Lillian McKnight • 6 September 2012

Inspired by the uninhibited rock ‘n’ roll heroines of the 1970s, designer Alex Smyth-Kirk’s debut collection under label Vera Xane is a testament to commitment, creativity and craftsmanship. Highly structural yet with a remarkable lightness, the geometric offerings from new collection ‘Dichotomies’ are a refreshingly unique take on statement accessories.

We talk to Alex, Vera Xane’s alter ego, about changing paths, rock’n’roll and a lifelong love affair with jewellery.

pages: How did Vera Xane come about?
Alex Smyth-Kirk: The initial idea to start Vera Xane came about while I was studying fashion design a number of years ago. I had always favoured jewellery and accessories over fashion garments, but it wasn’t until I was sewing everyday that I realised it wasn’t for me. I knew I wanted to start my own label but wasn’t sure exactly where to focus.

A few years later, while completing another degree, I decided to bite the bullet and set off to find a manufacturer but the transition from fashion to accessories was not as swift as I had anticipated. So much of the jewellery and accessory design process is totally unique, especially when it comes to production. I have spent the last two years learning the ropes and absorbing as much as I can to enable me to reach this point.

Where does the name come from?
VERA is my middle name, and was also my Grandmother’s name. I pulled the letters XANE from my first name, Alexandra.

What is your design background?
I started (but didn’t finish!) a Bachelor of Design in Fashion and Textiles from the University of Technology Sydney, in which I majored in textile design. After completing three of the four years I realised that it just wasn’t the direction that I wanted to go in, hence where the jewellery came in.

I am also trained as a silver and goldsmith. I did this during my final years of high school under the guidance of a master jeweler. While I was studying fashion I also worked part-time for an established Australian fine jewellery brand, designing pieces in-house.

What prompted you to focus on jewellery?
Jewellery has always been the love of my life. I have enjoyed and made jewellery from a very young age. I used to sit for hours in front of the TV just bending wire and threading beads. As I got older that turned into a fully-fledged love of accessories.

Can you tell us a bit about your design process, from conception to final product?

Before I even start sketching ideas for pieces, I like to spend a few weeks scouring books, blogs, and magazines, looking for anything that sparks my imagination. I always carry a notebook in my handbag, especially when travelling, as I find that often the most inspiring encounters I have are when I least expect it.

When I have a clear direction, I sit down and draw whatever comes to mind. From these initial concept sketches, I translate them into workable designs.

Once I have my final designs, I send them to the factory for sampling, research and development. During this time I work closely with my manufacturer while we determine whether certain materials will work in certain designs, play with colour options and test materials for durability and practicality. When we are happy with each piece, I approve the final samples and am able to produce the jewellery.

What makes Vera Xane designs unique?
I have tried to incorporate a number of different techniques and materials into my collection in order to create diversity. I feel that you should always strive to think outside the box with regards to materials and their applications. To a great extent jewellery is just wearable art, which allows for infinite possibilities.

Every single piece in the collection is also hand-finished, and many of the pieces are entirely hand made. This is very important to me as it creates a bespoke element to the final product. For example, all the dip dyed chain pieces in my current collection, ‘Dichotomies’, are individually hand dipped and shaken in the different coloured plating baths. This means that no two pieces will ever be the same.

Your latest collection is inspired by women of the 1970s. What appeals to you about this era?
There is something so strong and adventurous about the women of that era and the clothing that they wore. It was a decade that presented such a melting pot of trends— from hippy to glam rock; it was such an exciting time in fashion.

I also have a very personal affection for the music. My father created and edited a cult rock n’ roll magazine called Drift in the late 1960s when he was about my age. Even though I was a child of the 80s/90s, I grew up listening to Jefferson Airplane, Fleetwood Mac, Diana Ross and The Kinks.

How is it reflected in the collection?
Much of my inspiration for this collection came from the women presented in the lyrics of some of my favourite songs. As such, there were no pre-existing visual references and I could design pieces that I imagined these women would wear if they were around today.

I really wanted to reflect the adventurous mood of 1960s and 70s rock ‘n’ roll, but for me that isn’t a literal translation. ‘Dichotomies’ is about the idea that we all embody that uninhibited spirit, but modern practicality tends to prevail. So this collection is a reflection of those two ideas coming together— the wild and the wearable.

What is your favourite piece from the collection?
It’s too hard to pick! It depends on my mood on a given day. I really love the Sunray Bangle but I also find myself wearing the Large Cage Cross and the Cage Ring almost everyday so it’s hard to choose just one!

How do you see Vera Xane growing in the future?
I’d love to see my brand diversify and move into other realms of accessories. Having a background in textiles, I naturally lean towards creating pieces where I can design my own prints and fabrications. There are three handbags in the current collection but I plan on expanding that number next season and potentially adding some smaller leather accessories to the range.