An afternoon in Paris: we sit on the terrace of a café at the corner of Zelda’s co-shared artist studio space, which is at the moment being used as a fleeting hairdresser workshop by one of her mates. Zelda Passini moved to Paris three years ago after graduating from BA Jewellery Design at Central Saint Martins. She is now working near Montmartre, with her friends who work in the art business. Instead of keeping up with the tough job of internship-hunting for big jewellery houses, she started to ‘do some rings’ to make money. “Slowly, it was enough to eat,” she says. Having to simultaneously deal with the design, production and sales, setting up your own jewellery brand is harder, but more exciting, than you may think it is.
How did you end up selling your own designs?
It was always something that I had in mind, but I just thought it would not happen that soon. Maybe when I would be 30.
If you want to get into the industry, gain work experience and do internships, then London is great. But what I experience right now in Paris is different; there is more ‘word of mouth’, and networking is easier. I get out quite a lot, to lunches, openings, viewings and parties. It is how it works to get your work known, especially in Paris, where the crowd is rather small and everybody sort of knows each other.
How do you get on with your collections and daily studio life?
During the BA, I was doing non-wearable pieces, which was more artistic, contemporary, or ‘crazy’ jewellery. At the end, my graduate collection was exhibited in Marzee, a contemporary jewellery gallery near Amsterdam. Then I started to do some collections of rings and got myself a press agent in London, who forces me to produce a collection every few months. He helps me with press, as well as the commercial and marketing side of the business. At the beginning, I felt like I was doing three jobs at the same time, and realised that it was very much a ‘learning by doing’ process. You cannot really approach a magazine by yourself, for example. At first, I thought I could do it, but then realised that I needed people whose specific job it was to deal with these things.
I usually work the following way when it comes to creating pieces: I gather inspiration and make as many drawings as possible, and then choose a few of them at the end. Afterwards, I see the different possibilities (technically speaking) and I make some prototypes. I am sensitive to how my friends react when I create a collection; they are the type of person I sell my pieces to. I spend my day between the studio, the post office and dealing with the on-going production.
How do you manage the production of your pieces?
I work with an old craftsman in Paris. We make my prototype and then I send them to production. I am now working with a company in Jaipur, thanks to a girl who I met during the BA. I was looking to outsource some of my production, and got in touch with her — she built her own production company for international jewellery brands in Rajasthan.
What’s your take on college versus ‘the real world’?
When you get out of Central Saint Martins’ BA Jewellery, you have the choice of either being a ‘jewellery artist’ or a ‘jewellery designer’. They are very distinct and different ways of working, especially in Paris. You generally are a bit lost in the industry when you’ve just graduated, but you have to make definite choices about where you want to go. There should actually be a workshop where you learn what ‘marketing’ is, for example, and how the industry really works. You’ve got to know where you position yourself.
At the time, only three years ago, 3D software and printers were not that big, and these technologies were not taught during the BA. I would have loved to learn about it, just to have a visualisation of what we do as jewellery designers. But it is something you have to force yourself to learn and be able to do by yourself.
Where do you generally sell your jewellery?
I don’t really sell my pieces in Paris, except for one-on-one orders. Stockists usually only take a deposit, which is not really useful when you sell rings: you have to give them all the sizes, and it often becomes mess and the pieces end up broken or lost. If you want to sell in shops in France, even in Paris, they have to be more conservative and ‘easy’ pieces, which is something that definitely doesn’t interest me. Paris is a fantastic place to live, to make art, friends, and to party, but thank God you can sell online and ship pieces to Asia or anywhere in the world.
Words by Colombe D’Humieres
All images courtesy of Zelda Passini