Sometimes it isn’t necessary to tell a story using words: it is somehow evident, discreetly present and all the more beautiful because, like the iridescent flash of color on a dragonfly’s wing, it has not been captured, but allowed to express itself in its purest, most unassuming form. In the same way that we understand that a thousand words can be present in a single picture, there are all sorts of stories there for us to read—in objects, places, and people—if we want to look beyond the obvious.
What story is carried in the intricate detailing of a silver, gem-studded necklace? It might be the story of a trade passed from generation to generation, but it could equally be one of fingers acquiring a new skill. It might be the story of an idea captured from the geometry of an indigenous design, an homage to an old-established tradition redefined with contemporary relevance, or then again, a cherished memory given new life and expression. It might be the story of hours spent in a craftsman’s workshop in the mountains, or on a plain, in a country far away, but they may be hours that are far more than straightforward ‘time’: they are the representation of a newfound opportunity for independence and self-reliance.
We all have stories to tell, whether we know how to tell them or not, and it is this acknowledgement that lies behind Penelope’s Stories, created in celebration of the stories that make us who we are, and our world what it is. I wanted to be able to share stories, from those that tell themselves—in the detailing of a piece of jewelry and the hours of assiduous craftsmanship implicit in that detail—to the stories that we tell when we express who we are, be it through words, or the colored beads, precious stones or silver latticework we choose to wear.
My career in accessories began with a love of color, texture and pattern. As a young child in the seventies I was bewitched by the beautiful dresses that my mother and her friends wore to cocktail parties—they seemed to float through the room and hover in the garden in beautiful wisps of color and print. The evening would be filled with the seductive whisper of silk and the vivacious rustling of taffeta, and I drank up these visual and sensory riches, collecting images that I couldn’t wait to recall in my dreams. From early on I understood that these designs reflected influences from all around the word, from different cultures and artistic traditions. I admired the people who had created such beautiful textiles. I yearned to travel so that I could access more directly the sources of that sophistication and understand better the complexities of tradition and the mysteries of production that gave birth to such mysterious beauty.
It was in Paris, where I spent time as part of my university study abroad program, that I was finally able to immerse myself in the heart of the sophisticated world and begin slaking my thirst for style and design. My weeks were spent learning French and exploring the city (my engines well-oiled on a heavenly diet of superior cheese and wine) while my weekends were spent discovering France. Versailles, Toulouse, Nice, St Tropez: whenever I could get away, I did. And I ventured further afield. From London to Luzerne, Venice to Rome, Amsterdam to Stockholm, I gobbled up culture and honed my taste for European style, broadening my exposure to art and architecture, to the nuances of pattern, texture, and fabric, and refining my sensitivity to the complex relationship between the obvious and the subtle.
In my early professional role as a shoe buyer, I drew deeply on those early-felt instincts for beautiful things, for quality, and style, and the mysterious aura that can define an object. I felt a natural emotional connection to shoes as products, and to their designers as creators. I learned a huge amount about the intricate process by which a shoe is constructed, piece by piece, with architectural precision, and to the nuances that make them part of one trend as opposed to another. I appreciated the deeply traditional approach to shoe-making in countries like Spain and Italy, where the craft is passed through the generations and an enduring pride governs commitment to long-established methods of production and standards of quality.
But it was later when I moved from shoes to jewelry that I truly understood the potential for an even more symbolic connection with what I was doing. I hadn’t even realized that I was searching for something, but as I grew into my role as a jewelry buyer, I began to feel a resonance I hadn’t felt before. I was conscious that there was often a huge amount of history and meaning behind the beautiful things I was looking at. I met the people creating them. I saw how they work with their minds and their hands, with painstaking application and patience. I was introduced to a world where craftsmanship, aesthetic, and artistic vision are intertwined and inseparable. I felt the same emotional connection that I had originally felt when I began in shoes years before, but more intensely. I was buying, displaying, and selling things that had their own stories, and it mattered.
Over the years, however, the thrill of that initial bond and excitement got worn down as it became apparent that many of the stories behind the jewelry I was selling were getting lost in the merchandizing channels, where things like sales, turnover, and profit dictate our interaction with the objects. The resulting distance and detachment was something I felt deeply. It was disturbing, maybe more so because I had come somewhat later into the game and had felt so keenly that critical connection with the objects, their creators, and the original inspiration.
For me, jewelry, with its origin in ritual and adornment, is imbued with layers of significance. I love how it can empower. I love the way that it is an art form which allows for, and is enhanced by, the perpetuation of ancient skills and traditions. To me, this is where the true value of any object lies. I want Penelope’s Stories to be an environment in which these vital connections—part of the big, beautiful, virtuous circle that flows from inspiration to creator to jewelry to wearer to admirer—are unearthed again, shared, and celebrated. When we share things, we add to their value, and it’s not the sort of value that has a price. It’s one that transcends.
I’m also thrilled to be able to support Women for Women International, an organization that recognizes that strength comes from empowerment, and helps achieve this by working tirelessly to help marginalized women in countries affected by war and conflict acquire the education and vocational training needed to form solid, relevant skills. By having access to information about healthcare and legal rights, women are able to become healthier, stronger and more independent. But what is particularly meaningful to me is that many of the women assisted by this organization support their families by making jewelry.
I am moved and motivated by this added layer of significance and connection. In making beautiful things that have meaning and value for us, women are not only honoring old traditions and keeping art forms alive, but they are also able to look after their families and build stronger communities. There can be little more powerful than knowing that the appreciation of a beautiful thing has made a difference to someone else, no matter how far away. This is another virtuous circle, of which I am proud to be a part.
I hope to share through Penelope’s Stories, through our jewelry collections and our stories, some of what has motivated and inspired me over the years, and continues to do so. I hope that you will enjoy what you find here, and, if you do, that you will might share some of it too.