interview | rosh mahtani

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Rosh Mahtani studied French and Italian at Oxford University before she discovered her calling in the more creative outlet of jewellery design. She founded Alighieri, a brand inspired by Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. As Mahtani began fashioning jewellery for each of the poet’s 100 canti, the storytelling aspect of the creation process completely consumed her. This season, The Teardrop Collection was released, a line stemming from Mahtani’s own experiences of love and heartbreak. Mahtani’s collection spoke of a traveller-girl, in search of something she lost. Her bronze and gold plated rings have battered, weathered look, as if they have roughed a storm. Handmade in London, the jewellery contains hints of sadness and imperfection. “The creation process has been a kind of physical therapy for me,” Mahtani stated. She has achieved in turning a blue story into a collection of incredibly handcrafted jewellery collection with a touch of beautiful melancholy.

Have you always aspired to make jewellery, or was there a particular event that triggered your desire to launch into the profession?

I always knew I wanted to do something creative, but I was never sure what. After graduating from university, where I studied French and Italian literature, I worked at various different companies, in varying positions, from press, to e-commerce, to writing. That’s when I started making jewellery as a side project, and it began to take on a life of its own.  

What was it about Dante Alighieri’s work that stood out, that made you choose his work as an inspiration for your jewellery?

Well, we studied Dante for an entire year at Oxford, as it really is the pinnacle of Italian literature. During final year, we had some really incredible lecturers and tutors, and I became somwehat obsessed with the Commedia! I think it’s due to a combination of factors: the incredibly visual aspect of it; the way in which it influenced art; the breadth of description; and human aspect of the dialogue. Well, so many reasons!  But in terms of jewellery, I liked the idea of creating one piece for each of the 100 canti, and it was not difficult to be inspired by it. In addition, the process I use (lost wax casting) is the same process used by the very artists Dante writes about.

How closely knit is your work to Dante’s poems? Is there anything specific that is similar?

I would say that my pieces are very closely inspired by the text, but each one in a different way. A few of the rings came from very specific lines, and phrases; others encompass the general motif of melancholy in the form of the battered gold; whilst the brand mirrors the poet’s odyssey, in the way that it is presented: as a personal and universal story of travel, loss, and beauty in sadness.

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If you were to pick one piece from your collections, as an absolute favourite, which would it be?

It’s very difficult to be entirely happy with my own work. But if I had to choose, it would be the Claw Ring: it was one of the first pieces I made, the one that my friends wanted to buy, and the point at which I thought I could maybe pursue this career.

What is the creative process behind your jewellery?

All the pieces are created through the process of ’lost wax casting’, whereby I sculpt the piece in wax; a rubber mould is then made, and filled with bronze, before being gold plated. In terms of process, it’s always changing, I have a book and desktop full of things that inspire me, and I often make things in the middle of the night, when everybody is asleep, I’m hacking away at blocks of wax, and carving with hot scalpels. It’s the best part of it all.

How does the production process tie into your design?

I would say it is crucial: the wax casting allows for the imperfection, the idea that no piece is exactly the same. It also represents a very old craft, that was practiced in Dante’s time. I also do all my production in London, and Italy, to maintain the authenticity of it.

Has the process of launching your own company been easy, or have you encountered any obstacles on the way to where you are now?

It definitely has not been easy, but it has been such an amazing experience. There are obstacles every day! The hardest part is balancing a desire to make things, and tranform ideas into reality, with the business aspect- selling, profit margins, etc.. These are two very separate sides of my brain! And then, there’s the challenge of raising the capital to make a product you are proud of, and inspiring customers to buy it for a price that will allow you to create ’the next collection’. It’s single-handedly the most challenging thing I’ve done.

Do you feel that the jewellery industry is a hard one to break into, or is there an undiscovered demand that the market has yet to discover?

I think the jewellery industry is particularly interesting in the way that it is separated between fine jewellery, and costume jewellery. I would say both are saturated, like any category within the fashion industry, and therefore hard to break into. I do, however, feel as though there is space for jewellery that lies in the middle of costume and fine: pieces that are keepsakes, and ”forever pieces”. Collections that are not as expensive as fine jewellery, but also not ”disposable” or as trend-driven as the name ”costume” implies.

Who are the individuals you pictured using your jewellery when you first started?

Who did I dream would wear my jewellery? To be honest, my friends. They’re tough critics, so seeing them wear Alighieri gives me such a kick. In terms of aspirational women, I dream about Laura Bailey, Caroline Issa, and Stella Tennant wearing my jewellery.

 What is your plan for your brand in the future? Will you stay faithful to Dante Alighieri, or do you have any other poets in mind for future collections?

I am often asked if I might get tired of Dante. But I feel like I’ve only just scratched the surface. Within the Commedia itself, Dante writes about so many artists, musicians and poets, so I’d also love to do capsule collections, based on his friends and enemies, amongst other subjects. Whilst I have lots of ideas of collaborations, and plans to create different types of collections,  the core values of Alighieri will rest with Dante.  Luckily for me, he’s a poet with a great deal of scope! 

For more information, and to discover the Alighieri collection, click here.

Words / Sindre Skogen and Sheri Chiu

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