Velvit Welcomes Lyleu

Sally Leung, the designer of Australian jewelry label Lyleu, chats with Velvit about how jewelers can leave their mark on the slow-fashion movement, her favorite choice of medium, and her aspirations as her brand enters it's second year of business.

Velvit chatted with Sally Leung about the origins of naming her label, transforming eclectic inspirations into collections, and her personal wardrobe staples. 

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Velvit: Where is home? Has your home influenced you as an artist?
Sally Leung: I was born in Hong Kong, but my family moved to Sydney, Australia when I was really young. I grew up in Sydney and have lived in the beach side suburbs there my whole life. It’s a very safe and relaxing place to live but I can’t say it has influenced my work directly in any way that I’m conscious of. I think if anything, what I make and the aesthetics I go for, are the complete opposite of what is around me.  I’m always trying to find something that just looks and feels different to the beach culture that is, although lovely overall, wasn’t always a huge interest of mine.

V: How has your artistic background influenced you to create jewelry?
SL: I studied Fine Arts at the College of Fine Arts in Sydney, majoring in Jewelry, which I completed in 2012. It was there that I first learned to make jewelry using metalworking techniques. 

I have always been a drawer. My love for drawing started much earlier than my interest in jewelry. Up until I started Lyleu I would still dedicate half of my spare time to drawing and illustration. The style that I draw in is very different from the jewelry I create, but in terms of what I’m influenced by and how I translate those interests into each medium, is very much the same. The bookshelf in my bedroom is filled with picture books, novels, comics, horror/fantasy films, and figurines. The aesthetics I am attracted to can flick between the colourful and childish, to dark and macabre, sometimes both at the same time which makes me really excited.

V: Before starting Lyleu in 2014, what were you previously doing something artistic?
SL: I had just completed my BFA and was looking for work. I have since worked for three different local jewelry labels helping with the production of their designs and juggled that with a retail job and working on my own jewelry.

V: Where did the name Lyleu come from?
SL: I was torn between going eponymous or making up a single word. In the end I simply took ‘Sally Leung’ and cut off the first and last couple of letters to form ‘Lyleu’. As a result, it is pronounced ‘leeloo’, as opposed to ‘lieloo’ which some people mistake it for!

V: Can you tell us a little more about how you transform your inspirations into collections?
SL: I love anything from picture books to fine art to horror movies, and I search for characters and stories that I personally relate to in some way or that I find appealing aesthetically. For example, Lyleu’s SS14 collection GEIST, was influenced by the work of the German Expressionists. Their use of harsh contrast and asymmetry to express the psychological state of the subjects was instantly appealing to me when I was first introduced to it in art college. I feel like that aesthetic has always been with me in terms of my drawing and jewelry making. I’m drawn to how harsh and dark it looks while being about something as sensitive as the mental state of a person. I’ve always found Surrealism appealing and directly relatable for the fact that it's about the subconscious and dream state of a person, and German.  Expressionist films especially tend to show the physical surroundings as askew or distorted to express the psyche of the characters. It all links into that one central idea of a subconscious state being expressed directly and physically for the world to see.

V: What is your initial process like when planning for a new collection?
SL: Sometimes an idea for a theme comes first just from seeing an art work or film, etc., but other times I will be really logical about it and write down lists and make mind maps. Once I find a theme, I go on to research the theme itself. With the last collection I would watch old German Expressionist films like Nosferatu and Phantom, and look at etchings and woodblock prints. For the new collection I looked at both ancient and contemporary Chinese painters, and I try to find out what the ideas were behind them and how they went about creating the pieces. I try to imbue some of their techniques and ways of thinking into my collections too.

V: For your newest collection, what was the point that started the creative process for this collection?
SL: For the new collection I was looking at something clean and simple but with harsh and intricate elements to it. I love seeing images of mountains and waterfalls covered in mist and fog, and thought about how I could show that through metal. Eventually I realized that all of that imagery was coming from another interest that had recently come to me because of my recent curiosity to look into my Chinese culture, which I was never able to be completely immersed in, since my family migrated to Australia when I was really young. Eventually I started looking into Chinese painting and calligraphy. When I was little my mum actually had a set of Chinese brushes, ink, and calligraphy books and would teach my sisters and I to write Chinese in the traditional way.

I looked into the physical patterns that the brush and ink would create on paper, as well as the physical scenery that is depicted in the landscape paintings. One aspect of Chinese painting I have really taken with me is the idea that the ancient works were actually all created indoors as opposed to with Western paintings, which were usually en plein air. The reason behind this was because they created work as a spiritual practice, so they were making the landscape appear as they did from their own minds to depict what they felt inside and their own internal journey. It was a scholarly and spiritual experience for them.

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V: What is your preferred medium in designing your pieces? is there a medium you wish to explore that you haven’t yet?
SL: When I’m designing pieces I usually do simple sketches on paper and if I feel confident about a design, I go onto experiment with metal. Sometimes I go straight from an idea in my head to metal. I always prefer sterling silver for my work. I would love to incorporate enameling one day. Finding new ways to make unusual finishes on metal is a goal of mine. I’ve got a few ideas in terms of techniques for the collection after AW15 that I’m really excited to revisit from my art school days.

V: Do you have any artist influences that you admire? either other jewelry artists, designers, etc?
SL: There are a lot, but I’ll keep it to the essentials. I was exposed to a lot of amazing contemporary jewelers while at art school. In terms of jewelry artists, I love the work of fellow Australian jeweler, Emma Fielden. She does amazing engraving work and has perfected the art of drawing straight lines it sounds bizarre but to have that much hand eye coordination would make creating anything else a breeze. I also love the work of Helen Britton. She is a master of her craft and uses found objects and pieces them all together with metal settings that she hand makes specifically for those objects. It sounds pretty cliche but Rick Owens’ Lillies is always inspiring to me. The way the fabrics drape so specifically and manage to sit just right. I love when you know someone has just mastered something that always seemed simple but they have found a new and unique approach to it.

V: When it comes to fashion, what are your personal wardrobe staples?
SL: My staples are black skinny jeans and my black Dr Martens’ PASCAL boots. Everything else alternates. 

V: How do you feel the worlds of jewelry and fashion differ?
SL: Jewelry transcends the era of its creation. Fashion can be fast or slow moving. Trends come and go for both but I feel that jewelry says more about a culture, and the individual people who wear it. Jewelry creates or emphasizes the personality of the wearer.

V: How about in the slow fashion industry. When people think about supporting slow fashion movement, often customers think of the clothing industry. How do Jewelry artists contribute in creating environmentally responsible collections? 
SL: There are so many ways to create environmentally friendly jewelry using found objects, melting unwanted jewelry and reusing the gemstones from old pieces, making sure that the resources you use in producing the jewelry is as environmentally friendly as possible. I personally use recycled sterling silver for my work, and instead of cleaning my jewelry with harsh chemicals, I use a mixture of water and citric acid. I also collect my silver dust and cut offs to reuse in the future, and my packaging is made from paper and cardboard which can be recycled.

V: What are your goals you’ve set for your business as you enter the second year of Lyleu?
SL: I’m focusing on trying to get the label out there both locally and internationally. I’m hoping to do a market this year, approach more stockists, learn new techniques, and hopefully meet and work with other creatives.

V: What comes to mind when you think of the color black?
SL: Black is simple, strong, and confident. It’s understated yet bold at the same time. It makes you look closer at the details.

For more information on Sally Leung, please visit her artist's page and shop of COVET curated collection.

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