Jewellery artist Yilin Wang is a graduate of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing and the Royal College of Art in London. An international maker, she splits her time between the two cities, and is among eleven up-and-coming craftspeople selected for Shine 2020, our annual talent showcase. Her bold and unconventional work explores themes of femininity and female power, particularly in the context of East Asian culture. This focus is continued in her latest collection Siren, which also incorporates themes of spirituality, beauty and romanticism.
What first attracted you to a career as a maker, and how did you get started in the industry?
I was always interested in jewellery, even though at the very beginning, I didn’t know what terms like craft, contemporary jewellery or fashion jewellery meant. I’m interested in making beautiful things, and I love metal. Sometimes metal is soft, sometimes it’s very hard, and I like that conflict within the material. When I started learning the basics at college, I noticed that I really enjoyed the process of making, it was like meditation. When I’m focused on the making, it makes me feel very peaceful, and I feel like myself in those moments.
What can you tell us about the collection you'll be debuting at Shine?
This is the first jewellery collection that I’ve started to design and make since I established my own label and commercial brand. Before, when I was making jewellery, it was quite self-orientated – I’d be expressing myself, without any fear of what other people would think of the pieces, like making art. Since then, with this new collection, I’ve started to consider what people like more, what kind of jewellery I can make for them, so it’s more like a service that I’m offering. It’s a different way of thinking.
The inspiration for this collection is the siren, a mythological figure who seduces males on passing ships. I like to think that her beautiful voice also draws people in. So, the idea is that people like beautiful things, but at the same time, there’s a darkness. The duality in that really inspires me. I use lots of chunky elements, very chunky chains, but on the surface of the metal I add elements like ripples, fish scales, and some very soft textures like waves. The aim is to combine tenderness and roughness in one object.
When I was making this collection, I was thinking my target market would probably be in Asia, so I did some research on the Asian markets for fine jewellery, and I realised that women there prefer to buy very little, very delicate jewellery, rather than tough, powerful pieces. So, I always want to offer a different vision of women, to say that you while can buy them lovely things, what if women want to wear strong, powerful things?
What kind of person do you think will be most attracted to your collection, and to your design style in general - do you have a target audience in mind?
My jewellery isn’t for a narrow group of people or a for certain culture. I hope my jewellery can be liked by people from all different cultural backgrounds, but because I’m still in an early stage in my career as a maker, I’m not sure if I’ve achieved that yet. So, I’m hoping to show this collection during Paris Fashion Week, and that will be like a test for me, I’m looking forward to getting lots of feedback there. In terms of a target group, I would love to design jewellery for independent women who have their own taste and lifestyle. I’m making jewellery to communicate with them.
What does being chosen for Shine 2020 mean to you - both on a professional level and a personal level?
It has been really encouraging for me, being chosen is a compliment. After I graduated last year, it was quite a challenge for me to start a new brand, so I’m really happy to be selected for Shine 2020. When I was in college, I also got a scholarship from the Goldsmiths’ Centre, and I’m very thankful for that too. I used that scholarship to make an art piece, whereas now I’m focusing on more commercial activities, but the support from the Centre has really encouraged me and pushed me to keep working throughout.
Can you tell us a bit more about the process of designing this collection?
I love chunky chains, when I wear a thick chain it makes me feel stronger and more confident. All the chunky chains that I was seeing had similar sized rings, so it made me think that maybe I could do something different. When I first started designing, it was using 3D modelling, and I didn’t really think of what I was creating as a necklace, but more a 3D sculpture, something that was beautiful in itself, a beautiful object that when you wear, it becomes a fashion item as well. So I like to think of jewellery as an independent sculpture that’s worn on the body.
What have you learned from the process of planning and creating your collection?
Before, when I was a student, I thought design was the only thing that was important. Since I started making this collection for Shine, I still think design is important, but I’ve learned that marketing and promotion are also really important. So I’m working on my brand, on my social media and on building my website, and I’ve learned things like how to communicate with magazines and how to advertise and attract press to your work.
Now that I have this knowledge, I can think about how to develop my products. I don’t want to be stuck with just the label of 'jewellery designer'. I also want to maybe get more involved in the business side, and awaken that part of me. I’m trying to hear more feedback from my customers and improve my communication with them, because I think my jewellery doesn’t just belong to me, it belongs to my customers, and the way that I sell my product can complement the jewellery itself. So nowadays, I’m thinking about how my customer thinks and how the market will respond to my pieces, and that also influenced the design process for this collection.
What do you enjoy most about being a maker - for example, is the joy in the making itself, or in sharing the finished pieces with the world?
I enjoy both, but they bring me different kinds of happiness and joy. When I’m working on pieces, the creation itself is very enjoyable, you’re not always certain what the finished product will be like, whether your dream for this piece will come true. It’s like having a baby! The process is very hard, you can never be sure whether something is good, and sometimes you don’t know what the final result will be, but I find that very exciting.
It’s that sense of achievement when you finish, and also showing the pieces to people and getting their opinions, as I like talking with people about my jewellery. Sometimes my customers wear my jewellery and take selfies, and then post them on Instagram, and that makes me really happy, knowing that they like my jewellery and my designs feels like a real compliment, and that gives me the confidence to continue working.
What are you most looking forward to about participating in Shine 2020?
I’m really looking forward to meeting the other makers and seeing how they respond to my work, and I’m really excited about having my work shown in the Goldsmiths’ Centre online shop, because the Centre is such a high-level platform in the jewellery industry, so I’m really proud to be included. I hope it can be a good foundation for developing a career, and it’s also been very nice to take the course offered, like the session yesterday for example was really useful and helped me grow my website building knowledge, so I’m really thankful for that.
What's next - what are your creative and career goals for the next two years?
I’m hoping to participate in Parish Fashion Week this year, but I’m not sure if that will be possible because of the international travel bans at the moment. If it’s not possible, then maybe next year. It’s my wish to take part because it may help me to get in touch with more retailers, so that my work can be shown in different countries. I always believe that jewellery has to be worn before people buy it, I think it should be an interactive thing, where people wear something and then have the confidence to buy it. So I really want to show my jewellery in different countries, to make people from all different cultures aware of my brand, that’s my goal.