STOW away your Collier de Chien, Monogram tote and CC signature brooch. Today's accessories designers employ the art of bricolage where each unique piece is a mash-up of ideas and materials by independent creators, who relish bucking trends and eschewing traditional notions of luxury.
WHEN her retail business in Jakarta shuttered back in 2006, Imelda Widjaya did not allow herself to be relegated into the bargain bins of fashion has-beens. Instead, she relocated to Bali where a friend had a silver workshop.
"I started out making random, eclectic sample designs and playing with different materials that were available locally," says the well-travelled entrepreneur behind accessories brand Jewel Rocks. "A lot of my friends liked them, bought them and started telling their friends about us."
Two years on, she launched her own trinkets using threads from Kyoto, Germany, Mexico, Afghanistan; beads from India and Peru; stones from Africa; and silver, resin and beads sourced in Indonesia.
"When I came to Bali, I wanted to acquire skills from the local artisans," says Ms Widjaya, whose pieces are sold in her own flagship store in Bali, as well as on Singapore site www.shopthemag.com. "I picked up techniques from the women on the beach or some shopkeeper in Legian's back lanes, and they would teach me a thing or two about making jewellery."
Today, Ms Widjaya continues to be inspired by her travels and traditional craftsmanship, and can create up to 10 pieces in a day.
"I always go shopping first for materials, spread them on the table and just start working," adds the designer, who melds weaving techniques and sometimes semi-precious materials such as turquoise, red jade and Tibetan gold, with a hipster, laid-back aesthetic. "It all usually starts with a memory, be it a journey to a new destination, a boat trip or a music festival that I had attended. Everywhere I go, I am always looking out and observing."
WHAT started off as a shopping expedition to find the perfect gold handbag resulted in the launch of an eponymous bag line in 2010. And rather than taking inspiration from popular "It" bag designs from major luxury houses, Desti Saint has harnessed the skills of craftsmen from the region for her one-of-a-kind collections. Her hand-braided bags are made in East Java, for example, while artisans etch patterns onto leather bags in Bali.
"The handbag sector is full of similar designs that follow the status quo or latest trend," says the Hong Kong-born designer, who now lives here. "But the Desti Saint handbag always aims to challenge fashion boundaries. Take our Artisan range, for example. Artisans spend four days hand-braiding each bag to create a unique look and texture."
Besides the use of intricate techniques, Ms Saint also employs luxurious materials such as goatskin, Italian natural leathers and semi-precious stone embellishments, such as jade ingots. Moreover, her hand-braided designs promote sustainability - ribbons of otherwise discarded pieces of goatskin are woven into elaborately textured bags and clutches.
As Ms Saint adds: "While European luxury brands are statements of personal wealth, Desti Saint handbags are about making a confident style statement to the world."
"I have an obsession with fabrics and art," declares Ondina Montgomery, founder of Singapore-based scarves brand MAH (which stands for "mad about hue"). Launched this year, Ms Montgomery partners with international artists, designers and photographers on handmade scarves, with a limited run of 50 to 100 pieces per design.
"I've always dreamt of having an artist collective, which allows me to put designs onto fabric to fascinate and inspire people," explains the former interior designer. Considering herself a curator of sorts, Ms Montgomery sources exclusive images from her collaborators that are reproduced through digital or screen-printing, or woven using traditional techniques. "But finding the artist is only 30 per cent of the process," admits the Danish-born entrepreneur, whose works are available at online retail store www.gnossem.com. "After we choose the artist and the artwork, I spend a season with the artist refining the design. It is not as simple as printing the Mona Lisa on a material and making a dress. Art and design are vital in life but they do not necessarily translate into a stylish piece of clothing." To compete on the same playing field as established luxury labels, Ms Montgomery also spent years establishing manufacturing teams in Asia and Europe.
"The assumption that the European finish to a product is better in most cases holds true, however all silk comes from the same source - China," adds Ms Montgomery. "So I don't feel that it's a challenge creating a similarly finished product. And as a limited-edition brand, we focus on an even more exclusive market than established labels."
Jo by Joyce Orena
AS a darling of Manila designers in the 1990s, former model Joyce Orena had the privilege of rubbing shoulders with the fashion cognoscenti. Then, the designer decorated a pair of hand-me-down jeans from an aunt with crystals and beads swiped from her mother's box of trinkets, and the DIY project became a hit with her friends in the industry. "The knowledge that fashion aficionados wanted to own my pieces was the beginning of Jo by Joyce Orena," says Ms Orena, who founded the brand in 2002. As a child, Ms Orena would spend her summers at her ancestral home in Baguio City, and became inspired by the personal ornamentation of the Northern Luzon tribe nearby.
"The richness and diversity of these authentic adornments and jewellery demonstrate an intense level of visual refinement," says the designer, who combines materials like copper pipes and valves, and old pieces of wood with Swarovski crystals, antique charms and precious stones into statement jewellery. As a result, each design is one-of-a-kind and displays an almost obsessive attention to detail. Case in point: Even the paper tags, sourced from a flea market in Florence, are hand-attached to her pieces using beaded copper wires.
But while she banks on the artisanship of her pieces, Ms Orena admits that it is sometimes a challenge competing with coveted, international labels. "They have easy access to resources and marketing," concedes Ms Orena, whose collection will be available here from Oct 26, exclusively at Metro Paragon. "Plus, they are way ahead of the game. We are still babies compared to them."
IN perhaps the ultimate tribute to "industrial chic", home-grown designers Evelyn Ng and Pearly Wee have created an entire accessories line around hardware fixtures like hex nuts and washers. The self-professed best friends and founder of fashion brand Foreword Labels knot and tie the hardware together using brightly hued rope, to create arresting necklaces and body ornaments.
Last year, the duo launched their first store at Parco Next Next, Millenia Walk, through Ms Ng's participation in the store's fashion incubator programme. While the boutique stocks the brand's full line of leisure clothing and accessories, the two have also created exclusive designs for Metro Paragon. Unlike the mass production processes adopted by most fashion brands, Ms Ng and Ms Wee personally handcraft each accessory and spend about one to three hours on a necklace, and up to two weeks on a shoulder ornament. "Craftsmanship is very important because every knot needs to be consistent and neat," explains Ms Ng. "We might even need to redo the entire piece if there is just one knot wrongly executed. It all comes down to the finishing. We must make sure the finishing is neat so all the parts are secured."
Salut de Miel
Eclectic, playful and head-turning, Korean accessories brand Salut de Miel is set to attract a following beyond K-culture fans. It was founded by three fashion designer friends in a cafe called Miel - which means "honeybee" in French.
"The conversation evolved into the dance bees perform to communicate, and the sweet outcome their joint efforts produce," says Ko Youngzi, the brand's principal designer. "We imagined how such inspirations could be applied to accessories, and how we might change the lives of those who wear our designs. And so - our brand was born."
While the mass appeal of Korean fashion in Asia leans towards fast fashion, Ms Ko and her partners focus on more artisanal methods.
"Our accessories are 100 per cent handmade, not just to achieve the highest possible quality, but also to add that human touch which no automated machine can achieve," adds Ms Ko, who was a winner of the 2012 Audi Star Creation fashion design competition held here.
The brand's three designers also make a conscious effort to break away from traditional jewellery materials like metals and gems, and experiment with fabric, silver and even buttons, broken bits of acrylic, pearls and rhinestones.
She adds: "Whether it is for dressing up to go to a club, a romantic dinner date or to add colour to a dreary workplace, we seek to ignite the passion inside each and every individual with our designs."