Designer Interviews

Interview: Alison Macleod

Interview: Alison Macleod

We are so happy to have you join us here at ætla and would love to get to know you a little better!
Could you tell us a little about your background and heritage?

I grew up in a suburban town nestled just south of Glasgow. The roots of my identity and personal history are deeply intertwined with Scotland, for it was there that I spent my formative years. Whenever I find myself back in Newton Mearns, a rush of nostalgia washes over me, flooding my mind with cherished memories of childhood escapades. In those familiar streets and faces, I rediscover a sense of belonging that is unparalleled elsewhere. An inexplicable connection between the land and its people makes it feel like home to me.

What is your first jewellery memory?

Since childhood, the world of art and creation has beckoned to my mind and heart. As someone who is dyslexic, I discovered early on that I could convey my thoughts and emotions more effectively through visual means than through words. One of my earliest memories involves the enchanting realm of miniature "art galleries" my brother and I meticulously curated, using tiny treasures in the garden—forgotten fragments of broken pottery, weathered slates, and other misplaced gems. However, my mother's chaotic yet captivating jewellery box ignited my artistic inspiration. The jumbled clusters of beautiful curiosities within it fascinated my young mind and became an endless source of creative fuel I have drawn upon throughout my career.

What made you decide to study jewellery and subsequently take the leap to start your own brand?

From a young age, I had this unwavering desire to pursue jewellery as my artistic path. It's funny because I dabbled in other creative avenues like painting and textiles, but no matter what, my heart would always lead me back to jewellery. I vividly remember being presented with an opportunity to join a textiles course, but something inside me urged me to decline, holding out for that deep-rooted passion for jewellery. Even as a child, I had a knack for entrepreneurship, crafting and selling my creations, be it beaded trinkets or wire earrings. It was always about jewellery for me, and that spark has remained steady ever since.

What goes through your mind when you create jewellery? Where do you find inspiration?

In my creative journey, I find inspiration in the everyday moments surrounding me. In those quiet pauses, when my mind is free from the constant stream of information, ideas effortlessly flow. Whether it's the enchantment of a film, the captivating ambience of an art gallery, or simply granting myself the gift of reflection, these experiences ignite a subconscious process within me. It's as if my mind weaves connections and shapes concepts without conscious effort. Sometimes, even encountering someone wearing a particular jewellery can spark my imagination, triggering a cascade of ideas.

I approach my work as a composition to capture these fleeting inspirations, much like arranging elements on a pinboard. Each idea is added, removed, and carefully balanced until a cohesive vision emerges. Yet, it can be challenging to articulate and bring together these seemingly unrelated thoughts at times. It's a process of weaving together fragments of inspiration into a meaningful whole.

My designs are influenced by a fusion of everyday experiences, deliberate limitations, and thematic expressions. They reflect the culmination of my creative exploration, continually evolving and exciting me as I delve deeper into my craft.

How does your fascination with family heirlooms and sentimental pieces influence your work?

Heirlooms hold a special place in my heart, evoking a captivating blend of nostalgia and intrigue. An undeniable fascination arises when encountering an object with a hidden past, a history that remains a mystery to me. It's as if these treasures carry whispers of untold stories, leaving behind little clues that hint at their journey through time. So when I create jewellery, I aim to capture and recreate the enchanting aura surrounding these heirlooms.

Occasionally, I stumble upon fragments of information or small clues that shed light on an object's past. It could be an old receipt tucked away in a drawer or the delicate jewellery box that safeguarded the piece throughout the years. I find great joy in collecting these precious boxes, allowing my customers to select one that resonates with their journey. By incorporating these sentimental elements, I enhance the emotional value of the design, weaving a deeper connection between the wearer and the jewellery.

Preserving the essence of these heirlooms and replicating their mystique is a constant source of inspiration for me. Therefore, I strive to infuse my work with the same sense of wonder and curiosity that first captivated me, ensuring that each piece carries a story waiting to be discovered.

Who would you love to see wearing your jewellery - past and/or present?

There are several remarkable women, both past and present, whose presence and style I deeply admire. It would be an absolute joy to see Maggie Gyllenhaal, known for her captivating performances and elegant aura, adorning my jewellery. Her unique blend of grace and authenticity would beautifully complement the designs.

Another individual I envision wearing my jewellery is Jane Berlin, an influential fashion figure known for her impeccable taste and timeless style. Her ability to effortlessly blend sophistication with daring would bring a unique energy to the pieces.

Julia Sarr-Jamois, a renowned fashion editor and stylist, is also someone I would love to see wearing my jewellery. Her bold and eclectic fashion choices and vibrant personality would create a beautiful synergy with the designs.

Lastly, the ethereal beauty of Karen Elson, a celebrated model and musician, would be a dream to see adorned with my jewellery. Her enchanting presence and ability to transform any look into a work of art would elevate the designs.

