Nothing's comfortable about Joomi Lim's angular jewellery, and that's how she likes it

Great to look at, too prickly to hold, jewellery by Joomi Lim is no longer considered an acquired taste

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 April, 2014, 11:40pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 May, 2014, 12:31am

Pearls and white spikes hang around the neck of jewellery designer Joomi Lim. The sharp golden pyramid rings lining her fingers could serve as a stylish knuckleduster, should you cross her. But she's all smiles and chit-chat, as she and her husband Xavier Ricolfi meet me at Harvey Nichols.

"I keep forgetting to take these off when we go through airports," she says. "I actually had my spikes confiscated before."

"That's the funny thing," says the brand's other creative director, Ricolfi. "These spikes really are like an armour. Perhaps it's because society is so aggressive now that people need these portable weapons to feel protected. I think that's why they're so popular now."

The couple was here for the launch of their limited edition, Joomi Lim x Sellot collaboration, featuring a series of seriously embellished iPhone cases. Some were inspired by their current collections, while others have a cartoonish pop-art theme. It's the first project of this kind for Joomi Lim, a New York-based brand known for glamorous jewellery with a punk undercurrent.

"I think people like to feel a bit tougher, edgier, and we offer that but with a feminine touch," says Lim. "It's a great time to be in the jewellery industry; not like before when everything was minimal. Now it's like the more the merrier. Sometimes I'll layer two or three necklaces."

Times weren't always this good. The brand launched in 2009, just after the stock market crashed. The timing was a blessing in disguise, says Ricolfi.

"The environment was tough from the beginning, so at least it couldn't get any worse," he says, laughing. "Actually I think it was better to launch at this time than the year before because it was so tough that we were really careful."

They were immediately picked up by high-end retailers including Opening Ceremony and Bergdorf Goodman. "We were very lucky," says Lim. "But back then, people thought the spikes were too much - too harsh, too punky - so our business didn't take off. It was just a few stores."

With each passing season, more stores approached the brand and they started selling internationally. Now they turn down offers.

The spring-summer collection features a range of themes from Baroque Punk and Romantic Armour, to classy all-white. The Split Personality pieces reflect the juxtaposition of opposite elements, as well as the duality of the weare.Necklaces and bracelets are divided into halves for a playfully schizophrenic result. "It kind of represents us, or me in two different moods," says Lim.

"It's like everyone," says Ricolfi. "Sometimes you're soft, sometimes you're hard. You're a mix of those two poles that are in balance all the time, and sometimes you're one or the other."

Lim sums it up by saying that opposites can attract, which appears to be the case with her relationship with Ricolfi. Lim, from Seoul, began making jewellery as a hobby, before working as a make-up artist. Ricolfi is an industrial designer from Paris, who worked with Philippe Starck before setting up his own design studio.

"I'm from Korea and he's from France," says Lim. They look at each other and laugh. "He breaks for lunch and I eat in front of the computer. I was in the business before so I'm more fast-paced, I'm always constantly go, go, go. Xavier is really good because he's like, 'Joomi, you gotta slow down a bit'. So, it's a really good balance.

"I also think, in a more traditional way, Xavier is more outside the box because he's not from this industry."

"I have no reference to follow," says Ricolfi. "That's what I love about trying this new business. Even if there's some way that people usually do things, in a way I don't care."

The different backgrounds and approaches give the Joomi Lim pieces their edge. While Lim comes up with the concepts, Ricolfi talks passionately about how different materials and techniques inspire them creatively.

"These days, there is so much competition. Everyone brings things together on a string and calls that a necklace," he says. "Instead of just taking pieces that exist, we also do our own 3-D printing, our own prototypes and we have our specific ways to do design."

The two crossed paths in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and fell for each other. The relationship turned quickly to work when Lim got a contract offer from Victoria's Secret.

"She was in New York and I was in Paris, so we worked online through iChat," says Ricolfi. She would come up with ideas and I would do some graphics."

Lim invited him to move to New York, and after a couple of years they started their business. Now they're based in the city's Garment District, where they assemble the pieces by hand, assisted by a small team. Despite their differences, they share plenty of common interests. "We love going to museums and looking at objects. We love architecture. Actually we love home décor shopping," says Lim.

Now that they've dabbled in iPhone cases, are they tempted to try any other products? "Oh yes," says Ricolfi. "From the beginning, we loved the idea of Joomi Lim as a lifestyle brand. I would love to do some home décor."

Lim is more guarded, explaining that the company is still small and the focus must remain on jewellery for now, although there are many opportunities.

"There are only 10 to 12 of us and even having that many people was a big step for us. We started out working from home."

For their autumn-winter collection, some of which is on preview in the store, they're expanding on the pyramid motif. Next year they'll focus on spheres. They're also dabbling with new processes - as seen in a gradient effect on a hefty plated necklace for the Romantic Armour pieces. "It's not a big seller," says Ricolfi. "It's just us having fun trying out new techniques; little details like that, that only five per cent of people will notice. But, for us, it's a nice way to experiment."

"I think the consumers like something unexpected," says Lim. "We try to do new things all the time. We try not to be too comfortable."