Touch a piece of Jordan Askill’s jewellery and you aren’t just connecting with the latest in futuristic, sculptural ornaments. The emotive quality of his pieces is far from accidental. His collaborations range widely from high-street giant Topshop, through Swarovski and Gemfields, to high-concept jeweller Georg Jensen. This delightful Antipodean is on a mission: to have his creations tell the story of our fragile planet.
The weight of such responsibility appears to sit easily on his slim shoulders. “In my first main collection, ‘There’s no place like home’, there was this idea of majestic creatures that would protect you and be with you when you sleep,” says Askill, who launched his brand in 2010. “They were these beautiful dreamlike creatures. But then more recently, I have been inspired by species that are endangered and should be precious to us. They should be close to us. They get us through day-to-day life. I feel that is what keeps me separate from whatever else is going on. There is this constant connection to my personal feelings for what we need to be thinking about. They take us to another level or keep us protected.
“When I was very, very young, I always used to make jewellery out of clothes-peg springs and crystals that I’d found. There was always this jewellery, a precious keepsake thread running through things. It was also figuring out that I could be multidiscipline. I started my Jordy Hearts collection by wanting to make little rings for my friends. There was always this quite sentimental aspect; I want to make things to thank people.”
With a composer-percussionist father and artist mother, Askill – whose ancestry is British – grew up as the middle brother of three in Sydney. After completing a fashion degree at what was then the Sydney Institute of Technology, Askill spent time in the design studios of Ksubi, then Alexander McQueen in London and Dior Homme in Paris. It was at Dior that he found his métier. “I originally went to Dior designing menswear, as a studio assistant. And that is where I swapped over to jewellery. It began slowly to make sense and I did some short jewellery courses when I was back in Australia for six months. I started from a sculptural point: I used to make resin casts,” says Askill.
With extensive support through the British Fashion Council’s NewGen sponsorship scheme, backed by Topshop, he had access to industry old hands such as diamond master Stephen Webster, former McQueen collaborator Shaun Leane and PR agency Starworks. Alongside other emerging designers – Mary Katrantzou and J.W. Anderson were NewGen contemporaries – Askill was able to showcase designs during London Fashion Week. He became known for his Horse Wave sculptures, which double as jewellery boxes, and for exploring themes of nature like the endangered Lear’s macaw.
Last summer saw the release of Danish design house Georg Jensen’s first jewellery collection in 15 years, a very significant collaboration for Askill. “I decided to do my Georg Jensen collection on monarch butterflies. Monarch butterfly migration is one of the number one animal conservation concerns at the moment so there are worries that it won’t happen for much longer because of land development and decreasing milkweed, which is a tree they breed on. So my whole idea was that people in the future would be able to see those pieces in the amazing Georg Jensen archive. It’s telling you about how precious they are.”
Evolution, change and gratitude are some of the themes Askill likes to explore. “The first piece of jewellery that had a big impact on me was a heart locket that my mother and father gave me when I was about seven. It was a tiny little gold heart locket and on the back my parents engraved it, ‘To darling Jordy, love Mummy and Daddy’. There is a photo of my family in it. I still have it of course so that is very special. It’s been my inspiration for things I’ve done in college and things like that. I probably didn’t wear it that much; I kept it in its box. Another time they gave me a beautiful little Taurus with diamonds in the tail, but that was stolen a few years ago.”
He also has fond memories of Hong Kong. “I went out on family holidays. I just used to love the Jade Market. I used to pick up crystal balls, lapis lazuli carved animals – I have still got them all. I think of jewellery as an amulet to keep with you, something protective that would retain memory. I have got a glass cabinet at home, which I was given, yet again by my parents, so I keep it all in there. At the moment I am wearing a wooden bracelet that I bought in Taipei last year. It is a rare Tibetan vine, and it means protection, and it has a knot from the vine that will apparently take you to the next level, and I love that.”
The Askill siblings – Daniel, a director, Jordan and Lorin, a film editor – are once again living near each other, now in New York, where they regularly work together on fashion and film projects. Askill credits their creative outlook to his mother. “I remember one weekend very strongly when we were very young and she was painting portraits of us, so it’s a very integrated sort of thing. My father would have his musical instruments in the lounge and with my two brothers we always used to make films. So there was this constant idea that that was the norm, to make sure we could live by our passion and be surrounded by that. That is how it was for my brothers and me, being focused on what we love. I do have these feelings and I try and incorporate them into what I know, and they do end up coming out as these precious objects.”
Those precious objects saw Askill recognised as Emerging Accessory Designer of the year at the British Fashion Awards in November. He says he owes his success to that encouragement from his parents.
“My mum is definitely my legend, for letting us be true to ourselves. On a creative level I have been able to be very true to myself. I am not just making jewellery for jewellery’s sake. It’s been a long road, believing in your own creativity, to stand on your own two feet one day. It is hard to trust yourself all the way, but with the British Fashion Awards, you really appreciate that it’s because of your parents, and your mum, because she was so supportive of who you were. She wanted us to believe in ourselves all the time.”
Such is the stuff of Askill’s past. And the future seems full of exciting possibilities that are not just golden but also crafted from a whole range of precious materials, including his intensely personal memories.
“At the awards, Lily Allen came up to me afterwards, which I loved, and said, ‘Your life is going to change’. I went and told Stella Tennant that she had been inspiring to me. I have been back and forth from London a little bit recently, for personal reasons as well. So it was just really nice and supportive and encouraging knowing that they don’t forget you when you can’t spend all your time in one place. They still honour what you do. It was really beautiful for me. It kind of gives you faith in humanity, that you are doing the right thing.” www.jordanaskill.com