(images and interview via Sang Bleu)
Sang Bleu: How did you get to where you are now?
Natalia Brilli: I didn’t decide to be an accessories designer. In fact I used to be a scenographer, and then by chance and by meeting people I started to work in fashion. Wanting to deepen my knowledge of the industry I enrolled in the master’s degree program at Institut Français de la Mode (IFM), a school founded by Pierre Bergé. After graduating I spent 4 years alongside Olivier Theyskens at Rochas and at the same time created my own accessories line.
SB: Can you describe the aesthetic of your brand?
NB: My aesthetic is a mix of two cultures as I am half Belgian and half Italian. From the North I inherited a dark, ghostly and surrealist spirit, associated with a mix of glamour and a sort of cultivated and aesthete elegance, inherited from the South.
SB: Can you talk us through the thinking behind your latest collection?
NB: The still lifes of the 17th century associated with Irina Ionesco’s photography. I wanted flowers and an extreme feminity which embodies mystery, moral and physical ambiguity, and danger.
SB: What is it that attracts you to the darker side of human nature?
NB: What attracts me to the darker side of human nature (I mean on a aesthetic level) is the desire to avoid boredom and to feel new and unknown sensations as well as a kind of surrender towards dark and irrational forces. The ugly, the horrible, the morbid are to me aesthetic values as much as is beauty.
SB: Do you have favourite materials to work with?
NB: There’s obviously leather, but also some unusual materials such as burnt wood, horse hair, hair, real insects and raw stones.
SB: Can you describe the appeal of working with natural products?
NB: Leather has a complex personality, it is a noble and sensual material, and it also allows incredible technical possibilities.
SB: How important is it to you to maintain a traditional artisan approach to your work?
NB: The artisanal aspect is very important in my work because the leather-covering technique I use is a time-consuming and meticulous process, everything is done entirely by hand: no machine can do it… For instance, it takes a minimum of one hour to make a pearl necklace, and some of the more complex pieces can take one, even two days to complete. Only human hands are involved in making the pieces, which makes each one of them unique.
SB: Do you use any found objects?
NB: It depends on the pieces: for my limited edition objects, I often work with real elements (animal skeletons, drum set, guitar). But for the Bambaataa exhibition in Brussels, I made a series of monkey heads, for which the bases were of course resin casts. For the jewellery it’s the same, sometimes there are real elements (watches, keys, shells, etc.) and sometimes I draw objects which are then sculpted and cast in resin.
SB: How important is symbolism in your work?
NB: It’s an art movement that I like very much for the mystery which it embodies and also for all it reveals, the ambiguities of man with his faith, his sexuality, his neuroses. The symbolist author Mallarmé wrote: “Paint, not the thing, but the effect it produces.” This is what I try to achieve with this fine leather skin which sometimes gives to the object both a fragile and a ’sacred’ dimension, but there is also a lot of humour and surrealism in my work as humour is part of my nature and I think of my culture too. Belgians have an absurd and nonsensical sense of humour akin to that of the British. And after all it’s only accessories, sometimes it’s healthy not to take oneself too seriously…
WB: What are your biggest sources of inspiration?
SB: People that I know, that are close to me, but also women such as Edith Sitwell, Nancy Cunard or Charlotte Rampling for their timeless beauty and their typically British spirit, their troubled and ghostly auras, the mystery that shrouds them. The poetic and surrealistic movies of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. The “film noir” of Jacques Tourneur. Midnight Movies”, from Dario Argento to Alejandro Jodorowsky. 20’s and 30’s decorative arts, such as decorators Janine Janet and Tony Duquette. Italian architects Carlo Mollino and Gio Ponti. The Northern school of painting (Belgian, British and Scandinavian painters). Contemporary art. Travels. “Curiosity cabinets”, natural sciences and gardens. Nick Cave. The list is very long…
SB: Do you think the concept of fetish is communicated in the pieces you make?
NB: Yes, fetishism in the proper sense of worshipping objects: I cover with leather keys, credit cards… Because I see all those objects as fetishes of everyday life, gris-gris, lucky charms. Nowadays, a credit card has the same importance to some people as a watch or a piece of jewellery.
SB: Do you have a favourite piece?
NB: Not really. As soon as I finish a piece I’ve already moved on to the next.
SB: What is the biggest hurdle you have had to overcome to get to where you are?
SB: What are you working on right now?
NB: The Summer 2011 collection. A collaboration with the american artist Frank Stella. An important project with the department store Printemps (I can’t say more right now). A new piece for the Aliceday gallery that represents me in Belgium. A collaboration with the designer Pierre Gonalons www.ascete.com
SB: Where do you want to take the brand in the future?
NB: For the brand I’d like to develop a global image, with jewellery, bags and shoes, and at the same time continue my work as an artist making limited edition objects and unique pieces, all of this with a total freedom of expression.