I got the chance to sit down with Nick von K in his studio on K Road and talk to him about his latest collection, his aesthetic as a designer and where he sees his brand going. I took Jess Robins along with me to capture the Nick, the studio, and the smaller details.
YOUR GOAL WAS TO PRODUCE JEWELLERY ENTIRELY DIFFERENT TO WHAT YOU’D SEEN IN NZ. HOW DO YOU THINK BEGINNING A CAREER IN NZ AFFECTED IT?
When I first started I had a look around at everything that was here, and I noticed that a lot of jewellery designers were all doing silver, kind of pendants and charms. That’s kind of what I’d been thinking about doing and I thought ‘shit, I can’t just do what everyone else is doing’ so I’d have to do something else. That’s when I thought I could use bone and shell, go to Bali and use all these interesting things. The thing about being a designer in New Zealand is that we’re surrounded by a lot of creativity, with all these independent designers, and yet I also feel like we really need to push ourselves on the world stage to achieve quality on an international level. Consumers here are very aware of what’s going on in the rest of the world, so you’re kind of like ‘I’m going to have to make a huge effort here’ to be on par, or better, than what’s going on in the rest of the world. On the other hand, I feel like because New Zealand is so small, you can get recognized more quickly than you could overseas. Here, if you really put the effort it and want to make an impact, you can get noticed relatively easily. It’s good in the short term, but in the long term you’ve got a limited market to sell to and it can be hard to sustain the financial side of things.
YOUR DESIGNS ARE VERY ORGANIC, INFLUENCED BY BONES, STONES AND SHELLS. WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE PIECE YOU’VE DESIGNED?
I’ve got so many, like this ring I wear that looks like an underwater coral garden, but I think my favourite is the Kraken. The Kraken is the octopus that’s gripped onto the ship, it’s carved out of water buffalo horn and then on top are silver sails with the octopus underneath. The cool thing about it is that one person carves the ship, another builds the masts and sails and another carves the wax for the octopus, which is put on separately. So, I had to bring all these people together and explain to them what was going on and craft this massive thing. You have to really get the idea through, and if it doesn’t you have to work with each individual to make it happen. This piece was a real passion project, and I never thought I’d sell many, but people love that piece.
WORKING FOR RICOCHET MUST HAVE ALLOWED YOU TO EXPLORE MANUFACTURING POSSIBILITIES. HOW DID YOU ESTABLISH A SOLID WORK TEAM?
I started investigating supply chains and networks when I was working for Ricochet, but because their price point was so low I could only just dip my toe into the water. When I started the brand, I sunk a lot of savings into the first three collections and went over to Bali and exploring really hard and meeting heaps of people. It’s basically trial and error, working with people and figuring out their strengths and weaknesses, you kind of whittle out the good ones from the bad ones and eventually you end up with a solid work team. It just took a long time, working with a lot of different people.
OTHER THAN THE HEAVY ROYAL + HISTORICAL INFLUENCE FROM YOUR GRANDFATHER, WHAT’S YOUR BIGGEST INSPIRATION?
The way my grandfather ties into it, is that he was from Europe, which brings in that whole European aesthetic. All the buildings, all the art, all the museums. My biggest inspiration isn’t really a person, it’s more all the things I love. Movies, music, fashion, clothing, tattoos, design – there’s so many things that I love and draw inspiration from, even stories. It’s so hard to pinpoint, I guess it’s just me – my interests.
YOU’VE DESCRIBED YOUR AESTHETIC AS “ROCK’N’ROLL” AND SAID THAT DESIGNING FOR RICOCHET HELPED SHAPE THIS. WHAT ELSE HELPED CRAFT YOUR STYLE?
Growing up, learning to play the guitar and listening to Guns N Roses, that whole aesthetic. Nirvana and rebellious youth, tying that in with that rich European history elements of my work. And I think there’s a link between that type of music and historical Europe. These days “gothic” has a darker meaning, all vampire and evil, where back in the day it was just a form of aesthetic – castles and architecture.
WHAT’S YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS AS A DESIGNER?
When I was at school, I never really took art until 7th form, for various reasons. I was in one of the top classes, and they never really let us do art subjects until then as we were supposed to be focused on more ‘academic’ subjects. I was thrust into this art course, having never done the previous years, and the teachers pretty much left us alone as by that stage you should be pretty independent. I was pretty green to it; you had to choose a theme and develop it over the year using four boards to show a real progression. It took me most of the year to get my head around the idea of a theme, I just wanted to make a picture of something cool, all these things linking together was totally beyond me. I’ve been thinking about it ever since because it struck me so much at the time, ‘what the fuck are they on about?’ And now, that’s basically what I do. I choose a story or a theme that I love, and it develops.
