Interview with Attia Shiraz
An ardent lover of life
Who are you?
I am Attia Shiraz, an ardent lover of life. I am always hungry for inspiration, wanting to embrace and explore contemporary and historical worlds.
What’s your background?
I was brought up in an exotic and very feminine household. My Eastern heritage has always been rich with colours, music, poetry, dance, and, of course, accessories and adornments. With four sisters and my mother, we all share a love and passion for jewellery, but each with her own character and unique style. From a young age, I had developed a deep interest in my art classes and began to paint portraits of the people around me. I discovered that the eyes tell you a lot about a person, reflecting on their emotions at any given moment. I also noticed that when a lady simply wore a jewellery piece, that it would ignite her features and add an extra dimension to her story. At university, where I studied psychology, artistic playfulness and creativity remained an important way to express my personality, which at times felt inhibited because of my academic path. I recall feeling disengaged during some lectures and I would sketch designs and patterns losing all sense of time. Ever since, I have managed both my day-to-day work and also finding the time to pursue my love of jewellery design and to share it with the world.
What inspires you?
My mother’s love for fashion and jewellery and the way in which she would accessorise her garments with gorgeous jewellery pieces. Each of her jewellery pieces was further enriched by history and stories to tell. Being of British Pakistani heritage, she inspired me to embrace both cultures to which I belong; although, I am particularly fascinated by the 17th century Mughals era. Their idea of creating paradise on earth with art is inspiring. There are multiple layers of history, art and craftsmanship that influence Pakistani jewellery. The historical cultural mixing between Pakistan and India, China, Afghanistan, Iran and Greece can all be seen in my jewellery. The jewellery demonstrates my belief in the importance to engage with our rich cultural past to analyse, explore and exhibit the forgotten artistic qualities. My jewellery is ultimately a reflection of my identity and conveys my roots. Travelling the world is another passion that enables me to collaborate and engage with other people and their artwork, design and architecture. Every time I return home, I know I have learnt more and feel positively impacted by new colours, shapes and customs. When I visited Istanbul, for example, I fell in love. I was surrounded by the astonishing Ottoman architecture, beautiful patterned tiles, and Sofia Hagia’s Byzantine mosaics. I see every trip as an adventure - an opportunity to appreciate the art of jewellery, ornaments and paintings to inspire my work.
What are your favourite materials?
My favourite materials are gold and semi-precious stones, as they form an exquisite and beautiful combination in traditional Mughal artistry and craftsmanship. Mughal jewellery enchanted the world and jewellery houses in the West, such as Van Cleef and Arpels. It would be sad not to continue to incorporate this craftsmanship and importantly, to preserve the skills involved in the process.
What are your favourite colours and why?
Colour is a natural element that is an important consideration when creating new pieces of jewellery. It is interesting how cultures connect with colour to represent thoughts and ideas. I adore turquoise gems because they represent the significant notion of strength and protection in life within Turkish culture. Emerald green as well compliments the aspects of life that I value. It is a stone that promotes relationships, patience, growth and compassion. Colours are like individuals and are even more amazing when you mix them up to produce something rare, new and original. Festivals like the ‘Holi’ celebrate this wisdom and use colour to strengthen bonds between people and communities.
What is your design style?
My designs are influenced by the Mughal botanical motifs and symbols, where gold and gems dominate the form. The women’s quarter of Lahore’s fort where every inch is decorated bedazzles me. When designing jewellery pieces, the lines and shapes are particularly important as they connect and relate to each other. So I incorporate shapes inspired by natural structures to compliment the face and to celebrate the female form. I am portraying my own version of the Pakistan’s artisan bursting with refined elegance and beauty - that is reminiscent and celebrates history and culture. With the mixture of diversity from my British Pakistani heritage, I am also reinterpreting the traditional pieces as items that can be worn in contemporary fashion and in a modern metropolis, such as in London where I am based. Some pieces have also been inspired by significant women in my life or by a particular event that resonated with me; thus, the piece is meant to relay that connection with the people, the place or the special occasion.
What kind of person wears your jewellery?
My jewellery can be worn by any woman because it celebrates the universality of the feminine mystique and that one step up to becoming a goddess. Whilst growing up, I observed how women love to express their sensuality through their accessories, no matter what they are wearing. If you look at paintings such as Venus Reclining by Heintz the Elder, or Jacopo Zucchi’s Amor and Psyche (1589), the woman seduces her lover in the nude but with the body jewellery. I am intrigued by women who devote imagination to the art of adornment and push the boundaries through jewellery to create a powerful style. You only have to observe and understand what women feel and see when they wear jewellery. If you were to put on a beautiful beaded or pearly headpiece, watch how your facial language and your eyes transform. It channels the empowered goddess in every woman. My jewellery can also be purchased by a man who wants to surprise his significant other and knows the power of jewellery to make his woman thrilled and happy with the gift. Like it or not, jewellery is a significant part of every culture and an absolute must in completing any outfit. It engages with our romantic and passionate nature as an addition to the art of play and seduction. Every woman can use jewellery to enhance her look and to feel empowered.
What are you working on now?
I am currently collaborating with an art curator to explore the history and symbols of antique Libyan jewellery, which has diverse African cultural and religious influences. These historical themes and symbols from the past allow one to analyse and discover more about a country and its people. There is a huge wealth of forgotten beauty that I love to revisit. And, hopefully, this will culminate in a show to exhibit the precious pieces in the context of Libya’s history and how they can preserve the art and the craftsmanship. It is particularly important today given the war on history and culture that is ensuing in Libya and other countries.
Where do you exhibit your Jewellery?
My pieces can all be viewed and purchased online and sometimes I also exhibit at Portobello Market in London where the audience are retro-creative. I also had the opportunity to take part in a festival at Westfield’s Shopping Centre in Shepherd’s Bush earlier this year and I intend to take part in pop-up events. I enjoy such events as I get to meet my clients in person and to develop a more direct relationship.
What challenges do you face?
The big challenge I face is how to keep the inspiration alive and burning for my creative work. I am always finding ways to pursue this, by changing my environment or by world travels. I always plan ahead adventures in magical countries to meet with different people and experience their cultures. Most recently I have been to North Africa, Turkey, Thailand. In particular, I enjoy visiting the rural areas as there is always something nostalgic about the way of life and the fact that their communities are the ones preserving traditional arts and crafts.
What is your dream project?
I would love one day to collaborate with the British Museum or the Victoria & Albert Museum to celebrate the rich histories of jewellery from different parts of the world. I have a lot of respect for institutions that contribute to the appreciation of the artistic and cultural past to preserve it for future generations. I would also like to design a collection one day that mixes up different styles of jewellery. For now, though, I am happy to challenge the perceptions we have about wearing jewellery and to break the conventions of how we wear it.
What wouldn’t you do without?
Being surrounded by people who inspire me. Growing up with a wonderful mother and an incredible culture that continues to surprise me with its riches.