Friday, March 6, 2009

Interview - Elke Kramer

Trompe L'Oeil Mexican pendants and bracelets by Elke Kramer

More from Elke Kramer's stunning Trompe L'Oeil range

Models wear oversized Trompe L'Oeil pendants

Elke Kramer is a total superstar. You probably know her best for her unique jewellery designs - often inspired by bold, geometric shapes. But what you mightn't know is that these exquisite pieces are just the tip of the Elke-iceberg! Elke's creative endeavors meander between illustration, graphic design, textile design, multimedia and even independent publishing! All this in addition to taking on much of the day-to-day runnings of her successful jewellery business - including co-ordination of production in Indonesia, and regular collaborations with fellow designers and creatives. This is one serious multitasker!

What I love most about Elke's work - especially her jewellry - is that her aesthetic is so entirely unique. Her extremely popular Trompe L'oeil range (2008) combined an unlikely family of chunky resin shapes, geometric art-deco inspired pattern, traditional tribal aesthetics, and even hand stitched elements. The result was truly striking - and unlike any other jewellery range I've seen... and originality it hard to come by these days!

I am also so inspired by Elke's seemingly innate ability to balance a constant stream of varied creative side-projects, whilst also maintaining a clear and uncompromising vision for her business. She strikes the perfect balance - continually pushing the boundaries with her own creative output, whilst maintaining an intuitive understanding of the the demands of the market and wider fashion industry. In other words, she's totally got it sussed. Agggghh.

Read on and take note!

Tell me a little about your background - what did you study and what path led you to what you’re doing now?

My mother was a graphic designer and an artist. She reared me on a pile of Letraset catalogues, indian inks and gouaches, quilt pieces, cross stitch patterns and a general love of all things creative and artistic. I inherited her creative confidence and passion. I never considered jewellery design till I selected it as an elective and university and realized I could combine my love of craft and fashion in one outlet. After graduating from COFA, with a BA design, I had stints working in-house for Oyster Magazine, Sass & Bide, and freelancing for three years before Michelle Robinson approached me to design jewellery for one of her shows. I’d never intended to pursue jewellery design as a career but soon after the show, orders started coming in for my first “Skylark” pieces and my label grew quite organically from there. It was so liberating to finally produce my own designs and have free-reign over their conceptual development after years of freelance design for others.

Elke's fantastic chunky resin bracelets for Australian designer Jessie Hill's Spring / Summer 09 clothing range.

You’ve had great success with your unique jewellery designs, however over the years your creative output has been enormously varied – including illustration, art direction, graphic and web design and publishing popular art/fashion zine Lilac Menace. How do you balance this great variety of creative output? Is jewellery your main focus these days, or do you still have numerous creative pots on the boil?

There’s an innate restlessness to my creativity. I can’t confine my ideas to just one medium like jewellery so I’m constantly exploring new materials and creative outlets to manifest my ideas. At the moment I’m producing digitally printed silk scarves for my new collection, as well as a range of leather goods. I also have a multitude of collaborative side-projects in the works, so I’m probably not the best person to ask about ‘balance’ right now! Basically, I try my best not to take on more than I can handle at any given time, and I always make sure my own label is under control before I lend myself to outside projects (although it is a constant neverending battle to do so!)

Page spreads from Lilac Menace

A lot of creative professionals say that they love the creative side of their job, but hate the paperwork and the ‘business’ side of things. Do you struggle with things like marketing and promoting yourself or your products, keeping your accounts in order, and managing staff etc? What advice would you offer emerging designers about establishing a creative business?

Oh god! You have really put your finger on it! I actually don’t mind the ‘business’ side of things, it’s almost a refreshing break from the pressure of that pure creative output, when you generate new designs and which answer subjective and personal questions. As my business grows it is eating up more of my time and I find myself constantly complaining about the ratio of time spent designing versus facilitating and administrating. I am lucky to have amazing and supportive press agents to handle that sector of my business, and a wonderful book-keeper who is a bit of an agony aunt, as well. I have just taken on a sales agent, which frees up even more of my time and since September I have international press and sales agents too, as well as 3 fantastic interns and a part-time production manager. This allows me more time, but I also feel the pressure to keep up the pace because I have money pouring out of every direction keeping the engine pumping.

Good advice would be to not grow too quickly and bite off more than you can chew. Also don’t be afraid to speak to other creative professionals people about their business management systems. There are so many administrative tasks that you need to have set up properly to lay the foundation for smooth growth.

Pattern design by Elke

How would you describe your own style of jewellery design?

Bold and zany.

Some of Elke's fantastically zany designs for her 2007 range Onwards and Upwards

Which designers, artists or creative people are you inspired by?

Am I allowed to go on and on? Because I can! I really like fashion designers Sandra Buckland & Alina Akhmadullina, jewelers Nel Lissen, Svenja Jon, designer Marcel Wanders, hmmmm… also love the approach of artists like from Mike Parr & the Kingpins, as well as the aesthetics of Inka Essenhigh, Matt Lienes, Henry Darger, the Snuggle Pot & Cuddle Pie illustrator. I love Jenny Kee, Marian Bantjes shes a ridiculously intricate illustrator.

Then there is Family, in Los Angeles, my little brothers curated book store, The Selby - a website… oh and Melodie Wolf, (fashion), Diane, A Shaded View (blog), Catherine Baba (stylist), Martha Stewart (celebrity chef), Hyde S K (handbags), Tina Kalivas (fahion), surface to air, M/M Paris, (art directors) Self Service, Kokoro & Moi, LF Markey, Alexandre Herchovitch, Rei Kawakubo, Show studio, Nest magazine, Duke magazine, the Lladro Re-cyclos project, Dale Frank… oh god I could go on and on and on..

