- Grace Darlington chats to REO Jewels designer Rebecca Ellis Onyett about taxidermy, the design process and her hopes for the future.
With names such as the Fungus ring and the Talon studs, Rebecca Ellis Onyett is anything but your traditional jeweller. Since graduating from University for the Creative Arts, 22 year old Rebecca resides in London, working part time for jeweller extraordinaire Shaun Leane whilst expanding her own line, REO Jewels. With rare and primitive collections for both men and women, it’s clear to see why her brand is capturing the attention of the fashion elite.
How did you initially get into jewellery design?
Originally, I went to uni doing 3D Design, I always knew I wanted to do some sort of design but originally I thought it was lighting. I experimented in my first year but nothing really clicked. In my second year my first assignment back was ‘designs for the body’. Everyone was designing furniture and I found myself doing jewellery. My teachers loved my project but told me I couldn’t doanymore of it on this course. So I went and found an evening course in Silver-smithing and as soon as I made my first ring I knew that was what I wanted to do. I transferred straight to UCA for my third year, worked hard and learnt more in that year than in the previous years combined.
What’s your process from idea to product?
In my third year, all of my lecturers said ‘draw draw draw’. But I’m very hands on, I’ll sit there with the material I’ve found and work on how I can manipulate it into a design. My fungus pieces came from seeing the way that fungus grows. I wanted to make something where the fungus clustered together, and then the idea of putting a pearl in it came to me; that idea of something ugly becoming something beautiful.
Taxidermy is a prominent theme in your jewellery, where did this originate?
I was out walking in the countryside and at the time I was trying to think of a collection. I found a crow lying in the middle of a pathway. It had only just died and it looked like it was asleep! I started to look at it, the detail of the wing, its incredible bone structure, and I decided I wanted to cast it. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing! I am fascinated by taxidermy, it’s that half life – an illusion. It’s not dead but it’s not alive, it’s just frozen in time. I wanted to do that with my jewellery.
Would you ever move away from this style?
I’ll never be someone to design traditional jewellery. When people think of me they think of the taxidermy, however my second collection was designed around the idea of skin; how when we wear something it becomes part of us. That collection is something that I haven’t really exposed but I’ve always wanted to use that idea in wedding rings. The idea of possession; to have a ring that is like your partners skin overlapping and protecting you. I’ve got loads of ideas, though they all still come under that anatomy, rather than taxidermy, bracket.
Has living in London influenced your collections at all?
I don’t think it has really influenced my style as most of the designs that are available now I designed when I was living in Devon. I’ve always been a bit ‘out there’. I guess in London you can get away with being a bit more expressive though.
Who are your inspirations?
I work part time for Shaun Leane who is this amazingly talented jeweller. He did all of the catwalk jewellery for Alexander McQueen who was a good friend of his, and now his designs are worn by people like Sarah-Jessica Parker. Throughout his success he’s maintained who he is and I really aspire to that.
Where do you hope to be a year from now?
A year from now I’d love to have designs in New York, Europe and Australia. I want to branch out. For me this is for the rest of my life and I’m happy at the moment. I don’t need to rush it, it’s doing its own thing and I’m happy with how it’s going. The interest is growing: I’ve recently done some pieces for Fearne Cotton and Rosie Fortescue which was wicked. It’s just about getting it out there.