In Conversation with Hattie Wragg
Queen's Wood Studio
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Hattie Wragg and my jewellery brand is Queen's Wood Studio. I make sustainable contemporary jewellery.
Which past experiences would you say have shaped your work, design sensibilities, & aesthetic?
One thing is my parents, they’re both artists. So I grew up going to so many exhibitions, galleries, museums. One holiday we went to Barcelona and we went to 30 museums in a week. I spent a lot of my childhood seeing art. My mum likes to collect lots of objects like stones from the beach, so our whole house is full of interesting decorative things placed in odd combinations, so I get a sense of composition just from seeing what they did and the environment where I grew up.
Also, I think moving to the Czech Republic. I moved to Brno in 2015, and it’s very interesting and different. There’s a lot of functionalist architecture in Brno, so clean lines, very modernist. Graphic design seems quite important. Coming from London where people often express themselves quite a lot through their clothes, the fashion sense here is very minimal and attractive. I think also because of Communism, people did not have a lot of stuff. And I know people who were born right at the end of communism, people would have to make their own things. I think having that kind of clash of styles informs my aesthetic quite a lot. My design is quite minimalist but the shapes are quite organic and ornate. That’s the style I’m working with.
What is your personal philosophy in life?
I think quite a lot about how to do good work but also be happy. After my MA I remember discussing it with my friends and our lives didn’t look very fun. The kind of work involved to go places, we wondered what kind of interpersonal relationships or quality of life we would have. I think how the drive for success is a kind of mental illness, we feel we are not good enough as we are and that we have to make amazing things to try and suggest that we have value. I remember reading an interview with Karl Lagerfeld in which he said that he was lazy, and I thought how ridiculous is that? But then I realised that I say that about myself. So I really want to do good important work, but I also feel that it should be done in a sustainable way that’s healthy.
The reason I’m doing what I’m doing today is because I had a breakdown. I went to Cambridge to study English literature, after my MA at UCL I went to Oxford for my PhD. So I was building this great career for myself, but I found it really hard. I had huge highs and lows, and I had to go to a really dark place to get good work out. I realised it wasn’t worth it anymore, that’s where jewellery came in. I had always been doing it on the side, so I started making jewellery more and more and that’s when Queen’s Wood Studio began. I founded my brand in London and I was living in Highgate near Queen’s Wood, and my house was my studio. That’s where the name came from. Then I moved to Brno in the Czech Republic as I could keep working on jewellery more and more because the cost of living is much lower here, and there’s space to create and grow.
How would you define your personal style?
Lots of boxy short tops, high-waist jeans and short dresses currently. Right now I have a mix of pieces from my friends who are fashion designers here and some vintage pieces. I like the influence of a bit of minimalism, I think it works well with my body shape but I also like things that are a bit playful. One of my friends here Andrea, her brand is called THEÓ, she is really interested in pleats, so she doesn’t use pleats in a traditional way. Another friend Marie Mukařovská, I have a black wool jacket from her, it’s very furry, so I feel like a gorilla when I’m wearing it. So I like that kind of playful texture or a splash of colour you’re not expecting. So I think that ties into my aesthetic where I have clean lines but with something a bit funky.
What inspires your work?
Dada artists, and their play with chance. So I love Max Ernst for example, he would do rubbings over wood or different surfaces, and see what those patterns would suggest to him. So if they suggested a forest to him then he would work on top of those patterns and paint a forest. I also went to a Cy Twombly exhibition recently where you could see that he was working on a pile of paper, and splashes and smudges from the painting he had done before were on the next page, so he never started from a blank page. I find that really inspiring. Politically the Dada artists thought it was authoritarian to be a designer, to take a material and force them to your vision. That’s the way I work as well, I feel like I work in collaboration with my material. Like for my silver pieces, I melt the silver and splash it. I let it flow between pieces of charcoal, and it creates these organic shapes and that’s what inspires me to make my pieces. I’m never starting from nothing, so I see it as a form of collage.
What is your vision for your work?
I don’t want to have a big footprint. I want to create, but not create more stuff. I use recycled material, I love that it comes from something that has already been used. And in the future if there comes a time when someone doesn’t want it anymore, it can be melted down and used again. So the materials I use they don’t degrade through use. It’s important to me to create but to not have a big footprint. I want people to feel beautiful because of the work I do, because I feel confidence leads to kindness. So I hope that my work will help to create more positivity.
