Someone once said that jewellery, like biographies, is a story that tells the many chapters of our lives. What better way to punctuate that than with statement pieces that border on art? Elisabetta Capolino, with her rich Italian design background and stemming from a family of jewellers set out to start her brand in the 80s. She and her husband came to Kenya for the first time in 1998 and in order to continue the work she started in Italy, she founded her company Le Collane Ltd. and brand “Le Collane di Betta (Italian for Betta’s Necklaces)”. Capolino started out with a mission to expand her contemporary jewellery design company worldwide and 19 years later her creations, that ooze architectural appreciation and symmetry, continue to sell worldwide and have graced top international magazines such as Marie Claire, Elle and Vogue Italia. We talked to the founder and creative director, Elisabetta, about her wearable art:
You trained as an architect, why did you decide to branch into the art of jewellery making?
I was born in Rome, Italy, and I come from a proud line-age of Italian fine jewellers. I started to design fine jewellery for my family’s business in high school and during my university years I started my own business designing fashion jewellery for young fashion designers in Rome.
Sometimes I do architectural projects but only in Italy. Balancing the two jobs and having also a family is very difficult but I’m a creative person so I can’t stop to explore new challenges and ideas.
Is it a one woman show?
I usually design all my collections and then I cooperate with Kenyan artisans to produce them. One of the commitments of having a company in Kenya is always to support the artisans offering them jobs as well as improve their skills with my experienced training.[However] The biggest challenge is production. Here in Kenya jewellery components are all handmade there are no machinery to help to keep the quality always the same so to achieve the international standard is always a big challenge.
Who do you have in mind as you design?
When I design my collections I never think about a specific demographic of women. I always think about the beauty and power of any kind of women in the world. Adornments for all the women are a way to show the loveliness of their soul.
It seems like there’s always something new at the store…
I usually design the collections per year like fashion circuits usually do in the rest of the world. One collection for Spring-Summer and another for Fall-Winter. I design from 15 up to 20 styles per collection including necklaces, earrings, bracelets and rings. Usually, I present the collection with different colours options.
I [also] design two different jewellery lines. One is ‘Art Collection’ is a distillation of my creative vision so it’s elaborately composed using precious metals, ancient talismans, antique beads and stones. Usually are short series of “one off” creations that are culturally evocative and artistically unique. The price range for the ‘Art Collections’ is from Ksh30,000 up to 50,000.
The other line is ‘Fashion Collection’ where I fuse my European artistic and architectural background with the contemporary fashion and the timeless tribal cultures. The price ranges for this collections start from Ksh3000 up to 25000.
Tell us a little bit about your latest collection… The New African Avantgarde
It is inspired by the artistic avant-garde of the early 1900s in Europe and the magnificent Maasai ornaments. The geometric shapes and primary colours have inspired me in the choice of forms and colours palette. Circles, triangles, straight lines, white, black, red and royal blue gave life to the new awesome collection with small abstract compositions and purity of design.
The simplicity of the design was then fused with the sumptuousness of the structures of the Maasai adornments decorated with the traditional technique of beadwork. The patient hands of Maasai women and the strength of the Kenyan artisans forging metal and horn have contributed to make the gorgeous African Avant-Garde collection a superb set of iconic pieces.
Out of all your collections so far, which one do you like the most and why?
I love all of them because in each one I can see a piece of my creative life. Of course there are some styles that I like more than others through all my collections and usually are the one I like to wear forever.
It always feels like there’s always a focus on how shape, texture and form. What kind of material do you often use?
When I started to produce my collections in Kenya, I had to combine my skilled background as a fine jewel producer with the traditional skills of Kenyan artisans. So usually I make my jewellery with hammered brass, copper and aluminium sheet or wire. Traditional sand-casting brass and aluminium. Cow bone and horn, recycled glass beads, ebony and rosewood are all Kenyan sourced raw materials. I also use semiprecious stones, crystal, bronze and silver.
It’s been mentioned that you put a lot of symbolism in your collections…
Often I get the inspirations for my collections from tribal adornments from all over the world. Tribal jewellery has always a symbolic meaning because people use them to communicate specific message inside each tribe. It’s not just about beauty or fashion. Everything in ethnic jewellery, from the Colours, to the shapes and sounds, always have a reason behind them. I also get inspirations from art and artistic concept, from landscapes, nature, animals object… I like to observe what is surrounding me and then I elaborate the inspiration in a new design.
The likes of Elle, Vogue and Marie Claire have featured your work. How does a designer introduce their work to the international scene?
I presented my work in many countries all over the world and I used to sell them through high-end stores or jewel galleries. From this, journalists in those regions started to know my work and [was] selected to be featured in their magazines. Nairobi is also a good city to meet people/journalists which are interested in discovering new talents as well as companies that have an ethical commitment in their business.
Whether she’s displaying pieces on her own, or collaborating with a designer to accessorise looks on runways from Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Johannesburg to New York Fashion Week, Le Collane de Betta shows no signs of slowing down. Several years since her first collection and she continues to maintain high design and quality for local and international markets. The recognition is proof that producing prime contemporary fashion jewellery in Africa, with rich inspirations is a smart move. That people are looking for craft with a story, which perhaps could play a role in their personal stories too.
“Jewellery has the power to be this one little thing that can make you feel unique.” ~ Jennie Kwon.
*You can find her creations at Pink Skink in Junction Mall, Kiko Romeo shop at Yaya Center, Deepa Dosaja at Dusuit D2, and Spinners Web in Peponi Rd. Coming soon to the TDS Flagship store in Two Rivers (February 14th).