luxury

Winged creatures inspire Anabela Chan's fantasy jewels

Updated 3rd September 2015
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Winged creatures inspire Anabela Chan's fantasy jewels
Written by Stephy Chung, CNNHong Kong
London-based jewelry designer Anabela Chan is one to watch -- and the fashion world is taking note. This year, Lady Gaga, Rita Ora and FKA Twigs have all graced red carpet events wearing her enchanting, statement pieces.
Inspired by travel, Chan's ornate works are a reflection of her own personal journeys. From the depths of the Iguazu Jungle, to the beaches of Hawaii, the 31-year-old criss-crosses the globe collecting gems and knick-knacks, feathers and butterflies to incorporate into her unique designs.
This magpie-like eye for detail has seen the talented designer work across industries -- drawing experience from a variety of fields. Before opening her eponymous label in 2013, Chan cut her creative teeth as an architect at Richard Rogers, where she helped to design Three World Trade Center, and then later, as a fashion designer at Alexander McQueen.
CNN Style met with Chan during a recent trip to her native Hong Kong, where three of her collections will feature as part of The Market Place, a new accessories room at department store Lane Crawford. Chan guides us below -- with childlike wonderment -- on a day out to Hong Kong's Edward Youde Aviary, local antique markets, and a temple.
On her enduring fascination with parrots...
"I find birds fascinating. The variety of species, their unique colors, their features, their textures -- and especially their movements. There's something magical about that moment when a bird takes flight, I want to capture that in my jewelry.
I remember how when I was younger -- around five years old -- my grandfather would take me to Hong Kong Park. I would always drag my grandfather into the park's aviary. Hong Kong is such a concrete jungle, but for me, the aviary was an oasis.
A lot of people see jewelry as a static item. But I think when you wear jewelry there is always movement, especially with things that have kinetic parts and different connections. There's a lot you can play with.
I think the most beautiful color combinations come from nature. The parrots here at the aviary have hues of vermillion red running through their fern green feathers, with flecks of black and yellow. Immediately, all these little gems come to mind -- ruby garnets, green peridots, yellow citrines with black onyx. It's so inspiring."
On finding inspiration in street markets...
"Hong Kong has changed so much since my childhood. There are so many new developments and it's become much more crowded.
But there are still places left untouched -- pockets of memories that remain the same. The teahouses, the temples and of course, the antique stalls on Cat Street.
No matter where I travel, if I find out there's a local market, I have to go. I can spend hours and hours just rummaging through all these little stalls, I drive my husband crazy. He will say: "All the stores are the same, they all sell similar things, so why do you have to look through every little tray and every little box?"
But for me, you never know what's hidden underneath, you never know what's at the bottom of a box. How do you know there's not something waiting for you? It's a very obsessive behavior. I go with an open mind and pick out anything that speaks to me or catches my attention. Part of the thrill is not knowing straight away what it will become.
I've had trinkets that I've kept for over a decade -- and then all of a sudden, an idea has come to mind, and that particular piece becomes something.
On Cat Street, you have all these jade and stone carvings, which are supposed to be pendants and ornaments. They have very traditional oriental and Chinese designs.
By taking the flow and symmetrical elements of these motifs, I might simplify the design, or replace it with a more modern, graphical illustration or shape. Rather than create another sort of carving, the design might inspire me to use a piece of silver or gold. I could use it as a pave setting and insert different gemstones within the piece.
Some might say these market treasures aren't worth very much, but I think it's about using them in a conversation to create something of value. Value doesn't just lie in the raw material cost, but more so in the stories you're telling and the design and the craftsmanship of the work."
On the architecture of places of worship...
"When I was younger, I used to hate the smell of incense at Man Mo temple. But now, I find it quite therapeutic to see the incense burn slowly through its coiled, conical shape. It helps me to appreciate the slow pace of time.
There is so much to learn about local culture in these temples, these places of saints and gods. Temples like Man Mo showcase the best of the best in local craftsmanship -- they were built by the finest artisans of their time. All those chiseled designs, the statuettes, the shaped exteriors and interiors. There's so much to appreciate.
Training as an architect pushed me to look at design with a more technical mind. There are many similar concepts that can be translated from architecture to jewelry.
For example, the attention to detail, or in the case of jewelry, how you then translate your ideas into something that is wearable -- the proportions and balance, the construction, how it fits together, and how it sits on the body.
There's also a longevity in architecture that is paralleled in jewelry. It can transcend generations."
On her approach to designing her couture collections...
"When I make my couture collections, I don't think about cost. I like to make each piece exactly how I want it without any rules, constraints or limitations. They are dramatic, flamboyant, and unique one-off pieces.
Every work is a celebration of different materials. These are found objects, vintage trinkets -- souvenirs of my journeys.
I use a combination of natural, man-made, precious, and non-precious materials. I find a potent synergy in this sort of juxtaposition of luxury and non-luxury items. It's luxury with a touch of humbleness in its execution and its design.
Jewelry is the most magical thing you can wear -- for something so small, it's so powerful and empowering. You could be wearing jeans and a t-shirt, and a fabulous cocktail ring can completely elevate your spirit and make you feel fantastic.
It can bring such immense personal joy to its wearer. It's a wearable piece of art -- a little secret of your own memories."