Representing the creative future

New Waves: Holly Mathewson

Graduating Central Saint Martins BA jewellery designer Holly Mathewson draws on her family’s history as her prime source material – specifically, her graduating project was a reworking of her grandmother’s wardrobe, as seen and remembered through photographs and abstract memories.

Like many of her peers, Holly Mathewson had dreamt of attending Central Saint Martins since a very early age, enchanted by the “magical allure” of the famous institution. After completing courses in Art & Design and Fashion in her Sixth Form, she enrolled at the CSM Foundation Course. “And the rest is history,” she explains, tracing her educational path to her BA in Jewellery Design. The choice fell on jewellery because Holly is interested in the relationship with its wearer. “It’s something I always try to address in my work,” she says. “Whether that’s through the concept or the physical elements, it is key when I design my collections.”

Holly’s work is far from just neatly ornamented objects for wearing; rather, they are a way in which to study the material culture that surrounds them. Specifically, Holly has engaged profoundly in the study of memory culture: through wearable objects, she studies the way in which objects carry memory. Her graduating project entitled Maur is a deeply personal re-working of garments that used to belong to her grandmother, whom Holly lost to cancer in the final year of her degree. “Memory, relationships and emotions have had a core relation to my work,” she reflects. “It is a massive part of my life, so it is always my first point of call for research in one way or another.”

As Holly began sorting through the clothes of her grandmother after her death, she began realising that she could bring together these carrying elements to constitute her final collection. Such a recontextualisation is celebratory, as well as an act of mourning, and Holly remembers the experience as a grieving process: “It allowed me to see parts of my Nan I had forgotten,” she says, explaining how she would discover long-lost pieces with a strong or clear memory attached to it. It resulted in a meticulous systematisation of her grandmother’s whole wardrobe, creating a sort of portrait of the woman while using her as an object of study. Holly’s work is the proof of the materiality of memory, as stories and memories are embedded and accessed through garments.

Framed in beautiful metal, fragments of garments are re-appropriated and worn as deeply personal jewellery with an attached preciousness similar to that of traditional jewellery that is passed down through generations. “The value, connotation, context and feeling can evoke changes, depending on the wearer,” she explains. “It’s all about the personal connection. For example, you have to unbutton the cardigan neck [of the jewellery piece] to be able to get it over the head – just like my Nan would have done with the original garment.”

Holly is still based in Essex where she is originally from, but is already working with an East London jewellery company, doing design and production. Additionally, she topped her 2015 with a Swarovski collaboration, for which she contributed to the Alexander McQueen exhibition at the Victoria and Albert museum. In the future, she hopes to push for interaction between her pieces, wearers and audience. “I hope to work on some of my own exhibitions, bringing the general public to interact with my work in some way or another. Let’s see where that leads!”