YOU CAN SEE THAT IN YOUR LATEST COLLECTION, ‘THE BARON AND THE BARONESS’
With the Baron and the Baroness, they’re a power couple back in the day in old Europe. I thought about how they live their lives, what their aesthetic is. They could choose how they’re presented to the people because of their wealth. They could choose their family flower and their crest, and all the jewellery in this collection kind of came from this. I’ve really gotten to grips with the idea of theme that I first encountered at school, have an idea or story that you love with little bits and pieces that all relate to this story. This way, the story appeals to the customer and raises interest, as they want to know where these pieces came from.
I’VE NOTICED A LOT OF ANIMAL SYMBOLISM IN YOUR WORK. IF YOU WERE AN ANIMAL, WHAT WOULD YOU BE?
I really like lions, king of the jungle, but I really like massive birds like eagles too. So, probably a combination. Like a flying lion with these massive eagle wings. When it comes to the European aesthetic, there’s always a lot of animal symbolism, so this is probably where the symbolism in my collections comes from, but I also just love the natural world. When I consider humans making things, I think most of the time, at the heart of it is a desire to create something as beautiful as nature. It’s like pure mathematics, it all joins together perfectly, but it’s also pure aesthetics. Left brain, right brain, extremely logical, extremely beautiful – it just hits all of the right notes. When I look at the natural world it’s a wealth of inspiration.
When I released those first three collections I felt like I’d been caged in by the lack of being able to move into that price point in the past. There was a huge build up of ideas and things I wanted to do, I kind of just kept making things and making things. I started in January and by the time it got to fashion week I’d made a lot of stuff and decided to show all of it, because I thought it was all pretty amazing. It kind of came from that, but a secondary idea was that people couldn’t say “Oh, Nick’s just into this.” Having said that, there are still definite themes that run through my work: heavy detail, like you said the natural world, European aesthetic, stories of rock’n’roll and pirates and gothic ideas. In some ways, people probably do put me in a certain pigeonhole. It’s not like I do neon colours or anything. I think that if I tried to break out of that and do something really different now, people would say “that’s not Nick Von K”. You end up having a particular aesthetic because of the person you are.
IF YOU WEREN’T DESIGNING, YOU’D BE…
I would like to think I could survive as a musician. The only reason I don’t put much time into it is because I don’t have much time to put into it. I think it would be incredibly hard, but I’d love to do that. I’ve played guitar since I was 15 and I love that, and I’ve been in a couple of bands, it’s really enjoyable.
SO, STILL SOMETHING IN THE CREATIVE REALM THEN?
When I was a teenager and trying to decide what I wanted to do with my life, I felt like unless I did something creative I just would not be happy. These days, now that I’ve done it for a good length of time, I’ve kind of got it out of my system – that need to be creative and have people see me as that. You know, that kind of life path. Now, I kind of feel like I could do something not as creative. I still love doing it, but I’m a bit more settled these days.
IN FIVE YEARS YOU SEE YOURSELF…
I guess on one path I could still be making Nick von K stuff, whatever that might be or entail, and that would probably be a really great place to be. But who knows what’s going to happen in life, I could conceivably do anything. I could move to a tropical island and run diving tours. I could become a pilot or be a musician.
WHAT’S THE HIGH POINT OF YOUR CAREER BEEN SO FAR?
I think when I released the first three collections and started the brand. I’d been working in the industry for a good 15-odd years, working away behind the scenes. I was at Fashion Week and getting attention from a few people and the big international at the time, Nicole Miller, liked my stuff and Fashion Week picked up on this, saying that I had the stamp of approval from this big designer. Next minute, it kind of just burst the brand wide open and everyone knew about it. Just an amazing fluke-y event. I kind of formed a theory around it – you definitely need luck in your career, but you have to do your homework.
WHAT’S THE BEST ADVICE YOU’VE BEEN GIVEN OR COULD GIVE TO OTHERS?
“Always ask for advice”. Never think that you know it all, always ask people in different positions what they could advise you on. Rather than thinking ‘this is what I do, I’m a creative, you don’t get to tell me what I should or shouldn’t do’ you should get a lot of feedback from people, get different perspectives. Always think that there’s someone who can teach you something. It’s about being humble instead of arrogant in what you do. The more I learn, the more I realise I know nothing. Whatever you do, if you always think there’s more to know you’ll always be on that learning curve. As soon as you think you know it all, you kind of stagnate and that’s when you go downhill.
If you want to pay his beautiful studio a visit, it’s in La Gonda Arcade on Karangahape Road. To shop his latest collection, the Baron and the Baroness, or check out his other jewellery collections/clothing/watches – click here.