Maverick Life

A TOUCH OF VANITY

A star is reborn: How a fashion jewel is winning back its sparkle

PICHULIK Menat necklace black (Image courtesy of PICHULIK)

PICHULIK’s spring/summer 21 collection of earring and necklaces, titled Nascent, was born out of, and inspired, by a year like no other, and for creative director and founder Katherine-Mary Pichulik and her team it was a contemplation of new beginnings and a celebration ‘regenerative forces of the cycles of rebirth’.

“I wanted the collection to almost be the sage that meets the temporal with the eternal. Because that is what jewellery has done since the Neolithic period. For 12,000 years as human beings we have been making tools and we’ve been making jewellery; one to land ourselves on the Earth and one to connect ourselves to the stars. That is what jewellery is, something that you wear that gives you this incredible prompt to remind yourself that you belong to something greater, bigger, vaster,” says Katherine-Mary Pichulik, founder and creative director of jewellery brand PICHULIK.

“We are all connected. There’s this fantastic quote by Gloria Steinem that says, ‘we are linked, not ranked’. I love that. With everything that’s happened in 2020, felt across the Earth at the same time, it’s a reminder that we’re all connected by this Mother Earth space, and I think jewellery is this incredible link, this rope that connects generations and nations.

PICHULIK plenty full bracelet black (Image courtesy of PICHULIK)
PICHULIK Astarte necklace beige (Image courtesy of PICHULIK)

“We’re about to have our Christmas lunch; it feels incredibly monumental because we’ve really gone through this year together, and we’re still standing, we’re still alive, you know. As a business owner there’s a point where you question yourself as you go, ‘do I want to take this with me?’ One could give in and wrap it up, because we’re all sitting on that edge, that cliff. But what we went through this year actually reinvigorated my commitment, my devotion and absolute love for the business, for the people I work with, and for what I do.”

Indeed, when we catch up with her on Zoom halfway through December 2020, to chat about Nascent, her new spring/summer 21 collection, she is sitting on the balcony of PICHULIK’s Cape Town studio; next to her a table set for the team’s end-of-year lunch, to celebrate and reflect on the year, for a company that trades in jewellery, a product largely considered a non-essential luxury.

“We’ve had a pretty wild year. We’re a multichannel business, but we’re also a vertical one. We produce everything ourselves, and we go all the way to retail. But we’re also wholesale, supplying other stores. So from a business perspective we suddenly had all kinds of challenges flying at us, which a lot of businesses did. We had our international orders frozen, because a large portion of our international trade was museum stores such as the Tate and the MoMA. And those were some of the first places to close. So suddenly, those large unit orders, which really provided the bread and butter of the business, were frozen,” explains Pichulik.

Due to lockdown restrictions the e-commerce part of the business also couldn’t make deliveries, and at the same time their physical retail space had to close. Says Pichulik: “We were also one of the last categories to be released from the restrictions. As non-essentials, you know, jewellery, handbags, etc. So we were the last category to be able to deliver from an e-commerce perspective. In April, we did 10% revenue, which is pretty damn crazy.”

On a personal level the year has also been a mixed bag for the designer. She got married at the beginning of March, her father passed away in June, she launched Magi, her winter collection, in July and her apartment block caught on fire. All this while dealing with the challenges of maintaining a business through a pandemic. “So as all of that was happening, Nascent started to kind of burst in me. I love the word nascent and I think it kind of came to me because it’s a beautiful combination of the idea of the beginning, but also a prodigy of what’s to come. And I think that is kind of where we’re all sitting. Everything is crumbling around us; the structures that used to exist, the old ways of being and the power hierarchies have been shaken up. We are still in transit now, but I think the things that are going to be born out of this are going to be diamonds, carved away through the pressure and calcified. There’s a trueness and an authenticity that I think will emerge. What’s important to me as a designer, as a business owner, became really articulated and very clear this year. And I wanted a collection that really spoke to that,” she says.

As they prepare to sit for lunch the team is still largely intact; one member was retrenched, two left of their own accord, and two new members joined. Early on Pichulik and her co-CEO Tracey Chiappini-Young, made some tough decisions about how the company would weather the pandemic storm. For a business like theirs pivoting to manufacturing PPE wasn’t necessarily an option. “We decided that our main goals would be to hold on to our brand equity – meaning there would be no big discounted sales – and to hold on to our team. We asked ourselves, ‘how do we rethink things? How do we ensure that we keep our staff earning something? How do we get government support?’

“We worked harder to understand the women who are part of our community, the women we are serving. How are they wearing these pieces? How do we serve them better, sensitively, intuitively, as well as try and predict what they will be needing in this damn crazy time? With that in mind we took a deep dive into who we are and the data, and I think that really was the predecessor to what Nascent is about.”

The resulting collection of earrings and necklaces strikes a balance that reflects the designer’s sharp business sense and the spiritual ideologies and mythologies that resonate with her personally, many of which have been embedded in the brand’s DNA since its founding in 2013. The circular shapes of the styles and the materials also continue the brand’s evolution to pieces more subtle and delicate than the thicker, bolder, brighter ropework she started with years ago.

“I’ve pulled back a lot of the nostalgic DNA of the brand. Yes, there’s ropework, but more refined, clearer. There are circles interlocking with other circles, which is essentially like the constant idea that creation is never-ending. Circles are cycles. The universe, God, nature, or however you want to call it, is constantly growing. Take, for example, a flower used for a fragrance – it grows to the point where its scent is perfect, and that’s when they take the fragrance, when a flower is just at the last moment. And then it rots and goes back into the earth, creating nutrients and nourishment, and then it grows again,” explains Pichulik.

The pieces are made of materials she describes as honest: “I’ve chosen jewellers brass because it’s honest. It’s a base metal that’s been with us for centuries. It’s something you can always polish up so it lasts you forever. And there’s something sculptural and almost like a temple about it, statuesque. And then you’ve got some shells coming in and glass beads. It’s all been very kind of elemental. I wanted to really bring it back to its rawest and most honest forms.”

It’s almost lunchtime. It’s time for the women of PICHULIK to sit for their year-end lunch, to reflect and celebrate a year like no other, characterised by loss, renewal, compromise, innovation, hope, strength and new beginnings. “Ja… this lunch today, sitting here together… it’s going to be a really powerful moment,” says Pichulik. DM/ML

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