Vietnam collection - designing on the road

Anna Orska's extraordinary character is reflected in each piece of jewelry she creates. The artist, who is famous for using unusual materials, such as climbing equipment, artistic blacksmithing or pebbles from Spanish beaches, has been exploring unconventional areas of jewelry for several years. In search of inspiration and new techniques of producing components worthy to be transformed into pieces of jewelry, Anna Orska travels to faraway places known for handicrafts which are unavailable in Poland. She looks for ideas and collaborators in small communities known for their artisanal traditions. These places stimulate her creativity and give her new projects an authenticity which would be impossible to achieve otherwise.

The Vietnam collection, which was launched in ORSKA's boutiques in the spring of 2018, is the fruit of 10 months' work. The designs were created during the designer's trip to Asia, which lasted a month.

The destination was no accident – Halong bay is a picturesque place where tree-covered mountains rise straight out of the emerald water. The sea hides much more than just rocks – the bay is famous for its pearl farms.

Anna Orska decided to visit Vietnam in order to get a job at a pearl farm and immortalise the unusual beauty of the bay on underwater photographs.

'I underestimated the importance of pearl farms to the Vietnamese', says the designer. 'I thought that getting a job there wouldn't be that hard. I was hoping that with a bit of persuasion and a few pleading glances I would be able to work there and go home with some of the pearls I picked by myself. I didn't have any contacts and didn't know of any specific locations, but I know from experience that local residents, taxi drivers, families and people met accidentally are the best sources of information. I often find people to be very helpful – sometimes a smile is all you need to get something done. This time, things turned out to be much more difficult. There is no information about the farms online or in guidebooks. Places advertised as pearl farms turned out to be expositions arranged for tourists, illusions created for commercial purposes. It took some guerilla tricks for me to even get near to one of the farms. I was able to reach the area by following a group of workers. Unfortunately, I couldn't get any closer. Pearl farms provide jobs for entire towns and villages. Because of their importance, the locals do everything to protect them from outsiders. It turns out that the farms hidden among the rocks are guarded as if they were high-security underwater prisons. Armed guards patrol the waters. There are even little watchtowers on the surface of the sea, in which someone is always watching over the pearls. No wonder – a single pearl takes two years to grow, and the quality of many of them may be unsatisfactory. A perfect pearl is a true treasure, which is why they are so closely guarded'.

During her stay in Vietnam, Anna Orska finally found the pearl farms and even managed to obtain a few unique, irregular pearls. Because fishing for pearls turned out to be impossible, the designer had to rethink both her trip and the idea for the Vietnamese collection.

There wasn't much time left and the logistics were challenging, but all obstacles can be overcome with a bit of determination. Coming home without a collection was out of the question.

'I came here to work. I knew that my brand's plans for the following year depend on whether I come back with a collection. That being said, plans can always be changed. But a lot of people, including my entire team, were waiting for the designs. I couldn't imagine telling them that things didn't work out. Fortunately, I remembered that I had been interested in lacquer art a few years before, and that I had read about its origins. At the time, the technology was beyond my reach, but I kept the idea at the back of my head. Now was the perfect occasion to finally do something with it. All of a sudden, I had a new plan. I managed to find a small village where lacquering specialists had been working for many years. I would never have found it if not for the people I met while I was traveling'.

The designer arrived in one of the many artisanal villages surrounding Hanoi. In Vietnam, there are entire villages specialising in making a single, specific product, be it knives, bird cages, ceramics, wine. Or, as Orska found out, every laquered item you could imagine.

'I was taken in by one of the village craftsmen. I spent whole days in his workshop or with his family, working and eating together. Thanks to their incredible kindness, I had the perfect opportunity to get to know the lacquering process from scratch. I lived nearby, in a room above a painting studio. It would be hard to find a place closer to my heart. I couldn't believe my luck. Despite all the complications, my situation had changed so smoothly and beautifully'.

Lacquering is an ancient, rich tradition. Its roots can be traced back as far as six thousand years. The process itself is tedious and time-consuming. Each laquered object starts as a piece of wood which is the base.

Next, a hand-cut mother-of-pearl ornament is applied to the wood and the longest and most intricate stage of work – the lacquering itself – begins. Each side of the piece must be lacquered and left to dry separately before it is polished to a high shine. This procedure is repeated many times, which means that a single object can take up to six weeks to make. This is handicraft in its truest form. It takes patience, humility and a lot of precision.

'During my stay in Vietnam, I designed elements for bracelents, necklaces and earrings. I was also able to prepare prototypes of many of the elements and I speeded up the lacquering process by applying not one, but two layers of lacquer a day. Of course, due to my lack of practice and rushed process, the pieces I made were not used in the collection, but they became the basis for improved ones, created after I left'.

The elements designed by Anna Orska are decorated with pearl ornaments shaped like bamboo shoots and leaves, as well as other plant motifs. The decorations are painted in black and red lacquer and framed in silver. Part of the collection was created using pearls from the Halong bay, which became the main accents of asymmetrical earrings, irregular pearl necklaces with contrasting silver elements as well as large bracelets. The entire collection is limited and the designs will not be copied in the future.

'For me, this collection is symbolic. Black and white are the colours of my brand – they're my colours, I've always had a soft spot for them. In Asia, red symbolises happiness, which is what I feel when I travel. Pearls will always remind me of the striking beauty of the Vietnamese coast and the ornaments will bring back memories of the country's charming natural beauty. Each piece reminds me of all the wonderful people and exciting experiences which enriched me while I was working on the collection. I hope that these necklaces, bracelets and earrings inspire their new owners and pass some of the happiness I felt in Vietnam on to them'.

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