Maria Dorai-Raj is Cork based, Florence-trained goldsmith / Jewellery designer and her creations are in my opinion pieces of art. The flow and apparent movement of the metal work that she has done make her designs beautiful and really visually stunning. She fuses modern design with traditional, superbly executed craftsmanship.
I first noticed Maria’s work as part of the Brown Thomas ‘Create’ Project and have loved her pieces ever since. I was delighted when she agreed to the interview as I was excited to learn more about the inspirations behind her pieces. I hope that you enjoy the interview as much as I do. She really is one to keep your eye on as I have no doubt that her brand will continue to grow and soar.
What is your first memory of Fashion?
My first memory of fashion was playing dress up as a kid. We had this bag full of old clothes at home that my friends and I loved. There was such a variety of styles and colours, clothes from different eras and cultures. We had anything from Malaysian silk printed shirts and sari’s, to big shouldered 80’s blouses and gowns with a box full of jewellery and accessories to mix and match, heaven! It definitely made me conscious of how styles and trends evolved over the years.
What was the turning point or moment when you knew that you wanted to be a jewellery designer?
Having obtained a degree in ceramic design, I took some time out to work in luxury fashion retail and gain some valuable management/ business experience, while I tried to work out how I would apply this to my own creative line of work.
I travelled at every chance I could and on one such trip to Barcelona discovered a little artisan jewllery boutique with exposed stone walls, concrete floor, visible workshop and its own little black & white cat. The jewellery was made in-house and was sculptural with a distinct architectural influence. Each piece was lovingly presented on its own floating slate plinth and displayed behind a sheet of glass. This provided me the perfect inspiration because every detail of this shop was clearly the product and vision of one individual.
Having always had an interest in jewellery, that previously resulted in experimental work, applying ceramic techniques to jewellery making, I left Barcelona determined to learn what it would take to learn this craft.
Do you remember the very first piece that you created for Maria Dorai-Raj?
Of course I do! It was the Plexus pendant, which is still one of my favourite pieces and one that I wear all the time. I had made a large version of it in porcelain as a bangle before I had learned any goldsmithing techniques. Then, when I began working in metal, it was top of my list to craft a smaller more intricate version that I could wear as a pendant.
My favourite collection of yours is the Plexus – it is so delicate and beautiful. Where do the inspirations or aesthetic influences for your designs come from?·
Each collection provides me with the oppourtunity to explore new sources of inspiration and direction. The sharp, geometric designs of my Linear collection are inspired by the work of modernist Dutch painter Piet Mondrian. By contrast, Plexus is a collection of biomorphic pieces which take their influence from the human body. The two now serve as bookends in my exploration of the relationship between the wearer and the piece.
What are your favourite materials to work with?
I work predominantly in silver & gold but will be focussing increasingly on gold in my future collections. Gold has strong associations with traditional styles of Jewellery making while modern jewllery often seeks out more avant garde materials. I’m delighted to see this old fashioned metal taking its place in modern jewellery.
Can you talk us through the design and creation process?
It begins with the inspiration, once I decide on something I try to immerse myself in the subject matter, sketching elements that interest me as I research. Then I work through my designs with paper models, solving problems and adapting as I go. Once I feel like I have a good representation of the essence of the idea, I begin the making process.
It is very rewarding seeing your new designs come to life. On completion of the collection it is important that I test each piece. I spend time wearing and interacting with the jewellery to make sure it is comfortable and wears well, one of my favourite parts of the process!
Although I am sure hard to choose – what has been your career highlight to date?
I think it would have to be presenting my collection at the Institute for Contemporary Art in London on schedule for London Fashion Week last September. The Design and Crafts Council did an amazing job with the setup of the event and the location was just stunning. Having worked in fashion for so long and followed every Fashion Week religiously, it felt really special to be part of it.
Do you think being an Irish Designer is an advantage in international markets or do you think on occasion we are viewed as small fish?
I would say, neither. I think it depends on how you present yourself and your brand rather than where you’re from as the internet has made the world increasingly accessible in terms of marketing yourself.
What advice would you give to aspiring jewellery designers (something that they wouldn’t normally tell you)?
I would say that, as good as you may be at the creative and technical side of your trade, the business side is equally important. Make sure you get good business experience from a successful brand that you admire before you try to set up on your own and be prepared for lots of hard work.
A massive thank you to Maria for being interviewed – her pieces are just beautiful and I was delighted to have her featured on my blog. You can check out her website and she is also on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest! Be warned you will spend ages on her Pinterest boards 🙂
And I leave you with some more amazing examples of here work;
All images kindly provided by Maria.