meet the designer turning your revenge fantasies into empowering jewelry

Marisa Jiwi Seok presents her latest collection, 'Cheat,' photographed by Petra Collins.

by Alice Newell-Hanson
24 June 2016, 11:30pm

Living well is the best revenge. And nothing says "I'm living my life" like a pair of giant gold earrings dripping with crystals, or "Come near me again and I will cut you" like a bracelet strung with miniature gold-plated razor blades. Titled "Cheat," the third collection by Korean-Italian jewelry brand Jiwinaia was inspired by "feelings of revenge," explains designer Marisa Jiwi Seok. But it's also about empowerment. "I've used violent elements and tried to give them a romantic finish," Marisa says of chokers and chain bracelets decorated with enameled tribal tattoo motifs, fat Swarovski jewels, and velvet ribbons. "I like that the more destructive elements lose their significance when worn," she explains.

Based in Milan, Jiwinaia creates a type of jewelry that's not easy to come by: both beautifully made (entirely in Italy) and delightfully tongue-in-cheek. Rings fitted with glossy dime-sized yin-yangs and earrings made from interlinked gold gender symbols are instant winners and endlessly Instagrammable. It's no surprise that the brand's empowering message and liberal use of pink attracted photographer Petra Collins, who recently photographed Jiwinaia's new lookbook. Shot in New York, the images are a sun-dazzled ode to girls in white dresses, blue satin sashes, and the power of owning your feelings.

Do you remember the first piece of jewelry you ever owned?
It was a tiny gold ring that Korean children traditionally wear on their first birthday. It had a flower motif and I used to wear it as a midi ring in high school. I was so, so upset when I lost it.

When did you begin designing your own jewelry?
I started making jewelry with glass beads and nylon strings in elementary school. I'd also break up toys to make cute little earrings and bracelets. It was very DIY and I couldn't wait to develop them into real, more wearable pieces.

You studied jewelry design at Central Saint Martins. What did you learn, and what was the craziest piece you made?
My taste in jewelry really changed during that time. Mostly because whenever you had a more commercial design it was seen as bad. I think I lost my love for kitsch, pop, and fun. I felt that I had to make more organic jewelry to meet the course's needs. But I learned a lot from my classmates, who all came from different backgrounds. The most memorable piece I made was probably a silhouette of a cat worn as a headpiece, with a massive necklace made out of yarn balls with more cats on. That was much closer to what I make now!

When you launched your own brand, what was your vision for what you wanted to create?
I started Jiwinaia two years after I graduated, and after a few internships at fine jewelry and costume jewelry studios. I knew I was more a fashion or costume jewelry designer rather than a fine jeweler. I wanted to create fun but easy-to-wear pieces that are also good quality. All my pieces are made in Italy from start to finish, and are plated in 23-karat gold and precious metals with Swarovski crystals.

You're currently based in Milan, but do you still get inspired by Korea? Are you into K-pop, and do you have any favorite Korean brands?
My family moved to Milan from Korea when I was one year old but I go back every two or three years. Whenever I'm there I get inspiration from obsessively going through my grandparents' massive photo albums. They contain pictures of generations of my family, from my great-grandfathers right up to my parents. I didn't grow up in Korea so I rarely listened to Korean pop music, but I remember a few songs by Fin.K.L — the Korean equivalent of the Spice Girls! I love the brands pushBUTTON and Steve J & Yoni P.

Talk me through the ideas behind your third collection. What were your main references?
My third collection is called "Cheat," and it's my favorite so far. I used some rougher, more violent elements with a romantic finish. My favorite pieces are the "Cheat Hoops" and "Back Stabber Earrings," which take a humorous approach to feelings of revenge and empowerment.

How did you and Petra end up collaborating on the lookbook?
I met Petra through Instagram, and when I went to New York a few months ago I took the opportunity to meet up with her and stylist Vanna Youngstein. Petra and Vanna had thought about my jewelry for Carly Rae Jepsen's new video "Boy Problems," which I was so happy about. The "Female Smiley Earrings" and the "Sex Symbols" necklace were perfect for it. I was very excited when they agreed to shoot my latest lookbook. It's my dream lookbook.

In a dream world, who would Jiwinaia's next campaign stars be?
Gemma Ward and Devon Aoki.



Text Alice Newell-Hanson
Photography Petra Collins

Petra Collins
fashion interviews
vanna youngstein
marisa jiwi seok