Harriet Vine, Tatty Devine artistic director

 30 November 2012

Harriet co-founded Tatty Devine, now an acclaimed handmade fashion jewellery brand. Their laser-cut plastic collections have featured in a number of high fashion magazines and London Fashion Week.

Harriet Vine (left) and Rosie Wolfendon (right) set up Tatty Devine together after meeting at art college.
Harriet Vine (left) and Rosie Wolfendon (right) set up Tatty Devine together after meeting at art college.

Hometown?

I'm from Rochester in Kent.

What job do you do?

I am artistic director and cofounder at Tatty Devine.

Tatty Devine has been going since 1999, when Rosie Wolfenden and I set it up.

We design and make handmade laser-cut acrylic jewellery and accessories. We put out two seasonal collections per year, and we're also known for our name necklaces.

We have two London shops, in Brick Lane and Covent Garden.

How did you get started in jewellery?

I've always been making stuff, not just jewellery, ever since I was little.

"We found bin bags full of leather samples. We made accessories, set up a market stall, and made some money from it."

I used to go to boot fairs a lot, and still do. I'd buy things like wooden bottle openers and make them into necklaces. I was always finding things and stringing them round my neck.

Rosie and I met at art college. When we lived together, we were sharing a house full of boys in bands. They left a lot of plectrums lying around, so I used to harvest them and make them into earrings.

I was really interested in how the perception of an object would change when it was picked up from the floor and became a piece of jewellery.

One night Rosie and I found a lot of bin bags full of leather samples. We took them home, not exactly sure what they would become – but we knew it would be exciting.

We set up a market stall selling leather cuffs made from the leather we had found. When we made some money from it, we took it to a leather shop and bought some zebra print ponyskin to make more wrist cuffs with. I think that was our first proper investment that wasn’t on falafel and whisky!

We made and sold more cuffs and had a super fun time, and by Christmas we were being stocked in Whistles and Harvey Nichols.

Then a stylist saw Rosie wearing a headpiece we'd made and asked about it. She replied, 'My company make these'. The stylist turned out to be from Vogue magazine, and she asked us to bring our collection in the following week!

We didn't have a collection as such at that point, so we made stuff frantically all weekend, and it was featured in Vogue's Millennium issue.

We applied to take part in London Fashion Week, got in, and pulled out all the stops. We turned up with a collection of plated chains with pendants made from plectrums and old dart flights. There was nothing else like it there.

We also photocopied giant pictures of budgerigars, pasted them onto hardboard, cut them out with a jigsaw, and made them into brooches. 

A little while later, we discovered plastic. We were on a trip to New York. We saw a shop which sold laser-cut letters for signs, and really liked the idea of making jewellery that way. 

"When we found out what laser-cutting was, it was a real eye-opener."

We had no money – or the volume of material you need – to get any pieces cast in metal. So when we found out what laser-cutting was, it was a real eye-opener. 

At the start, I had to get help from a friend who could recreate my designs for me on a computer. As things began to take off, I learned to use Adobe Illustrator to do some of my design work. I picked it up quite quickly. 

As we began to cut plastic more and more, we took out a loan to buy our own laser-cutting machine. We still use the same one today, but now we also have three others! 

What qualifications do you have?

I have a BA in Fine Art, specifically painting, from Chelsea College of Art. I did a GCSE and A level in Art and Design.

I think the basic maths and physics I learned at school have also been useful. There's a fair bit of maths and science in making jewellery.

Especially working with plastic, you have to get good at judging whether something will snap, and how it will balance. Things like leverage, forces, and the radiuses of circles (or necks!) are all important for making jewellery that'll stand up to wear and tear as well as look great.

What previous jobs have you done?

Through all our studying and while we launched the business, we did a lot of part-time work. When we met we were both waitressing at the V&A Museum

Rosie also worked in a vintage clothing shop – that's where Vogue spotted her – and I worked at the Camden Arts Centre.

What do you do at work?

More and more of my work these days is about making decisions.

As much as I would like to spend more time designing, there's now a whole company to run. I handle artistic direction while Rosie is the managing director.

I help everyone make sure things look the right way. There’s a lot of projects to oversee.

That said, I still do a lot of the physical designing. The process goes a bit like this: 

  • Rosie and I both work out the concepts together. We look at what we’re into, and why we like it. I have an assistant at the moment who sometimes researches things for me.
  • Then I go away and dream up random things on those themes, and then I make some drawings.
  • Next, I make samples, which we try on together. I then tweak the designs into something we would want to wear.

"Getting to do this job is very exciting and dynamic."

When we install pop-up shops in places like Selfridges, I oversee their visual design. I give direction on imagery for photoshoots and window displays and oversee production.

There are 35 people working for Tatty Devine, which includes about 12 makers. We do everything in-house, including all our own marketing, website work, graphic design, production, shop staffing, accounts and customer service.

What’s the best thing about your job?

The knowledge that we can make things happen, and that we are designing and making new and beautiful things.. It’s very exciting and dynamic. 

The company is doing really well, and every day is new and different.

And the worst thing about the job?

Not having enough time to do more things you want to do. 

How do I get into jewellery?

Here's my advice:

  1. You need a creative outlook
    Be interested in the whole of culture and everything that life has to offer, as opposed to just focussing on jewellery. If your work has no references to a wider culture, how do you make your design interesting?
    Good design needs inspiration. You should tell a story through what you do. You can’t do that unless you're interested in life, things, music, film – things other people do and have done.
     
  2. Be fearless
    When we started, we had no fear. We just thought, 'We can, so why not?'. 
     
  3. Enjoy your creativity
    It's hard work, but if you love it, it’s not so hard after all. 
    Our brains never stop thinking about making and doing, and we talk about it all the time. Talking with someone you trust is really important.

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