Kerry Howell, a bright and articulate (and decidedly non-Goth) British art student who just graduated from Middlesex University with a degree in jewelry design, is happy if you’re grossed out by her work. That’s the whole point.
Kerry’s graduate project was a series of five necklaces made from human hair, and she’s getting a lot of attention lately; it’s not often that you come across hair jewelry. The necklaces are intricate and gorgeously crafted, but seriously creepy once you realize how they’re made.
Called “Attraction/Aversion,” the collection explores “how people can feel these seemingly opposing emotional responses simultaneously.” She did such a good job evoking this response in people that she won an award from the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture. The necklaces are based on wallpaper patterns that she found at the museum. She wanted an inherently beautiful and intricate design.
We spoke to Kerry over the weekend to hear more about the project and her plans for the future.
Fashionista: How did this project start?
Kerry Howley: In the second year of my degree I was looking at circuses and freak shows, and how in the Victorian age they were very interested in the grotesque. But they would only look at things if they were separated from them somehow, like behind bars or velvet curtains. So I made some objects that were grotesque but [put them] in beautiful silver boxes. You wanted to pick up the beautiful box, but when you saw what was inside the box you [think], “I don’t think I like it anymore.” It’s a continuation of that.
What kinds of things were in the boxes?
I had a beaver’s paw that had been preserved, and I had a mouse’s skull. Things you wouldn’t really want to touch or see.
How did you decide to use hair as your medium?
Because it’s a material we’re all very familiar with, and it’s something that we take a lot of pride in. We look after our own hair–we brush it and we wash it and we style it. But as soon as it’s apart from us it becomes very disgusting, especially other people’s hair. It’s a deep feeling of revulsion. Also it’s got a history in jewelry. The Victorians used to use it in mourning jewelry; people used to get commissions of hair jewelry using hair from their loved ones.
What’s the source of the hair in your jewelry?
I’ve used my own, but for the other necklaces, a friend of mine’s mother who doesn’t cut her hair very often, she volunteered a haircut for me. It was beyond waist length. She got about 30 or 40 cm cut off.
Did you use any products on the hair or was it clean hair?
It was clean hair. I didn’t do anything with it.
How long did it take to make them?
The collection is five necklaces. They took between 40 and 60 hours each.
What have been the reactions you’ve been getting?
People are really interested in them. People from a distance will see them and think they look beautiful and intricate–think maybe they’re lace or a line drawing. They wander over and realize what they’re made of. They then feel like, “Oh, do I like them anymore? They’re made of hair. That’s disgusting.” They do have the reaction that I wanted them to have.
Now that you’re finished w/ school, what do you want to do?
I’d like to continue what I’m doing. I’m available for commissions for these pieces, though I need to develop a more secure method of wearing them. I’m also considering using different materials. Not everyone wants to wear hair! I’m thinking of raw silk fibers and doing exactly the same thing. (You can purchase her wares on Not Just a Label.)
Do you have any future projects in mind using non-traditional materials?
I’d like to work with bone; that’s obviously got a lot of connotations. It’s a usable material, it’s almost like recycling because there’s lots of it available. It’s a waste product. There’s nothing wrong with it as a material. If it can be recycled in a nice or attractive way I think that would be really interesting.
Calling all Brit designers: you need to commission some pieces from Kerry immediately.