Creative Women at Work: Claire Stratton jewellery designer
Many readers have asked where my chunky silver rings are from. And now for the big reveal….Both pieces were bought separately at an annual artist’s studio sale in south London and are the work of ace jewellery designer Claire Stratton. ‘I love the way my clients become so attached to their jewels,’ Claire says, and it’s true, I’m rarely seen without my big silver signet ring, ‘They seem to become part of their territory, a very individual expression and a reminder of something about themselves.’ After studying Fine Art at Goldsmiths in the 1980s, Claire took an evening class in jewellery-making. Creating her first collection in the early 90s, she was commissioned by Harvey Nichols and various art galleries. Going on to study for a diploma in Gemmology and set up shop in Clapham, she gained a loyal following who continue to buy her jewellery today. Having left London behind, she now lives and runs her studio in rural Gloucestershire – so rural that when we meet in London a huge harvest spider crawls out from her bag, Claire is totally unperturbed. I run a mile….
There is a natural, organic sensibility to Claire’s handmade jewellery, each piece is unique and designed to last, ‘I keep the business small and uncomplicated,’ she continues, ‘ everything goes through my hands.’
I caught up with Claire to find out more about her work and details of an exclusive event this weekend:
TNMA: Tell me about your jewellery Claire…
I specialise in rings. Creating forms in silver and gold and combining them with carefully selected gemstones. I enjoy a rough-pebble like stone as much as a bright reflective one, and choose colours that shift between the subtlest of blues and greys to the starkest of pinks. My collection of chunky silver rings feel both ancient and modern at the same time – roughly hewn as if dug up from the ground. My necklaces range from the classically simple to the talismanic – from a single pendant to a jangling cluster of emerging forms. Each piece has a character of its own, but all are lovely to feel and very wearable.
TNMA: What’s important to you when designing?
I like to be a bit surprised about the outcome, to sense that something has arrived that didn’t exist before, something a bit lively with its own energy. I think people need things that have been made by hand more than ever in a world being ever more mediated by technology and virtual realities. We instinctively understand things that have come through a manual process and are human in scale. Our grandparents were knitters, bakers, dress-makers, gardeners, boat builders and so much more. There is comfort to be found in reconnecting with these ‘making’ energies that are embedded in our DNA and yet which are being lost in so many ways.
TNMA: How does the creative process work?
I never really analyse my process too much, nor try too hard to create a particular outcome. I prefer not to think about it too much and just get on with the making by following my instincts. I like to include an element of chance. Inspiration comes from anywhere. I try to increase my relationship with the natural world but can equally revel in artifice and bling. Making stuff is slow – it takes time and cannot be rushed. It has its own rhythm that has to be adjusted to, respected. It bucks the trend of our ever more speedy lives…
TNMA: Women often report a surge in creativity during their 50s, have you found this?
I find this time in my life (mid- fifties), both demanding and fascinating. Oestrogen is sometimes called the ‘pleasing’ hormone; it keeps us compliant in some ways and serving of others. And obviously there is a place for this as kindness and nurturing are great qualities. But as oestrogen levels drop, if we are lucky and not over-burdened with caring roles, we may get a chance to reinvent ourselves, to check in on ourselves in new ways. We all have to wade through the negative image of menopause in our culture and it’s so easy to lose confidence. But I prefer to think about the flip side – it is a siren call, that we ignore at our peril – a call back to our own identity; which has so often been obscured in our adult roles in relationship, motherhood and responsibility. As our ability to procreate physically ends in such a clear hormonal signalling there is both new and old information that we must draw to ourselves, so we can re-route and re-wire our creativity in new ways.
TNMA: And how do you feel about getting older?
The great thing about getting older is that I care less about what other people think and am finding more clarity and more information about things that fascinate me. We are surrounded by so much fear on a daily basis. This is deeply unhelpful and I actively try to disconnect from this energy. I just see it as a program that keeps us small and ineffective.
TNMA: What’s your attitude towards clothes?
I have always loved clothes and refuse to take them too seriously. I have always designed clothes for myself in my head – not that most of them ever got made! My mum taught me to sew when I was young and there was often a sewing machine on our dining room table growing up. She had been a war child and very much of the making-do-and-getting-by generation. But sewing was always very much a creative act also.
My mum’s sister used to work for Norman Hartnell before the war. She would make gorgeous dresses for both my mum and her dolls – all made from off-cuts of couture fabrics. Then during the war, she made dresses out of old parachute silk, dyed to bring a bit of glamour to the CC41 Utility Wear of the day. I love these gestures towards extravagance and glamour amidst the necessities of frugality. In dark and troubling times, they were also having a lot of fun – dressing up and dancing, finding ways to lighten their days.
TNMA: And what about your personal style? What do you have in your wardrobe?
My wardrobe is a mixture of workwear, handmade items, some vintage and the odd thing I see on the high street or in a sample sale. I don’t go shopping for clothes that much but when I do, I’m a quick shopper – I know what I like. Clothes are one of the easy parts of my life – something to enjoy and muck about with. That doesn’t mean I always get it right of course, and I have lulls when I can’t quite work out what I want to wear. But I find myself getting more interested in clothes again at the moment. I think I had a bit of a hiatus moving into my fifties, not quite catching up with shifts in body shape, skin tone, clothes hanging differently and not being able to rely on the same old formulas to work. It’s about catching up with yourself.
I love dressing up, I love something a bit glittery but I don’t like feeling too dressed up, so I tend to dress things down. I’m not averse to looking a bit daft now and again – clashing patterns and colours. It cheers me up when I’m in the mood and it cheers other people up too. In reality though, I am generally in the studio or walking or doing stuff in the garden. One of my go-to outfits this year has been a pair of Levi’s and a shirt I had made up for me in some beautiful patterned floppy silk I picked up second-hand somewhere. I’m slowly working through a box of fabrics I’ve collected over the years.
About twice a year, I might commission someone to make something up for me. I really appreciate the work of a skilled seamstress or clothes designer, and like to keep the ball rolling between us makers – it’s important we support each other. Sometimes we do swaps which is lovely.
I tend to wear a lot of layers and like clothes to be comfortable and hang off me a bit. I love silk scarves and have billions of them.
TNMA: What’s the most important advice you’ve ever been given?
When I was about 10 my best friend’s dad said to me “Don’t ever say ‘I don’t mind’ when given a choice.” This was a revelation to me. I immediately got it. I had been fully trained into the virtues of being non-demanding and acquiescent as child number four and a twin – and now I was being given permission to be myself, to make choices beyond the needs of the group. So simple and so empowering – and an early lesson in non-compliance.
Claire Stratton is joining textile and home accessories designer Charlene Mullen for an open house sale this weekend in South London.
Friday 17th evening, Saturday 18th and Sunday 19th (11am – 6pm)
Address: 29, The Hamlet, Champion Hill, SE5 8AW
Safety and social distancing measures: Charlene will have her cushions outside and Claire will be in a big airy room next to open doors into the garden. Both will be social distancing, and Claire will be letting one household in at a time. Claire has half hour appointments available this evening and Saturday and Sunday mornings and then you’re free to just drop-in on Saturday and Sunday afternoon. For Appointments DM her on Instagram @stratton_claire or text on 07966 440 998
Photography: Claire Pepper
Hair & makeup: Louise Heywood