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Elke Kramer in Conversation

Images by Jacob Ring

Arriving at the Sydney home of Elke Kramer, I am first met by the jewelry designer’s voice, a saccharine, faraway greeting that wafts through the ground-floor window. Minutes later, a face appears: olive skinned and striking, framed by tight, excitable curls. Then, I see the newborn in her arms—her first child, a boy named Cedar. The scene could seem overly composed, a little too serene, but Elke’s enigmatic, expansive and vibrant nature makes that impossible.

Beyond her role as a new mother, Elke serves as fashion industry stalwart in Australia. She is self-assured and ambitious, with an unimpeachable understanding of color and form, and her epynomous label is stocked everywhere from Opening Ceremony and Henri Bendel in New York City to Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art. She has also just launched a collection titled “Concrete.”

Inside Elke’s newly renovated terrace home, every item has a considered place. Decorative carpets meet sleek, streamlined couches. We drink from dual-toned mugs with Memphis handles and built-in coasters. They were purchased from an L.A.-based artist after months of searching for the perfect sipping vessel. Elke’s partner, a photographer, is “clean, minimalist and masculine” in taste—a stark contrast to her own maximalist, often kitsch sensibilities. (She previously collected 1950s poodle statues.) The home they share is their joint magnum opus: a curious, attractive meeting of two strong-willed creatives. “I would put stuff everywhere if it wasn’t for him,” Elke explains. “We’ve clashed so many times in decorating this tiny space!”

Laura Bannister: Tell me the first thing you do in the morning and the last thing you do before you go to sleep at night.

Elke Kramer:  My partner and I make a pot of loose-leaf tea in our Pyrex jug, which we have been doing ever since we met, every single morning… Sometimes it will be one pot and then another pot and another before we get out of bed. It’s such a beautiful ritual. Once you have proper loose-leaf tea, you can’t have a teabag ever again.  There’s no depth to it. We’re quite O.C.D. about the way we do it—it has to be good tea, brewed the right amount of time… The last thing I do before I go to bed is encourage my dog Lola to go out to her kennel.

Laura: Your newest collection “Concrete” looks to seminal American architect Louis Kahn and his monolithic, formally restrained works. What first turned you on to him?

Elke: A friend of mine, Jess Scully, is the director of Vivid Sydney. She told me something about my jewelery reminded her of Louis Kahn and emailed me a link to a film about him. I remember thinking he had a really poetic approach to his work…. It was modernist, but restrained and stylized. Years later, I was coming up with an idea for a new range and stumbled across her old email. I thought it would be great to do a range inspired by his materials, shapes and forms.

Laura: Is there a particular structure of Kahn’s that really resonates with you?

Elke: I think it was a parliament house in Bangladesh (known as Jatiyo Sangshad Bhaban, the National Parliament of Bangladesh). In a film about Kahn, they discuss the way this building affected people—almost in a religious way. They had a lot of love for this really clean, empty building devoid of detail.

Laura: I feel that dualism in your collection as well. There’s a mix of the considered and academic, the inherently geometric, but there’s also something ritualistic and mystical about the pieces. You explore that dichotomy in a film that accompanies the collection, which was shot at the Sydney Opera House. How did that come about?

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Elke: That was someone approaching me, too. The director was Nicole Rose, a friend. She said she’d love to do a project with me. I suggested a campaign film. She basically took my aesthetic and created a script, adding a concept, almost like a game of Chinese whispers. I’m so used to being the director of every single thing I do, whether it be the shoots or the lookbooks or the website. It was great to have someone else step in and take over the creative direction, [so that] I could submit to their vision. When we were talking about the film, Nicole mentioned an obscure Iranian film called The Color of Pomegranates, an absurdist work from the turn of the century. I had seen it and it is so beautiful—the fact she brought it up meant I knew I could trust her.

Laura: Your mother was an artist and designer; I’ve read that you grew up amongst her Indian inks, gouaches and cross-stitch patterns. Has her aesthetic impacted your own?

Elke: My work is very decorative and ornamental and [my mother’s] is very graphic. She paints a lot; her new paintings are all very realist. But I know that she has touches—not a style, but a signature feel of a line—which I find myself copying. I find it coming out in my drawings or in the way I write.

Laura: What’s the earliest recollection you have of making something with your hands?

Elke: I have this amazing memory of making mud pies with food coloring in the backyard of a friend’s house. I remember covering my hands in dye and it being a really sensual experience, setting the mud pies to dry and really playing.

Laura: And what about the strongest memory you associate with a piece of jewelery you own?

Elke: My grandmother, who is now sadly in a home with dementia, was an amazing doting grandmother; so generous, a waterfall of love and gifts. [In Australian schools] there is a formal, a dance at the end of Year Six. I, at the time, was 12 years old and a goth. I only wore black velvet.

Laura: That’s pretty independent for a 12-year-old…

Elke: I was just starting, listening to The Cure and Nirvana and thinking that Led Zeppelin were really cool. My grandma took me to a hippy store and I picked out a very ’90s choker made from black velvet, with a clear pendant. That was one of the first natural stones I owned. I remember being completely mystified by how beautiful this stone was. The formal was quite daggy, but that necklace… I was obsessed.

Laura: I remember having a white, halter neck dress for my Year Six formal, with flame shapes made from diamantes all over. My hair was slicked back into the tightest bun.

Elke: It’s going to come back in fashion!

Laura: From a designer’s perspective, what are three of the roles jewelery should play for the wearer?

Elke: Firstly, it should convey a message—tell a story. It should hold a memory; you should remember the person who gave it to you [or] where you were when you bought it. And it should have some sort of value outside of money, feeling precious for a reason you can’t describe.

Laura: You’ve moved between publishing, art direction, illustration, graphic design, jewelery making and a host of other disciplines. How do you stay restless and inspired?

Elke: It makes you feel so satisfied when you do complete a project and you’re happy with it. It’s hard. It’s like a garden, it only flowers when you really put the hours in and you get all the elements right. Nothing good comes without hard work… When you feel like you are conveying an idea clearly, it’s so satisfying.

Laura: Are there any other fields you want to conquer?

Elke: Yes! I really want to do homewares. I love ceramics and fabrications. I’d love to do rugs and lighting; I have an object design background. I did jewelery, textiles and ceramics at university.

Laura: Can you tell me about a few Australian-based creatives who really excite you right now?

Elke: Kirra Jamison is an Australian artist who makes beautiful, bright prints. I found her on Instagram and I’m obsessed. There’s an amazing photographer called Nirrimi Hakanson. Kate Mitchell and Katherine Brickman are in a collective called Greedy Hen, which is brilliant too… Lastly, Benja Harney, who I share an office with. Not only is he the happiest, most enthusiastic man, but he is also an incredible paper engineer. Everything he does is made of completely flat pieces of paper, cut and folded. He makes it all, from flamingos to pineapples to roller skates and bouquets of flowers. He has some fantastic clients—Hermès recently flew him to Paris. We share an office and he is there until late at night and on weekends. He has paper running through his veins.

Laura: Lastly, if you could be anywhere in the world this moment, where would it be?

Elke: This is going to sound really cheesy, but seriously, right at home, right now. It’s been a long six months getting this house ready. It’s so nice to be here with it right. I just feel like this is the best place right here.

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