Imperfect world

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 July, 2012, 12:00am


Jewellery designer Pieter Louis Erasmus always knew he was unsuited to a nine-to-five life. 'I don't like working for other people. I studied fine arts so I think from the beginning I've always been pretty unemployable,' he says.

A native of Pretoria, South Africa, Erasmus lives in New Delhi. He founded his luxury costume jewellery line, St Erasmus, after working for seven years at jewellers Erickson Beamon in London. He is visiting Hong Kong to present his autumn-winter 2012 collection at Harvey Nichols in The Landmark.

His trademark look - chunky Swarovski crystal- and pearl-encrusted pieces made with an Indian thread called metallic zari - has been favoured by British and Bollywood stars, as well as American first lady Michelle Obama.

Erasmus says he always finds a strong female character to use as inspiration each season. In the past, he's been inspired by Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren and Laila, the main character from Khaled Hosseini's novel A Thousand Splendid Suns. His latest collection looks to Marie Antoinette.

The artisans he employs to handcraft each piece in New Delhi are a huge boon to his designs, he says. He points out the slightly different shades of the hand-dyed ribbon and uneven stitching on one of his bracelets.

Erasmus takes pride in these so-called imperfections. He learned early on to appreciate what they add to the designs, so he doesn't try to impose his techniques on the artisans who make them.

'Mostly, it's Muslim men that do the embroidery. They come from families who have been doing embroidery for hundreds of years. In India, they get classified as unskilled labourers, but they have a long history of doing this.'

He frequently relies on the taste of his female workers. 'I'm male,' he says. 'I love making beautiful things for women. But at the end of the day, it's a woman who has to wear it. They [the workers] may come from poor backgrounds, but they have an inherent aesthetic appreciation.'

Erasmus credits his South African background for teaching him that jewellery can be made out of anything.

'I was always sad that I didn't grow up in Europe. But when I eventually arrived there in 1995, I was actually very glad that I didn't. The weight of that kind of cultural history is oppressive. It's very hard to be completely creative.

'South Africa is a New World country which sits on the periphery. You use what is available in your immediate vicinity. In Europe, gold is gold. Costume jewellery is costume jewellery. You don't really cross borders. It's much harder to pull things out of their context.'

When he first saw his design on Obama - a large, bright fuchsia statement necklace that the first lady wore to a White House Correspondents' dinner in 2009 - Erasmus says he was amused.

'We took something as humble as crochet and turned it into jewellery worn by one of the most influential women in the world.'

Who else has he set his sights on? 'Tilda Swinton, Helen Mirren and Dame Judy Dench. I love strong women,' he says.