If the jewellery or art we create is inspired by our history, then the jewellery created by Marilyne Kékéli Abony for her brand ‘Mamater’ must truly in inspired by a rich mix of cultures.
She was born in Togo, but had to move across Africa, Europe and North America over the next twenty years, due to political unrest in her own country.
Now living in Paris and London, but I believe you can see that history and influence in her work now.
I loved reading about Marilyne’s background (growing up in Togo and inheriting her Mother’s sense of style); her hard work ethic (she never releases a piece of jewellery she’s not 100% happy with); and the way she compares her work with cake (“Jewellery to me is like a cake. It makes people happy”).
Wise words indeed!
Read Marilyne’s fascinating story here…
First things first – is it tea or coffee when you get up in the morning?!
It depends on the day. I am partial to a big glass of ice cold Coke Zero, though sometimes a steaming cup of ginger tea does the trick. I’m an early riser, and I generally like to ease myself into the day in a way that keeps me grounded and relaxed.
How would you describe your jewellery?
Symbolic statements pieces shaped by geometry. I absolutely love perspective.
A long time ago I wanted to be an architect. My design process always starts with a box and some lines somewhere. I like to think about how a shape that inspires me could fit in a box. While still having a lot of movement and saying a lot, without being too obvious. I see a lot of myself in the way I design.
I like to be very hands-on and tangible. So I quickly step away from the drawing board and work with play dough to make the things that are in my head. I easily get distracted if I can’t touch what a specific piece will feel like relatively quickly.
I make jewellery for the woman I was in my previous career. A woman that often had to wear different masks and perform before an audience and project confidence while being very design conscious.
I remember always looking through vintage mid-century design stores trying to find that perfect necklace that made a statement, without taking away from my presentation. It was always a bit of a stroke of luck to find anything useful.
I figured that I must not be the only one who’s looking for that reliable pair of earrings that always stirs up conversations and that you can wear from a very conservative boardroom to a glitzy cocktail party. A piece of art that adorns you and speaks for itself.
Where are you based?
I live in Paris, and travel to London every week. It is an ideal balance at this point in my life.
You weren’t originally from there, where were you born and what made you decide to move?
I was born in Lomé, Togo. My father was an army doctor when I was younger, and we moved quite a lot up until my teenage years. The political unrest in the country throughout the 1990s led to us having to move away for a good 20 years. I had a very nomadic childhood as a consequence, living and learning in many cities across Africa, Europe and North America.
Do you think your designs are inspired by your heritage?
They definitely are inspired by the shapes and interior architecture I saw in my childhood home in Lomé. In my very early years, we were living in one of my paternal grandfather’s homes.
He was a very wealthy man who collected a lot of mid-century furniture and appliances. You see, the 1960s across most of West Africa was a golden decade. It was the time of independences from the former colonial administrations.
In many countries, the buzz for people like my grandfather led to a spree of art commissions, distinctly original music and other forms of creativity. By the time I was born in the 1980s, the enthusiasm had dampened considerably, and I often sensed a lot of nostalgia around these objects, pieces and memories.
What materials do you use?
It depends of the pieces. My core set of materials are brass, clay, ceramics and gold plating. I’m starting to experiment with stainless steel as well, which is allergy free.
Where do you create your jewellery?
At my desk in my studio in my Parisian flat.
Your work has such gorgeous patterns and texture, where do you get your inspiration from?
I am originally from the south of Togo, where Ewe people have developed a very distinct form of textile weaving with abstract and geometric shapes that can be seen across the Gulf of Guinea.
It provides me with an endless of source of inspiration, that I then weave as subtext in my designs. I also love the work of Paul Ahyi, whose gigantic sculpted sceneries in Lomé and Dakar always move me. Girma Birta, Oscar Niemeyer and Paul Klee are also favourites. Have you seen Brasilia? The entire city’s architecture is endless food for my soul.
How do you choose which colours to use in your work?
I don’t have a specific process. I have a simple colour palette in my mind that I tend to veer towards across all my designs.
Vibrant primary colours are my favourite. I also like complementary and contrasting colours. My test is whether the colours I use are creating desire in the eye of the beholder.
I want people to feel as excited to look at my jewellery as they would feel looking at a beautiful piece of cake in a stylish bakery.