Illustration for Mad Cortes

Where else do you find inspiration – i.e books, magazines, your environment, travel, your family and friends?

I am addicted to travel; I think producing in Bali is partially just an excuse to immerse myself with foreignness and the thrill of the exotic. Past trips to Zanzibar, Morocco, Israel have been immense sources of inspiration. Friends and family are the greatest source of inspiration. My little brother David has opened up a wonderful ‘curated’ bookstore, called Family, in Los Angeles. He just opened ‘Hope’ gallery, in Echo Park as well. Along with a silent cinema and newspaper, he has built a small hub that unites a new scene of emerging underground artists and musicians. I am so proud and inspired by him.

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

It varies a lot depending on season and location. Currently my workday begins with me and my boyfriend crossing the road for a double shot of coffee and then we wander down to the domain for swim at Boy Charlton pool – I love it! It cleanses my soul for the day. I then race into my studio and juggle the myriad of daily pending tasks; from working on product development, researching, checking production in on schedule, to dealing with production issues, durability and fits etc. At the moment I am designing summer, so I am sitting in a sea of scribbles on envelopes and scrap paper, swatches of laminates and polycarbonate, colours cards, tears from magazines and reference books. Liasing with my press and sales agents, manufacturers and stockists means I am constantly bouncing emails back and forth – its like in pinball when you get multiball and you have to keep 25 zooming balls bouncing ball and forth all at once!

More cute pattern design...

What's the best thing about your job?

Being able to be my own boss is great. On those mornings when I just need to take it slow and breathe and wander around book-shops or linger at the pool to think, I have no-one to tell me to get back to work.

More from Trompe L'Oeil - Russian Bracelets

And the worst?

Work tends to take over life. Try as I might, I’m constantly thinking about what needs to be done, I am find myself working in my dreams, often developing intricate designs for twisted briefs that make no sense when I wake.

What would be your dream creative project?

Designing and building my own home where everything is custom-made, from the stain glass windows, to the hand made tiles in the bathroom. I would want to have a hand in every detail, have a kiln in the back where I throw the pots to use in the kitchen and grow many variety fruit trees in the back yard that I would pick the fruit to made the jam we use for breakfast on the hand painted plates. It would be a blend between eco self-sufficiency and the crafty lifestyle of Martha Stewart, but on acid.

Dazed and Confused illustrated pagespreads

What are you looking forward to?

This year I’m moving to a new studio with some other amazing creative minds from Sydney. It’s a brand new shared creative studio space in Surry Hills, where the whole level of a building has been turned into a network of irregular sized creative spaces. Its feels like an art-deco boat, with wooden floors, black & white details, round windows and light fittings. There are artists, designers, musicians, film directors, photographers and a pop-up-book-maker – all in one collective space. We are called BretherenJustBelow.

Sydney Questions –

What/where was the last great meal you ate in Sydney?

There’s a Pakistani place on Enmore road, just past the theatre, called Faheem’s Fast Food. It’s always full of authentic bearded Pakistani taxi drivers, clustered around plastic tables devouring plates of goat and lentils and curries. The Tandoori Fish and the imported Turkish soft drinks are my favourite and you can truly feast for very, very little. I highly recommend it.

Best boutique in Sydney for unique Australian-designed jewellery?

Incu. They are incredibly supportive of Australian designers, always have a great selection of jewellery, from such a broad spectrum of our design talent and are also a pleasure to do business with.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

On the weekends when my boyfriend is in town, we love to stumble (often nursing hangovers) through the Chinatown, down to the fish markets and have a breakfast feast of sashimi, seaweed, scallops, oysters and chips. I love sitting on the prickly fake grass next to the water, surrounded by squawking seagulls, Japanese tourists and rubbish… it’s the best. We would then head straight to Clovelly, with the papers, some mangos and our snorkels, and camp out for the day.

Sydney’s best kept secret?

Parsley Bay. It’s a secluded little beach that I shouldn’t be advertising online but I am assuming your readers are people I would happily share this spot with. There is a brilliant secret bit, beyond the shark net, you just slip under a chain fence, clamber over barnacled rocks and find this perfect little wooden ramp where you can leap off oyster-crusted rocks and plunge into crystal blue waters amongst the bobbing boats. You can almost believe you are in Sardinia or Croatia or somewhere far, far away.

Holly Throsby Illustration

Thanks so much ELKE!

Trompe L’oeil
is in stores now. Elke's range for Sportsgirl (YES that's right!) should also be in-store currently (from Feb). Elke's next range Miracles and Wonder, for winter 2009, will be in store May 2009.


  1. Elke you are so amazing! I love everything! It was great to hear about all you have done since I have last seen you. (Thank you Lucy!) Hope you are both super well! Love Ebony xxx

  2. what an incredible whirlwind of creative talent she is!!!! Thanks so much Lucy for giving us a peak into Elkes brain! :)

  3. Thankyou, thankyou for doing this interview on Elke. I was so excited when I saw it loading on the page. I love her work, so original! Definitely a super star!!

    Im a fan of the design files too. I check in almost daily...bit slack with comments though, eek!

  4. Heeeey Ebony, Ju and Handmade Romance!

    I'm so glad you guys enjoyed this interview! Isn't Elke's work incredible?

    Thanks, too, for all your kind words about my site... :) Thankyou for visiting so regularly! I really appreciate it! x