SWEET PEA jewellery
INTERVIEW BY CARLOTTA BUOSI
PHOTOGRAPHY BY RICCARDO MERONI
STYLING BY ELETTRA SIMOS
All jewellery by SWEET PEA JEWELLERY
Jewellery - as designer Siobhan O’Neill would say - is different from any other kind of accessory. Close to the skin and to the heart of the ones wearing it, jewellery has a meaning, always and foremost. O’Neill knows it way too well: jewellery designer since the ‘90s, former collaborator of then rising stars John Galliano and Alexander McQueen, after working with some of the most relevant icons in the fashion world she decided to step aside and create her own brand, Sweet Pea. Inspired by the punk of the ‘70s, but also the glam aesthetic of ‘40s and ’50s Hollywood, O’Neill travels the world to find the most unique, most precious stones to add to her delicate, elegant design. Each piece created by O’Neill is like a light touch of extra charm which might be layered up, but with demure, because - as Siobhan herself likes to say - ‘More is more wen it’s so fine!’.
Siobhan, you've been making jewellery since the 90s. What is, in your opinion, the most precious skill to have for a jewellery designer?
The most precious skill you can have as a jewellery designer is the ability to balance design and functionality of the piece. It has to work, both practically - for the wearer - and visually as a result of its design.
How is jewellery different from any other accessory?
Jewellery is different to any other type of accessory, as it's always been linked to talismanic and spiritual sentiments. One wears jewellery for sentimental reasons, because it's something to be kept close to the skin. Jewellery becomes part of the wearer and is passed down from generation to generation, almost like a treasured heirloom.
How did you passion for it begin and when did you realize it was going to be your career too?
I became aware of my passion for jewellery early on in my life. Since a very young age I've been interested in fashion and the history of fashion.
I started collecting vintage pieces at the age of fourteen. I used to go to antique fairs with my father and once I bought a 1940’s bracelet, which I still have to this day. That's how my passion begun.
Years later, I worked as a Pharmacy technician for a while - while still pursuing my interest in fashion and vintage - but I ended up leaving the profession to work for BODYMAP, which gave me the chance to make jewellery for their catwalk shows. I also worked for the legendary jeweller Tom Binns, who encouraged me to go to college and study a jewellery degree.
You travel all around the world to find rare stones to incorporate in your pieces. Can you tell us one among the places you visited which has stolen your heart and why?
This would have to be India: it definitely stole my heart! The people, food and all the wonderful coloured textiles.
I went to a stone cutting factory whilst there, something I had been desperate to do for years. It was so intriguing, but the best part was seeing all the stones and bead stock they were holding. I was allowed a special trip to the stock rooms where the usual customers don't get to go. It was a magical place were they kept the rough stones and huge boulders that are waiting to be cut and made into beautifully faceted stones. Altogether a fascinating experience.
Apart from traveling, which is your most favorite aspect of your work?
My favourite aspect of my work is starting a new collection, predicting the looks and colours I feel will be in tune with the current trends. Colour is my passion, and each new season allows me to weave the colour stories together in new and interesting ways.
At the beginning of your career, you've created one off pieces for iconic names such as John Galliano and Alexander McQueen. How was it for you to work with such strong personalities as a young designer?
I was actually not so young when I worked with them. Having had a previous career, this prepared me for all eventualities, people, personalities, deadlines... Actually, being the same age as the designers was probably an advantage as I could discuss the work with them without feeling intimidated. I could disagree to the things that I knew wouldn't work.
Who do you imagine wearing your jewellery when you create it?
The range of jewellery I create is considerable. Each season I design many stories within the same collection. Age is no barrier for any of the styles but thinking of the clients who will be wearing my jewellery, they will most likely be discerning, not loud, nor ostentatious. I don't do bling in any way. Sweet Pea is quietly subversive.
What is your go-to rule for wearing jewellery?
Layer it up, but be demure in doing so. More is more when it's so fine!
Perla Hidalgo @The Fabbrica
hair and make up by Michi Husanu using Aveda
casting by Francesca Cisani