Are there any fellow jewellers or creatives that you admire?

One person who has been on a parallel journey to mine is Hannah Bedford. We have been pursuing our goals for a similar duration, and it's been inspiring to witness each other's growth. In addition to Hannah, there are notable figures in Scotland like Sarah Brown and Ellis Mhairi Cameron. Ellis, in particular, stands out with her remarkable skills and infectious enthusiasm. Ellis is my go-to person whenever I seek advice, as her guidance has proven invaluable. She is talented and incredibly generous, readily sharing her wealth of knowledge and resources. I'm immensely grateful for her assistance with ætla, as it was a genuine act of kindness on her part.

Beyond Sarah Brown and Ellis, there is also Katie Lee in Scotland, although our community of actively engaged individuals in this field is relatively small. Nonetheless, these individuals play a significant role in shaping and influencing the landscape, and I appreciate their contributions to our shared creative realm.

Are there any remodelling or bespoke projects that have really stuck with you and why?

As a jewellery designer, I've been fortunate to engage in numerous projects, each with unique stories woven into the pieces. Yet, one particular creation holds an everlasting place in my heart—the ring that served as the muse for my wedding band. It all began years ago when I encountered an exquisite antique ring while working in a Celtic jewellers. The craftsmanship was breathtaking, and every engraved pattern and intricate detail left an indelible impression on me.

For over a decade, the memory of that handcrafted ring lingered in the recesses of my mind, patiently waiting for its moment to resurface. And when the time came to design my wedding ring, the vision of that remarkable antique piece emerged, reigniting my creative spark. I poured my heart and soul into bringing that vision to life, and the result was my very first creation—the original "Catkin" ring.

The "Catkin" ring carries that cherished antique ring's essence; its design pays homage to the intricate craftsmanship that captivated me years ago and represents a significant milestone in my life. This ring is a testament to the enduring power of inspiration and its profound impact on creating something meaningful. Forever etched in my memory, the "Catkin" ring symbolises the culmination of my passion, creativity, and love.

What are some of the most memorable moments of your brand’s journey?

One of the most significant milestones in my brand's journey was the miraculous arrival of my first child and the transition from working full-time to taking maternity leave. At first, I felt uncertain about navigating the delicate balance of being a mother while running my business. Taking a break was the best decision at the time. However, little did I know that becoming a mother would ultimately catalyse tremendous growth and inspiration within my company.

Working during my maternity leave turned out to be an incredible experience. I can still vividly recall those precious moments when I would lose myself in sketchbooks, fervently creating designs after putting my child down for a nap. During this transformative phase, I delved deeper into fine jewellery, exploring new techniques and refining my craft. The thrill of this creative exploration was genuinely exhilarating, fueling my passion and igniting a newfound sense of purpose.

Looking back, I now realise that taking that maternity leave was a pivotal moment for my family and a turning point for my business. It allowed me to discover a new dimension of creativity, nurturing my role as a mother and my aspirations as a jewellery designer. The experience of working on my craft during those cherished moments will forever be etched in my memory, serving as a testament to the boundless possibilities that arise when passion and motherhood intertwine.

What would you say to a young designer who is starting out? How do you see the world of jewellery developing?

As a young designer starting out, I understand firsthand how challenging the journey can be. Building a supportive network of fellow jewellers and designers is crucial when you're working on your own. Lean on this network for guidance, collaboration, and inspiration. Surround yourself with individuals who share your passion and can offer valuable insights.

Thick skin is a quality that develops over time. Rejection and setbacks are inevitable, even years down the line. I still face knockbacks when getting my work into desired places or participating in shows. It's natural for these rejections to sting, but what truly matters is how you pick yourself up and keep going. Resilience becomes your greatest ally. Take the time to process the disappointment, but then gather the courage to try again. Believe in your talent and vision, even when others may doubt or reject you. It takes guts to persist and have faith in yourself, but it's vital for success.

As for the future of the jewellery world, it is evolving in exciting ways. The industry is becoming increasingly diverse and inclusive, embracing a broader range of materials, techniques, and design aesthetics. Sustainability and ethical practices are gaining momentum as more designers and consumers prioritise responsible sourcing and production methods. Technology is also playing a significant role, offering innovative tools and opportunities for customisation.

Moreover, there is a growing appreciation for unique, handcrafted pieces with stories and personal connections. In a world dominated by mass production, there is a hunger for authenticity and individuality. As a young designer, you can make your mark by infusing your creations with your distinct voice and perspective.

Embrace these shifts, stay open to learning and adapting, and continue to refine your craft. Trust in your ability to contribute something meaningful and enduring to the jewellery world. With dedication, perseverance, and a belief in yourself, the possibilities are endless.


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