Who are your favourite artists?
I love Dorothy Richardson, she is often seen as the middle-class Virginia Woolf. I studied her book, Dawn’s Left Hand, and it feels really innovative. She is just so interested in the world and our experience of the world. She had thoughts about silence and how we perceive with our ears and our eyes, and can we really take everything all at once or do you need to shut off one sense in order to experience everything fully. It’s inspiring the way she went about exploring that. I like that she was influenced by low brow culture as well as science, high culture and philosophy of her day. So she really liked silent films and read rubbish books, so she felt there was inspiration to be had from all things, so she wasn’t a snob.
I really liked Margit Jäschke, I feel her work looks a bit like a collage, the way she uses colour and brings together found elements, and uses traditional gemstones. I really like the way she uses materials and colour basically and I find it incredibly beautiful.
I also really like Alexander Calder's jewellery, he’s known for his mobiles mostly but he also makes jewellery. I really like the energy in his work, he is not precious about it maybe because he’s not trained in jewellery making but he just makes it. I also really like going to Munich jewellery week, it’s an art jewellery festival every year, where you also get to see emerging artists.
What is your favourite travel destination and why?
At the moment I am obsessed with Palava, it’s a set of hills south of Brno so you can cycle there in four hours. It’s this lump of rock that comes out of the flat landscape around it. There’s something elemental about it that really inspires me. I did my latest photoshoot there. It’s where they found one of the oldest artworks, a ceramic Venus, so there was a really ancient people living there. They have mammoth ruins, and I just love the sense of ancient in that place. I definitely have a sense of peace there.
Your favourite film that motivates & inspires you.
I was studying during my PhD how writers are inspired by films. There’s one I find really devastating, it’s called ‘In a Lonely Place’. It’s a black and white film starring Humphrey Bogart in the lead.
Tell us something about your brand.
It’s contemporary sustainable jewellery. I work with recycled material in an eco-friendly way. So I use non-toxic chemicals in my studio and recycled packaging. I feel like in the world today we are kind of wondering how to be. So like a lot of people seeking mindfulness with yoga or going for walks in the countryside on the weekend in an attempt to recapture something they feel is missing.
So my latest collection is negotiating that desire to be both in society but also a bit wild. I see that because the recycled silver that I use is from electronics, medical equipment, jewellery, so quite prosaic man-made angular forms and I melt it down and let it flow in an organic way. I see it like rewilding the silver. I got quite interested in the story of swan maidens, it’s a folk tale which has all sorts of variations of it all over the world. She’s this figure that can be a swan in the wild and a woman in human society and take her place in both worlds. So I feel like my latest collection is jewellery that has been in the human world but it is also being wild so allowing you to access some of that feeling, so what are we, have we got any wilderness still or are we just socialised beings? It’s something I think about. Also, the lines are natural, it’s how the mineral would act in the world and scientifically that’s pleasing to look at, apparently our brains find peace in natural curves and our stress hormones are triggered when you see something angular. Possibly an evolutionary phenomenon, if you see an arrow coming for you or something sharp, your brain says alert. So my jewellery is quite peaceful to look at.
What value are you trying to create through your work?
When I started I realised that I can do this in a sustainable way, and then I gradually learned about it. I discovered quite early on in my making history, one of my suppliers offered me recycled silver and that just sparked off a eureka moment that there’s a sustainable way of jewellery. I realised that every choice I made could have a positive impact. Jewellery can be a very ugly business in terms of the human cost of mining and the environmental cost. So I really didn’t want to be a part of that business, which is why I used recycled silver or gold, and the gemstones are either reclaimed from used jewellery or they are vintage. One of my suppliers buys old stock from retire jewellers, so there’s material that exists and isn’t being used. So I choose not to be a part of the industry that mines and cuts more, I don’t do that. But this means that all my collections need to be small because you can’t get huge amounts of the same thing, but I really enjoy that. Every piece I approach as a new challenge and a new story to create. So what started as a desire to be sustainable actually feeds back into my work and I really enjoy that.
I also use non-toxic alternatives to chemicals in my studio, so citric acid. And also the packaging I use is recycled and is then further recyclable.