Welcome to designer J. Maskrey's blinged-out world

Designer proves that crystal couture is a style that sticks, writes Tessa Chan

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 June, 2013, 8:46am

SITTING ON A SOFA in Apartment O in Causeway Bay, surrounded by sparkly shoes and crystal skin transfers, vintage furniture and kitsch modern art, flame-haired accessories designer J. Maskrey seems to blend in perfectly with the colourful interior.

She's known as one of the precursors of "skin jewellery" - her registered trademark - though cheaper imitations can be found everywhere. But Maskrey takes it with good humour.

"I think you just have to look at it as a compliment - unless it's very literal, of course. You'll always have new ideas anyway," she says. "I'm very creative and I would be very bored if I always had to do the same thing."

A Hong Kong-born Eurasian, Maskrey moved to London in 1996 after studying sociology and classical Chinese. "I spent three years in between in Paris, but moved back to London because I couldn't speak the language. Being a Cantonese speaker, I found the French pronunciation impossible."

She started off as a make-up artist for magazine editorials. "I love painting, and make-up is like painting on people's faces," she says.

One day, for a photo shoot, she came up with the idea of using rainbow-coloured cake sprinkles on the model. "It was like edible jewellery. Then I just happened to say to the stylist, 'People should really buy this stuff, you know'. And the next thing I knew, I got a special commission from Lancôme, then Estée Lauder, then for Sonia Rykiel, so it was just one thing after the other."

By this time she'd replaced cake sprinkles with crystals and glitter, and her designs were in high demand. Soon they were appearing in publications such as Vogue, Elle, i-D and Dazed & Confused.

"In 2001 I got an order from Estée Lauder for 80,000 pieces. That marked the beginning of the big orders and the responsibility," she says.

Around 2004 she took a couple of years off to tour with U2. "I've been their make-up artist since 2000 and I do a lot of their stage clothing. I had been wishing I could do a road trip in America, so when Bono asked me to come on tour with them, I was like, 'Yeah! I'll go on tour.'

"It's full-on," adds Maskrey. "They're very inspiring. Of course, they party, too - they're rock 'n' roll guys - but they are very hard-working people. So it was really an education for me. They're coming up with a new album early next year, so there's another load of work starting again."

These days she doesn't have much time to work on make-up. She's in Hong Kong to promote her autumn-winter line for Melissa, the cult Brazilian shoe brand with which she has been collaborating for nearly 10 years. "This season we've launched the crystal cap model, like those steel cap shoes in England, you know," says Maskrey. "That's the inspiration behind it; it's a bit punky."

In August these will join her permanent collection in stores. "When we were touring, I was looking out of the plane and saw the Paris sky - with all these beautiful stars, all different sizes. So we came up with the Night Sky collection and for the past five years the sales have just been going up and up."

She also recently launched her online store at jmaskrey.com where she sells her crystal skin transfers alongside edgy jewellery and accessories.

"I do different things for different seasons. So one season I might be doing jewellery, and next season, for example, I'm going to do cashmere - mostly scarves and cardigans - and put crystals on top. The good thing is I have the freedom to do what I want."

She also caters to all sorts of special requests, most recently from Lady Gaga. "She's just had an operation and can't walk properly, so she asked for a walking stick. So last month I did one for her, and it's amazing. That walking stick is so beautiful. Nobody's seen it, apart from her; it's a chunk of crystals, and it's transparent. So I thought, 'Now I'm going to do one for my webshop because most walking sticks are quite boring'. I think that's a great way of working."

Who knows, maybe it'll spark a trend of blinged-up grannies. And while sparkly skin transfers are often associated with younger girls, Maskrey insists that hers appeal to all ages.

"My customer base goes from 10 years old to about 60. My youngest fan is Kate Moss' daughter; she just loves the styles. And then I have Yoko Ono whom I do a lot of commissions for."

Other celebrities who have fallen victim to the magpie effect are Dita Von Teese, Gwen Stefani, Boy George and Rihanna. Maskrey has also collaborated with Alexander McQueen, Kenzo, Givenchy and Hugo Boss, among others.

"My style, I think, is super bling but with an attitude. It's sophisticated, not cheap," says Maskrey. "I'm not really a mass-produced designer; we do most of our products ourselves by hand."

She plans to expand her brand further. "I'm just going to keep on working on beautiful products, doing the things that I really like. I want to be able to produce items that in 20 to 30 years' time become collectibles. It's a long-term product, not just something that's going to come and go."