Currently at the age of 27 I don’t have to rush flame or wealth by comprising . After age of 30, I still won’t compromise on the quality , however I will give more attention to the business side of my brand. My dear Belgium friend sent me some very touching words: “Looking back, the routes that you have gone through, the most challenging parts have been overcome by you. Now what you need to do is be proud of yourself, opening your arms and embracing your future.” Being part of the industry has never been easy, but I keep moving forward with that value, joy and faith.
WNDRLND would like to thank the lovely and inspirational Isabella Liu for allowing us to step inside her personal jewellery looking glass and sharing her story. Especially grateful to Isabelle for all the effort it must have been to translate her thoughts and feelings into English. To discover the full collection click HERE