INTRODUCING: IOANNA SOUFLIA
Currently splitting her time between London and Paris, Greek-born designer Ioanna Souflia introduced herself to the jewelry industry with a bespoke collection of opposing statement elements – 14K black gold, diamonds and Greek marble – a creative result of her contrasting training. A Law graduate, Ioanna went on to pursue a BA on Jewelry Design at Central Saint Martins. During her time as a student there, she was awarded the Second Grand Prize for her medal design for the annual British Art Medal Society student competition, and shortlisted for the Swarovski Award/CSM, where she was announced runner-up, and her design was specially commended. Her graduate collection was presented at London Fashion Week as part of Jean-Pierre Braganza’s Spring/Summer 2015 show. A few months later, she relocated to Paris, where she set up her own brand and soon presented her first fine jewelry collection, Symbiosis. Read on as the young designer elaborately reflects on her time at CSM, introduces her debut collection and reveals her future plans.
Why did you choose to launch your brand right after graduation?
I was lucky to have a lot of interest in my work from the early stage of my graduation, so the decision I made to take a year to plan my first fine jewelry collection and launch my brand, even though it was quite bold, seemed like the right one. I realized that I had something fresh to offer in the fine jewelry world, and I went for it. When you see an opportunity, you have to cease it!
Describe for us the transition from graduating to actually working as a designer. How did you go about attracting potential stockists?
Transitioning from a safe environment, such as the CSM, to the actual industry is overwhelming. The designer has to take on a multitude of different roles, and one of them is marketing. It is a matter of knowing which store is right for your product, and trying to get their attention. There are a lot of trade shows that offer in-person interaction with buyers, and there is always the starting period where you just simply introduce your work via email editorials and social media. It takes a lot of effort as a new designer to get your work out there, but if your product is worthwhile, this effort is rewarded.
Besides medal design, which ultimately won you the Second Prize at the annual British Art Medal Society student competition, what other projects have you taken on at school? How have they helped you grow as a designer?
At Central Saint Martins, I had to take on at least seven different projects each year, each of them with different briefs, targeting different skills and different categories of jewelry. I am grateful for the opportunity to be nurtured in such a demanding and multifaceted environment, and I believe that when you are requested to deliver work for so many diverse briefs, not all of your likings, you can’t help but expand your creative horizons beyond what you could imagine. Throughout my three years of studying, I had the pleasure to design for Swarovski and be shortlisted to create my design, which won the second place in the competition; I was requested to create a large-scale piece, from recyclable material, for a catwalk in the amazing Black Maria created by artist Richard Wentworth; and given a very specific brief from Hong Kong based company Chow Tai Fook regarding high-street jewelry, amongst many other exciting projects.
Where does the production take place? Could you please elaborate on this decision?
The production of the Symbiosis collection is mainly done in Greece. It is an elaborate process of many different stages. The marble I use, Thasos white marble, is sourced in Greece from Pnevmatikos Marble S.A. I personally cut and carve the pieces of marble, either in my studio in Athens or at my bench in Paris. The gold part of each piece is also manufactured in Athens. I have a deep appreciation for Greek jewelers, and I strongly believe that they are very talented and skilled craftsmen, so trusting the realization of my designs to them was my only option.
Your current collection “Symbiosis” has been created based on the element of contrast. What drew you to this concept?
The conceptual starting point of the collection was my academic background, and how the two different disciplines I studied on interacted with each other and ultimately shaped my “creative self.” Law school was all about logic, structure and a very confined way of thinking, whereas Jewelry Design at Central Saint Martins required freedom, experimentation, out-of-the-box, groundbreaking ideas. My mind was dichotomized; duality was evident in my visual references, and this became the main element of my design aesthetic – contrasting elements, co-existing, complimenting each other in a symbiotic relationship.
What are the challenges in using such unusual materials like marble?
Working with marble is a challenging yet rewarding experience. From the design process to the actual making, the material opposes to the nature of jewelry. Strong and solid in its natural volume, marble becomes fragile and requires a lot of patience and precision when it is “forced” to adapt to a smaller scale. The sculptural blocks of stone at the same time surrender and oppose to the working hands of the maker. It is a matter of finding the perfect balance between form, volume, weight and the “safety” of the stone in each piece of jewelry without compromising your aesthetic vision.
Marble is a material you need to respect, but also question and provoke its limitations in order to explore the possibilities of such a beautiful natural element.
How do you feel about designer collaborations at this point of your career?
I would welcome a collaboration proposal at any point. Working together with other designers from any discipline is a unique experience and a tremendous opportunity to expand a designer’s insight of their capabilities.
Does your personal style and preferences influence your design aesthetic?
I’ll have to admit that my personal style is really minimal. I really stay away from color so my jewelry is straightforwardly influenced by my overall infatuation with anything monochromatic. I visually respond to a mix of androgyny and feminism. I am in awe of sculptural statement pieces, either in art or in fashion, and I strongly oppose to the idea of jewelry as an afterthought or an accessory to compliment an outfit. For me, jewelry is the most elaborate and exciting part of my wardrobe, an item that incorporates a woman’s personality and fierceness, and I believe this is evident in the pieces I create.
When it comes to fine jewelry, do you think it could easily sell online?
I would have to say it is a matter of how well the client knows what they want to buy and how well and detailed the pieces are presented online. I believe that selling fine jewelry online is still not the preferable way to go about it, but e-commerce is a fast growing industry.
Would you ever include customization services?
I already have private clients commissioning pieces that are somehow different from what Symbiosis collection has to offer but always requesting my signature style. In terms of customization, I would gladly offer such services in respect to the vision and personality of the collection.
What are you currently working on?
I am currently creating additional pieces for Symbiosis collection that will be debuting at Couture Show in Las Vegas this June, and designing a capsule collection for Paris Fashion Week in October.
Images © Ioanna Souflia