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tatty devine on 20 years of making quirky plastic jewelry

The London-based duo turns guitar picks, cake decorations, and dinosaurs into jewels.

by Jack Sunnucks
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Aug 8 2019, 1:00pm

Images courtesy of Tatty Devine

Tatty Devine are the London jewelers whose anarchic beginnings have somehow become a 20 year career. The design duo, comprised of Harriet Vine and Rosie Wolfenden, got their start as a vaguely DIY project turning guitar plectrums and cake decorations into one-off jewelry. They quickly built a following, their hyper-color necklaces shaped like name plates, lobsters, and dinosaurs setting them apart. Now, contemplating 20 years in the business, Harriet and Rosie have put on their first retrospective, Misshapes: The Making of Tatty Devine, which sees its final few days this weekend at Central St Martins' Lethaby Gallery. The exhibition places them in the context of British fashion and creativity, with over 100 of their pieces, and giant versions of their greatest hits. i-D talked to Harriet and Rosie about two decades of turning junk into jewels.

What were you like when you started? Did you have any particularly plan outside wanting to make jewelry?
Our main aim was not to get a ‘proper job’. Having studied painting we both wanted to be artists, move to Hackney, and drink wine at private views. We were ambitious, as we were taught by incredible artists who showed us it was possible to be successful in the world today. We were obsessed with music, looking ridiculous and having fun.

What was the fashion scene like when you launched? Who were your peers/who did you look up to?
The fashion scene was interesting, we were mostly into 70s and 80s second hand clothes. The labels that were interesting at the time were Robert Cary-Williams, who shot bullet holes into T-shirts, and Hussein Chalayan making asymmetric and conceptual pieces. We were obsessed with Pineal Eye, which sold Bernhard Willhelm ,and where you’d be served by [stylist] Nicola Formichetti. They sold face accessories and nail extensions with hair attached. It was all very avant guard. We also loved Marjan Pejoski, his shop Kokontozai ,and that incredible swan dress he made Bjork. It felt like a very male dominated industry which did fire us up to do our own thing.

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What was the product that changed things for you, if there is one?
There are so many, whether the leather cuff that started everything off, or the Plectrum Necklace which seemed to represent an entire generation. Being in New York and finding acrylic shapes in 2001 was life changing, as it kick started the laser cut jewelery we became known for and enabled us to develop a production process that was accessible, original and local.

I remember the first jewelry I ever bought was a nameplate necklace from your London Soho shop — what was it like having that as your space?
We loved having the soho shop, it was such a special place — our little corner of Soho. Our store team would get dressed up to go out there (Rhyannon Styles talks about this in her book The New Girl), and people would discover us as they explored what at the time was one of London’s most interesting places. Tatty Devine has almost become a souvenir for people visiting London as it's so fundamentally British.

What's it been like putting Misshapes together? Is it nuts having been in business for 20 years?
It was pretty nuts to essentially research your own life and work. 20 years is an interesting amount of time, long enough to have perspective and make sense of what has happened in that time, both in terms of Tatty but also politically and culturally. Our book is a brilliant document of how the last twenty years fit together — a step by step manual on how to create Tatty Devine! Although we do sometimes wake up and think — how did I get here?

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How has your business changed as you've grown? do you still have that anarchic spirit?
The anarchic spirit is still there. It’s very helpful to keep things fresh, keep taking risks and making sure we don’t get bored with what we do — which we never do. The business has changed but only in that we have always learnt from our experiences so we’re always fine tuning, but we still have the same ethos and approach in what we do.

It's been really exciting over the last couple of years to use our jewelry to help spread political messages whether around equality, Brexit, or more recently the lack of investment in creative subjects in schools. There is a massive decline in people taking creative subjects at the same time as the Creative Industries being one of the fastest growing industries and contributing over £100 billion to the economy last year and going to be highly important in the future of jobs. It's madness.

What's it like working with your friend (are you still friends)?
It’s great. When you’re running a business with someone you spend more time together than anyone else, so it’s key that you have a solid foundation of friendship and trust. And yes, we’re still friends!!

Does it feel like a real job yet?
No and as long as we love what we do, it's unlikely it will ever feel like a job.

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Misshapes: The Making of Tatty Devine, a Crafts Council exhibition, runs until August 11 at Central St Martins' Lethaby Gallery, London and then tours the UK. www.tattydevine.com