Meet the creative mind behind the jewellery brand that strives to push boundaries.
If you haven’t heard of Maria Black Jewellery, the Danish brand that’s taking the world by storm, trust us when we say you’ll wish you had heard about it earlier.
Scandi fashion brands have certainly been the ones to watch for several seasons now, and Maria Black was one of the earlier accessory labels picked up and adored by fashion insiders and celebrities alike. Now the brand has made its way over to New Zealand, being stocked at the new Superette International flagship, and we’re not shy to admit how happy we are about it.
Fashion Quarterly spoke to Maria about how she found herself moving into this career path, where she draws her creativity from and what the design process actually entails:
FQ: What’s your story? How did you get to where you are today?
Maria Black: I was a late bloomer. After travelling extensively throughout the world in my early 20s, I fell in love with jewellery in Ibiza of all places. When I returned to Denmark at the age of 27, I immediately looked for an apprenticeship with a jeweller and was fortunate to get one straight away.
It takes four years to become a goldsmith, so I was 31 by the time I graduated. I was living in London for my final year and I started selling jewellery at London’s weekend markets. I would make the jewellery during the week and then sell it myself. I had to think about packaging, display and prices, but the truly brilliant thing was that I was talking to all my customers and saw what they reacted to and what they fell in love with.
My very first collection was shaped together by the people who supported me during this time. A few months after graduation I launched my first collection in the summer of 2010. I was designing, producing, selling, shooting campaigns and building my website with the help of friends, and finally got my first agent. It was very much the case that I was learning by doing, and that is still how I do things.
How would you describe your brand in three words?
Current, alluring and inclusive.
What inspires your collections, your aesthetic and how do you keep it relevant?
Being Danish has given me a natural penchant towards strong, clean and beautiful curves and lines, and that was the starting point of my aesthetic journey. My style has evolved and altered over the last nine years because the world changes and we change with it. I couldn’t think of anything worse than finding a ‘look’ and then designing variations on that for 30 odd years- I would die from boredom!
To me being relevant is just being alive-always curious and always ready to try new things. My designs are always directly linked to how I feel, love and live. The best designs speak to you on a subconscious level so you are not sure why you love it, but you know you have a connection to it.
Is there one item or perhaps a collection in particular that is your all-time favourite?
I have so many, it’s like being asked what your favourite movie is! Who can choose?!
What I will say that in all design work, you have your moments of pure bliss and you know it when it happens – a lot of thoughts and tests all of a sudden come together and voila.
The first collection that I felt was truly strong, because it was coherent and had a fierce look, was my 2015 collection called Helix. I had been very fascinated by piercing jewellery and the way they used mostly wire and balls. It was really fun designing with such a strict guideline. Each piece was unique and was very carefully selected.
As for statement pieces, I keep returning to my disrupted hoop, also inspired by piercing jewellery. So simple and so very striking.
What is something not that many people know about you or your brand?
I’m a salt maniac. I literally eat salt on everything, tons of it and I am now barred from salting any kind of food which is to be consumed by any member of my family or friends.
How do you go about designing?
I usually formulate an idea in my head and then start a mood board. My mood boards consist of paintings, drawings, photography and sculptures. I rarely use jewellery as I find much more inspiration from the art and fashion world, then I start sketching. The first two to three days are the worst, I don’t really have a direction and the drawings are bad. Then my hand starts remembering and I will do 50 to 60 designs in a day. After that, I start selecting and grouping them in stories. Usually, one story starts to dominate pretty quickly, but that doesn’t mean that’s the one I go for.
Sometimes one piece is so strong it spawns a whole collection. I am not good at saving the drawings that don’t make the cut, but when I do, I sometimes find gold in my old sketches. When the selection is made, I hit the jewellery work bench with my product developer who’s also a goldsmith. We discuss and produce mock-ups of the chosen designs and sometimes something new evolves on the jewellery bench. After that, I will make masters by hand or have a piece made in CAD.
I go to India at least 4 times a year to sit with my team there to have the final pieces made, my true samples as I call them. I love working with my Indian team, they are very skilled and passionate and they take all my crazy ideas with stride. My jewellery is not really for mass production, so we spend a lot of time nerd-ing about jewellery production techniques.
What has been the absolute highlight of your career so far?
There are so many because they all pertain to where I was in my career at that moment, but recently it was when I woke up to find ten emails in my inbox with roughly the same words “OMG, Christina, front page, paper magazine, MOM ring, google NOW”.
I googled and it was a definite highlight. It was the iconic front-page cover with Christina Aguilera with no makeup in Paper Magazine wearing my MOM ring, which was set to launch the week after. After two days I realised it would be the most talked about cover of 2018, and that we really needed to launch that ring ASAP. That was epic.
How would you describe the Maria Black customer?
I am not a fan of describing my customers. How do you describe a multitude of people and personalities? I would rather state that we are a very inclusive and open brand worn by an astonishing variety of people and the designs are meant for all who feels a connection to them.
If you were to describe your own style, what would it be and what couldn’t you live without?
My style is very relaxed, I am very colourful now compared to how I used to dress which was all black. My everyday go to is high-waisted skinny jeans with boots and a top. I use my jewellery to make the finished look casual and cool.
A new journey for me recently is that I have steered slightly away from jeans and have started a rather nice collection of colourful pants and dresses. Can’t live without my classic Chelsea boots though.
What do you do to switch off?
I am not very good at switching off or spoiling myself. I am very energetic and spend a lot of time working. I love my job so it feels good, but I don’t realise how much I stress myself. When I stop working, I am almost at a loss as to what I should do with my spare time so I now try to plan my down time as I would plan my worktime.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
I don’t remember any specific advice, but I have been taught to treat people with kindness, to give positive vibes, to be fair and to believe in myself, so that’s what I live by.
Where are you based? What are some of your must-go places or hidden gems there?
I just recently moved back to London after spending the past four years in Copenhagen. It’s really exciting to be back in London and I’m based in Dalston which is a really cool and diverse area in East London.
I love both cities with all my heart and split my time between them. In London I would recommend exploring Shoreditch, Hackney and Dalston as well as Brick Lane, Sunday Upmarket, Columbia Road Flower Market and Broadway Market.
In Copenhagen you should always get a bike and go explore, the city is so small and you can take everything in visually on a bike. Go to Christiania, a famed hippie commune area that has its own laws, it’s truly unique. Dance, eat and drink in the Meatpacking District or cycle further out to the street food area where you can rent a heated hot tub boat and sail the canals while listening to Club Tropicana with a drink in your hand… and that’s during the winter time too. Class.
Where is your favourite destination of all time and why?
Tokyo. I have been fortunate enough to go there a few times with work, and I am head over heels in love with that crazy city! But for a vacation I am in love with road tripping in Italy. Everywhere is stunning, full of adventure and I love the pasta and the people!
You’ve already achieved so much, what’s next for you?
When I started researching piercing four years ago, I decided I wanted to make piercing jewellery. I teamed up with a piercer who has been doing his craft for 20 years and developed a quality line of piercing jewellery in 14K gold which we tested in 2017 and launched permanently in May 2018 in our Copenhagen store.
Recently we did a pop up in Selfridges on Oxford Street and it looks like we might get a permanent space there in 2019, I’m really excited about that! We can pierce directly with the gold jewellery, so you get the most gorgeous jewellery from the start.
Creating a new take on piercing jewellery is my new passion and I hope to be piercing all over the world within the next six years.