Did you come from a creative family?
While more conservative than I am, my mother is very design conscious as a person. And I know that I got my love of beautiful things from her.
I remember that she taught me to walk in heels when I turned 11. Which years later feels a bit crazy, but she wanted me to be able to wear beautiful things as early as I could.
What’s the favourite piece in your jewellery collection?
I don’t have a favourite. I generally don’t release a piece of jewellery that I wouldn’t be proud to showcase or wear myself. So I typically discard many pieces and refine everything to standout items that I’d be proud to wear anywhere. No favourites, no. I love them all for different reasons.
What’s the piece you’re most proud of creating?
Every one of them.
What’s your favourite part of being a Jewellery Designer?
I really like the creative design part and meeting customers and helping them choose a piece they love. Both stages profoundly make me happy. I love looking for ideas and creating something beautiful that someone connects with and wants to bring into their lives.
What’s your proudest moment of being a Jewellery Designer?
When I received a compliment on my first collection. I was anxious about showing it to anyone. But when I let go and received that first compliment, it gave me the validation to continue to hone my craft and make ever more beautiful pieces.
Do you work directly with customers? Or sell your work to galleries?
I work with customers directly. I love getting to know my customers personally. What they like about the pieces I make, what they would like to change etc. I enjoy taking custom orders. It always feels like a challenge.
What’s your design process?
I generally start with the sketching process. From initial drawing to a final acrylic painted model, I like to spend about a day working the different iterations of a particular piece. I prefer working with natural light, so mid-morning to mid-afternoon is generally the best time for this type of work.
I quickly make 3D models of each piece with clay. This allows me to see if what is in my head (or on paper) works. This can take several days as I like to create replicas of my pieces in clay, down to the final lick of paint. I then assess everything before making my final selection.
I don’t structure my work in collections from the get go. Rather, I like to work in an unstructured way, and provide structure to the collection at the end.
I then work with a goldsmith I’ve gotten to know really well over the past year and a half to make the metal pieces. The final assembly of the pieces is done by me in my studio.
How important is jewellery design to you?
I love design in general (and jewellery in particular) because it’s unique and distinctive. They are little pieces of art that can enhance the way you look and feel. That extra happiness boost to me is everything.
What do you love about jewellery?
Jewellery to me is like a cake. It makes people happy. I want to create things that make people happy.
How did you start creating jewellery?
I started my career in the luxury accessories sector. My first proper internship was in marketing for Prada. I loved being surrounded by beauty but I was less sure that this was a long term place for me. This was the early 2000s, a time when mental wellbeing at work was not really a key topic. I wanted to work somewhere where I could see a bigger space for myself.
At school I was equally good at statistics and drawing. I loved being creative, yet bringing some structure when needed. It felt like a good balance. I decided to work in strategy. Bringing ideas to life, creating strategies from scratch, advising people felt like a very natural fit for me. Incidentally those are also key skills to be a successful jewellery designer.
I worked for over ten years advising CEOs and COOs in various companies and international consultancies. A big part of my role was to present in front of people. Giving an image to influence a certain outcome.
Why did you fall in love with jewellery design?
I’ve always loved jewellery. I remember jewellery being an important part of the women in my family’s daily routine. I have very early memories of my mum wearing very big abstract earrings in the 80’s.
What are your aspirations for your business?
I want my brand to a beloved part of my customer’s everyday routine. I want them to feel joyful when they see and touch my pieces.
Where do you feel most inspired?
At home. In my flat. Early morning while listening to some acid jazz.
How do you juggle all the different aspects of the job?
My former career as a strategy consultant means I’m used to juggling many activities at the same time. I also learn very quickly and spend a lot of time learning and improving my skills. It’s all about prioritising and sticking to a list.
A jeweller has to be very multi-skilled – i.e. web designer, photographer, tea maker etc! How do you find that?
Very easy. I’m used to playing different roles, so it’s something that feels quite enjoyable for me. I don’t think that I could enjoy jewellery design if it wasn’t a multifaceted role.
Jewellers often have to work quite flexible hours, how does that fit in with the rest of your life?
It fits somehow at the moment. I do work long hours for sure, and it isn’t always easy to keep to all my timelines. But it is all about focusing on what I can do, and making sure that it’s the best it can be.