British designer Kiki McDonough has been making exquisite jewellery for more than 30 years. She talks to Jane Perrone about her favourite gemstones, her royal clients and how she got she got started in the business.
How did you get started in the jewellery business - was it in your blood?
My father, my grandfather and my great grandfather were all in the business; they sold antique jewellery. When my father retired, he asked me if I wanted to do it, and I said no, because the Georgian brooches and necklaces were beautiful, but I was dressed in Biba (the London fashion boutique of the 1960s) and it was never going to work. I went off and did other things, then in 1985 a friend of mine who had an antique jewellery business asked if I would start selling modern jewellery.
I arrived on my first day with a black piece of paper, looking around the room thinking, “what have they got me got into”? There was a little brooch in the cabinet; a round crystal, pearls around the outside with a diamond bow in the middle, it had always caught my eye. I thought if we cut a crystal in a heart and put a bow on the top, then I could make earrings and necklaces. They sold like hot cakes, and no one was more surprised than me.
You have a great ability to spot a design that’s timeless - what’s your secret?
I think it’s because I design jewellery I like. You should put on a pair of earrings and feel prettier than before, and you should have a spring in your step. That’s what jewellery should do. Brown diamonds were a real vogue for a few years, but I just didn’t like them, so I didn’t do them. I am quite classic in my dress, I am not bohemian or edgy, I wear really pretty clothes that are wearable and chic, and I think my jewellery reflects what goes on in my life.
Where you you get your enthusiasm and inspiration from?
My enthusiasm comes from my clients who come in and say I loved the pair of earrings I was given last week; that gets you up in the morning. As for inspiration, it just comes - I think “I’d like to wear this”, or I think “I’d like a ring that I could do this with”. I’m not an artist lying down on a couch with an icepack on my head, with my hand to my forehead!
Colour is crucial to your collections - why you love the pastel shades so much?
I love pink because it’s the most feminine colour to wear. In this country we all wear navy or black for seven months of the year, always in polo necks, and to have a bit of colour on your ears makes all the difference. A lot of women wear tiny diamond studs, and I long to stop them and say why don’t you wear something colourful, because it lifts your face. I have been pioneering these stones for 30 years now, because I think they make a difference.
What’s your latest collection?
Our Bridal collection just came out, it’s pearls and diamonds with about 25 different earrings. When we put the first lot out they all sold out, and not a single one went to a bride! Every woman wants a pair of diamond and pearl earrings. Anyone coming in here buying a pair of earrings for their weddings, I’d say that’s great, but make sure you love them enough to wear them a week later to a party.
How has having clients such as the Duchess of Cambridge and Diana, Princess of Wales wear your jewellery in public affected your business?
The Duchess of Cambridge has a huge following in America, and we certainly export to the US a great deal more than we used to. The Duchess of Cambridge has worn a lot of British designers which has boosted people’s trade and that’s fantastic. When Diana was wearing my jewellery we didn’t have an online store; but the Duchess gives the online store integrity. If you were going to buy my jewellery online for the first time, you’d be happy doing it knowing that she has bought my work.
What advice would you give to people wanting to invest in key pieces of jewellery?
I would definitely start with earrings. They are nearest to your face, and I think they help you look prettier. I’d probably say start with our detachable drops, you buy one hoop with a drop, then you can add different drops to it. You can buy one hoop and two drops and have two completely different earrings.
What key pieces from your own jewellery collection wouldn’t you be without?
If I left here tomorrow, there are about 10 pieces I would take with me, and they probably wouldn’t be the big, amazing pieces - they’d be earrings and rings that I could wear as much as possible. I’ve got a pair of earrings from the Jemima collection that I put in my ears two weeks ago and they’re still there because they’ve gone out to dinner, they’ve gone to work… I enjoy jewellery you can wear that you don’t have to be frightened of and still looks pretty and smart.
Are there other jewellery designers that you particularly admire, and what are your favourite gemstones?
I love very early Bulgari and Van Cleef and Arpels. I love peridot, it’s the most beautiful green colour, but it is becoming more expensive. I think the stone that suits me best is citrine. Sometimes people come into the shop and say they want a pair of citrine earrings and go out with something completely different, because once it’s against your skin it does change.
The good quality gemstones are becoming really expensive. I don’t think 10 or 15 years ago if you’d told people these stones are going to be really expensive, they wouldn’t have believed you. I love pearls, I think they’re gorgeous, I don’t think there’s a single girl who doesn’t look good in pearls. Always put your scent and hairspray on first then wait until everything has dried before putting on pearls, as they can damage the skins.
Why aren’t brooches more popular?
I love brooches and I do make them, but gone are the days of the tiny brooch. Everyone wants something bigger, a little bit more of a statement, and it’s very difficult to make them where they don’t rip our clothing. Women used to wear tweed or velvet, heavier fabrics, whereas today we tend to wear lighter materials and the brooches tend to tear the material, and I am sure that’s why they are not more popular.
How do you feel when you spot someone wearing your designs?
It gives me as much pleasure now as it did 30 years ago. When I am walking down the street and I see someone wearing a pair of earrings of mine walk past me I think, “I did that”. No one is more surprised than me at where I am at the moment.
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