By Kirsty McKenzie, photography Ken Brass
Jewellery designer Natalie Ness says sometimes she thinks she belongs in another era. Indeed, the pieces she creates across multiple media capture the essence of bygone days. It’s a passion she’s been nurturing since early childhood.
“My dad is a restoration architect,” she explains. “At one stage in my childhood he was working on the gazebos at Rookwood cemetery and I have strong recollections of playing in between the graves while he was working there. I think I grew up in a kind of fantasy land where playing in the world’s largest Victorian cemetery didn’t seem an odd thing to do. It wasn’t a morbid thing; I was very comfortable with the slightly over-the-top embellishments of that time.”
These days Natalie channels her inner extravagance in a studio attached to an art gallery above a row of shops in Sydney’s inner west. Her pieces range from ribbon-embroidered Japanese silk brooches and resin-coated museum images on pendants and earrings to Swarovski crystal chandelier earrings and fabulously showy floral head pieces.
“My dad is an Aussie and my mother is of Chilean descent,” Natalie explains. “Although they are no longer together, I am an amalgam of their talents.
All my design sensibility comes from Dad, who is an extremely talented designer. I have him to thank for my eye for detail and extreme precision. My mum is a folk artist and embroiderer and I get my homebody side from her. I just love cooking and creating beautiful spaces.”
After a year of travel following high school Natalie studied fashion design before finding her niche in a theatrical costume design course. “The course covered just about everything from costume history, conservation and corsetry to millinery, hard and soft sculpture and fabric cutting and draping,” she explains.
“My favourite bits were beading and art finishing or surface detailing, giving the costumes a back story, whether that was from dirt, or adding grass stains or blood splatters.”
Although Natalie worked on various shows and short films she needed to find a way to supplement her income between costuming gigs. Friends had always admired the jewellery she made, so it seemed a logical progression to turn it into a business.
“I’m lucky to have had support from the government-funded NEIS (New Enterprise Incentive Scheme),” she explains. “Through that I was able to do a small business management course at TAFE and they helped me develop a business plan. The support lasts for a year and in that time, I’ve developed my range, opened my workroom, run a pop-up shop in an antiques centre and developed contacts in museum and gallery shops. Now as well as producing the pieces I need to focus on design, marketing and connecting with my customers.”
Natalie adds that it’s amazing how doors have opened in the short time she has been running the business. “I sold my Vespa because I was having a bit of a cash flow problem and the guy I sold it to asked me to design some Vespa key rings and pins for his club,” she says.
“There was another chance encounter at a trade fair where I met a lady who suggested I outsource some of the manufacturing processes. I was troubled at first about shifting off shore, but now I think that so long as the trade is fair and not exploitative, it’s OK. It frees up my time to concentrate on design, printing and marketing.”
Another serendipitous trade fair introduction was with the importer of the exquisite silk flowers she now uses to make floral headpieces, while yet another referral led to an opportunity to take sewing and beading workshops at a local beading shop. Natalie sells her jewellery through her website and via party plan with occasional forays to vintage markets.
Promotional shoots for her product allow her to indulge her first love of costume design and she still accepts commissions in that field, as well as one-off styling jobs such as fitting out a festival pop-up bar in a hotel as a Prohibition-era speakeasy.
“I’m quite adept at stretching a ridiculously low budget,” she says. “Most of the furniture came from roadside clearances. While it was a lot of fun, right now I need to concentrate on my jewellery. There are lots of other avenues I’d like to explore, but for now I need to put my heart and soul into making beautiful jewellery.”
For more information on Natalie’s Ness Designs visit “http://www.natalieness.com”