As part of my contributions for the Australian online resource Mediasearch.com.au, I had the pleasure of interviewing local designer Louisa Smeeton…
I’ve provided the article in full below or click here for the original article.
:: Spotlight :: Ripe for the Picking – designer Louisa Smeeton talks about Ripe Jewels (2005)
By: Anna Kosmanovski
As models and designers sometimes mesh into a model-like designer, so Louisa Smeeton wears her clusters of bold trinkets with confident charisma. Pink and gold charms that embellish a long chain add almost rock star appeal to her doll complexion. She is successful and 23 years old. Is she human? Louisa is an attractive brunette wearing gorgeous beads which she makes herself.
Her designs, entitled Ripe Jewels, are being sought after and stocked in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide and beyond the seas, spreading their sometimes feminine, often metallic, always pretty appeal.
Ripe Jewels is aptly labelled. Clusters of jewels, some orange, some pink, resemble fruit ripe for the picking. Sparkles and bling charm bracelets remind one of a sparkling fruit trees. The name reflects the Australian environment, they are “ready to wear, ready to be picked” supposes Louisa. “Lately, I’ve just been calling it Ripe.”
The setting is in her hometown Geelong and while sipping a cappuccino, she subtly points out a girl outside. “She’s wearing one of my designs,” she half whispers. The sultry girl stares through oversize glasses. Sure enough she is wearing a doubled up chunky Ripe creation. What’s interesting however is that a chance spotting like that is rare. Louisa’s pieces are one-offs and, in Geelong, only Melli Boutique stocks them.
Meeting a busy, motivated jewellery designer like Louisa Smeeton makes one suspicious that surely she must employ mystical midnight elves for assistance. She claims the trinkets which she dons were whipped up “this morning.” She has had six meetings this week, is soon to be opening her first exclusive boutique in Melbourne, and is impeccably dressed. To convince she has no help from pixie-toed elves, she accounts for her lifestyle, “Get beads, take order, approach, might go up to Melbourne a few times a week, stay up every night and work on beads between 3am and 5am,” she says.
For someone who sleeps less than a flight attendant on a red eye, she looks irritatingly refreshing. Even on close inspection her Nordic blue eyes are bright, where are the dark bags? Instead, they crinkle up as she laughs about her newest venture, a mens’ range. One Melbourne store, Deet Mah can’t get enough and some of the boys are starting to get bold. One was eyeing off a chunky bright blue beaded necklace. ‘Good on him,” laughs Louisa. With confidence, bold jewellery on men can “look good if they know how to wear it,” Louisa asserts. Yet for males less daring, Ripe Jewels offers large horn pendants on silver ball chains of along with chunky leather designs.
When she’s not locking herself up in a beading frenzy, she might have time to go out dancing with a girlfriend, spend time with her long-term boyfriend or visit her family. She has a strong family support network. “Definitely,” she gratefully affirms. “I just keep plugging away. Sometimes Dad will take me to deliver things when I’m too tired to even drive.” Exhaustion may be a touché subject for any small business owner, especially a one woman show, and particularly when it is taking off. “I don’t have time off,” she sighs and laughs. “The time before Christmas, I was working twenty two hour days. No one came over because I was in a foul mood. There are times…” she trails off. Laughing, she explained that only up until a few days ago she was tempted to give it all up to pursue a travel agent career. Instead, she made one concession. “If I’m sick and tired and I desperately need it,” she says almost grudgingly, “I might have a day off.”
It is almost easy to imagine Louisa as a travel agent. Her work has expanded her horizons, recently she trekked around Hong Kong and Beijing for materials. “It opened my eyes,” marvels the designer, reminiscing over the exotic eastern beads she could find there. ”Some of the stuff in China was amazing.” She has had very itchy feet and is a seasoned traveller to Europe. London is a rumoured oasis of opportunity for Aussies yet Louisa was initially quid less. It was not through lack of hard work. “I found out that the manager was pocketing my 100 quid rent a week himself.”
Yet, “On the upside I got free vodka” she grins. Then, as she was walking near her pub, she met a shop owner called Eric Way who sold, and sold out of the jewellery she had brought with her from Australia, financing a way for more travel through Europe. It is no surprise that with her sense of style she feels comfortable and inspired by the city of lights, Paris. She sighs happily as she describes an off beat market in the south of Paris where she discovered magnificent beads and bought as much as she could afford. “It’s so nice when you’ve been there a few times, and you can just wander through the cobble streets; typical Paris.”
