Velvit Welcomes Cindy Leper

Isabella Rosa of jewelry brand Cindy Leper talks about collecting bones instead of toys, ransacking warehouses for materials, and why the color black

Velvit had the pleasure of speaking with the wood-worker and jewelry maker to get a better sense of how her Italian roots and her family influence her art, what inspirations and fascinations motivate her creativity, and how her fashion philosophies affect her personal style and her designs.

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Velvit: Has your childhood influenced your art?
Cindy Leper: I grew up in Bologna, Italy, the city where I still live. As a child I was kind of weird and introverted. I loved drawing, reading, exploring, crafting my costumes, pretending to be in another time or space. I wasn't a loner, but I loved learning and making things instead of playing sports. I've always been fascinated by other cultures, science, and nature. I used to collect natural elements instead of toys: minerals, animal parts and bones, exoskeletons of insects, the claw of a tiger. The tiger claw was actually the top of the whole collection. A friend of mine gave it to me; he said he stole it from a tiger rug in a shop in Sri Lanka where he was from. Best gift ever. I guess my interest in art, crafting, ethnography, and the macabre was already there in some kind of way.

V: Do you have any interests that aren't related to fashion or jewelry?
CL: Music has been my greatest love for years, but I've never played. I co-owned an independent music label and ran a small underground festival on an annual basis. It was fun.

V: When did you realize you wanted to be a jewelry designer?
CL: Ever since I was a little girl, I have always been very crafty. I remember my first necklace: it was a beautiful piece of wood found in the bark of a tree. I drilled a hole in it and I wear it all the time. When I was at art school, a teacher told me that I should consider becoming a jewelry maker because I'm very accurate and I always tend to work on a small scale. But at the time I was just experimenting with recycled materials and a typical teenage punk-industrial aesthetic. [Jewelry making] didn't became a real passion until a few years ago. It was like a slow, winding approach. At some point I found out how to put together all the things I've always loved: designing, crafting, gathering materials, doing research, and spending a lot of time alone making things. It was like, "Ok, I really want to do this as a job!" 

V: Where did your pseudonym Cindy Leper come from? 
CL: It's a joke from the years I worked in music; everyone at the label had a nickname, and Cindy Leper was mine. I was into extreme underground music and I had this eccentric style. I used to dye my hair in neon shades and wear a lot of bulky jewelry. Everyone called me Cindy Leper, so when it was time to start a brand, I chose a name I already felt was mine. It also represents a duality between something pop and something unpleasant. People usually find it funny and I like that; it reminds me not to take work too seriously and always have fun in the process of building something important to me.

V: How did you find your aesthetic as an artist?
CL: I think it's still a work in progress, it always is. I feel comfortable doing a lot of research and conceptual work before I start designing. I'm also a bit of an over-thinker and it sometimes gets me stuck. It's been useful to focus on what I want to do as a brand. I just tried to fit my personal taste, which is an incredibly long lasting black-oriented crush on macabre, edgy art, dramatic contrasts and the abyss, into some techniques I could easily handle.

V: How did wood come to be your preferred medium?
CL: My father is a carpenter and it's made an imprint on me. I'm a good observer. When I think about it, I can't remember when or how I learned. I always drew, sculpted, used knives and sanding paper to make things. Sometimes, even now, my father (who's still helping me a lot with my work) leaves me alone with a new challenging piece or process. Even if I've never done it before, he'll say, "You can do that," which is always true. When I show him the result, he looks a bit surprised and says, “Well done!” and it's like he's thinking, “Where the hell did you learn that?!” But it works!

V: How do you source your materials? 
CL: This is one of the best parts of my work, really. It's all about ransacking warehouses and workshops looking for interesting pieces that have been thrown away, or wandering through the woods looking for twigs and bones and other elements, and of course surfing the internet looking for the ultimate best supply. In any of these cases, the rules of the game are simple: if it's beautiful, recycled or reclaimed, eco-friendly, and ethically sourced, I'll want to make something with it! It means I'm a bit of a hoarder, but everything turns out to have a function in the long run.

V: How do you think jewelry fits into the world of fine art?
CL: Jewelry as fashion is a complex language. I just think that everything is deeply connected. When you design and craft a piece, you're creating something that talks about you and your point of view, and in the meantime you're meeting your customers' needs, hearing their stories, all the while taking part of a broader flux of creativity that is part of contemporary culture, trends and so on. You absorb inspirations and then make your own path, just like in every art field.

V: Who is your favorite artist? 
CL: That's an incredibly difficult question. I'm obsessed with a whole horde of artists and I couldn't name one favorite. In my latest work, Fever Ray, Earth and Woven Hand have been great sources of inspiration. 

V: What are some of your staple clothing pieces?
CL: I read somewhere that the golden rule to a clothing routine is to choose a handful of pieces that are really comfortable and wear them every day, with very little variation. That is exactly my philosophy about clothing. I don't own any high-priced designer pieces, but I have countless interchangeable black layers that I wear every day. I always look the same, like a character out of a comic strip. Black sweatshirt, black wool trousers, and black boots are my current uniform.

V: Does fashion influence your designs for each season? 
CL: I don't follow fashion like I actually should, meaning I don't go to Fashion Week and I'm not updated enough about what's going on, but I constantly follow the niches I like through blogs. I think my collections are inspired by endless dialogues between underground non-fashion elements, trends, and totally random personal obsessions.

V: What does jewelry mean to you?
CL: Jewelry is research, identity.  

V: Why black?
CL: Black is confidence.

For more information on Cindy Leper, visit our Artist Profiles and shop our Velvit boutique.

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