Her skill for jewellery design was realised while she worked on a year ten business project for school. While other students stayed up baking muffins with fluorescent sprinkles, Louisa was busy threading and beading her unique jewellery creations. Business day came. “I made a killing,” she laughs. “People were still asking me about it (her jewellery) when I was in Year 12.” Her first big break when she had finished school and was working at @ on Chapel Street. She began to design beads for them, where she attracted the attention of Cotton On. “A few beads” for Cotton On later, she realised it was not for her. She was an individual crafter, not a chain store advocator.
Her designs mainly adorn necklaces; long chained unique creations. She also does chandelier style dangly earrings that resemble a glamorous era. She might do some chunky bling bracelets but prefers to focus on her flowing jewelled collars. There may be more design possibilities as Louisa juggles her experience at jewellery design and is considering more. “Id love to design clothes, anything I can come up with” she ponders. Yet, she is goo-goo eyed over the thought of luscious leather clutches, and she hints that her 2006 range may contain these clutch bags, sure to be embellished in a Louisa Smeeton signature style. “This year will be good. There are new prospects,” she says.
Advice for jewellery shopping? She bares it all for those who don’t know their beads from their bling, “Don’t buy too much Sportsgirl. Invest in a few individual pieces that you love and enjoy wearing. Don’t invest in the chain stores for risk of a piece that you see everywhere; with everyone wearing the same,” she advises. “There needs to be better jewellery at better prices,” she protests, wrinkling her nose up at the thought of shops selling “tacky PVC” fakes. Her final tip, “Go the bling!” she adds.
However, she wishes she had more of an administrative edge. “I’m hopeless at payment, feel rude, and wish I had more of the business side to it.” Yet, she has motivation and passion which has proved advantageous for launching onto the Australian jewellery scene. While it was Louisa who started her own business, taking care of stocking and deliveries, approaching shops and her own exposure, she is also the creative director. This may be a Tom Ford sounding position but it translates to late night or early morning beading.
She is hard working, but intelligently working. “You have to market yourself,” she believes firmly. She is also fortunate enough to have intuitional advertising skills. “I have been lucky many times. I’ll walk into the shop wearing some pieces…” and that’s enough to sell it.
Louisa’s own style is girlish glamour. “I’m into glitz. I love dressing up. I’m a ‘pretty’ type of girl. Skirts above pants any day,” she confesses, beckoning a naturally jewelled hand to her dainty denim mini. She is assured of who she is, yet doesn’t impose her style heavily. “Loads of people wouldn’t be seen dead in my bling,” But in truth, she doesn’t need to impose her style as her designs are selling as fast as her apricot jewelled necklace twinkles in Melbourne, Sydney, and London. In London especially, she was awe struck in repeating what she could command for them. “They thought 150 quid was cheap for my jewellery!”
Louisa confesses spontaneity in creation, “There’s no set formula. I see a piece and I automatically see a colour. I picture something and work with it.” She buys her own jewellery from real jewellery stores, or somewhere like Sportsgirl if there is “no point making it.” Her dream indulgence would be a piece from Emmanuel, tailor of bling, from whom stars like Beyonce pay from $900 for a piece.
Her other fixation comes in pairs. She gestures to her low pump silver heels, beautiful glomesh ones and laughs, “I have 50 pairs I don’t even wear. Sometimes I put them on around the house just to wear them.” She describes these lonely shoes amongst her chaotic yet organised work studio. She lives by herself amongst “50 rolls of beads, blaring music at late hours of the night, and nocturnal creativity.” She lives by herself. “No one could put up with it,” she says, rolling her eyes.
Last year she supplied Aussie design duo Sis N Me with jewellery for Spring Fashion Week in Melbourne. Local talents inspire Louisa. “Australian fashion is really taking off. It’s nice to be classified as part of it,” she says. She aims big, but chips away thoroughly. Her next project is to open her first shop in Melbourne. Most likely, it will be a little shop off Toorak Road, which is close to a family owned apartment on St Kilda Road. “Maybe invest in a scooter, a Vespa I’m hoping,” she says.