The whimsical worlds of Sophia Webster and Alex Monroe collide in a new collection of fairy-themed jewellery
A natural flair with a pen, a few cardboard cut-outs and some amateur photography saw 16-year-old Elsie Wright and nine-year-old Frances Griffiths hoodwink the nation in what is one of the greatest hoaxes of all time: The Cottingley Fairies, a series of five photographs snapped in 1917, supposedly proving the existence of the supernatural. It was a tale that fooled even the brightest of minds – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle made the images famous when he published them in an article, believing them to be real.
They were, of course, fake, as confirmed by the cousins in an interview in the 1980s. It was this brass-necked trickery that captured the imagination of accessories designer Sophia Webster, a century after the snaps were taken.
The girls’ intricate drawings, along with Cicely Mary Barker’s fanciful Flower Fairies, formed the basis of Webster’s S/S18 collection, Away With the Fairies, which comprises rose gold wedges, sling-back sandals with exaggerated floral embellishments and the designer’s signature Chiara heels reimagined with tie-dye wings. As usual, Webster stuck to her sartorial mantra: “Be bold in your accessories”.
“This collection is really technically different to anything I’ve done before,” the designer tells me. “There is a huge range of heel heights in different fabrics and embellishments, and we explored new heels with floating petals inside Perspex platforms and miniature three-dimensional fairies nestled inside clogs.”
Several new silhouettes have also been introduced to the handbag range, including Webster’s favourite, the Bonnie Lilico, a cylindrical cross-body bag with hand-finished floral detailing and an interior mirror.
For her fashion show, she called on set designer extraordinaire Shona Heath and stylist Leith Clark. The models wore wispy pastel chiffon and posed in life-sized picture frames, surrounded by branches decorated with lilac wisteria. The final touch came courtesy of British jewellery designer Alex Monroe, with whom Webster has produced an exclusive collection.
Working around a woodland theme, the two designers set about creating a range of pixie-style ear cuffs for the models to wear – and the collection grew steadily from there. Pearls adorn the ear cuffs, along with sterling silver garlands plated in gold, twisting rose gold ivy leaves and dragonfly wings.
Stud earrings are similarly floral, with blooming dandelion heads – each seed is individually applied in a painstaking process – and freshwater pearl, amethyst and labradorite studs wrapped in gold plates. There are also double rings with tiny spiky petals; delicate arm bands with intricately swirled golden vines; and dandelion pendants.
“As usual, we got carried away and did about a million designs and a whole mass of samples,” says Monroe. “The big problem was whittling it down to a cohesive collection. But by the time we had edited it there wasn’t anything I didn’t love... in many ways, the final collection includes all my favourite designs.”
As a technical exercise, Monroe favoured the dandelion puffball necklace, comprising 18 yellow gold dandelion seeds; while Webster, known for her love of all things statement, has a soft spot for the chunky dragonfly knuckle ring, a nod to her Chiara winged pumps. She even wore it to the S/S18 presentation, along with another Monroe piece that holds a special place in her heart.
“When my three-year-old daughter Bibi was born, my husband Bobby bought me one of Alex’s gold bumblebee pendants – I never take it off and have worn it ever since. It’s my lucky charm,” she says. “I love how delicate and finessed Alex’s interpretation of nature is and the hand-crafted intricate detailing of his work.”
The bumblebee in question is perhaps what Monroe is best known for – the most popular of his nature-inspired designs is now 10 years old. The great outdoors is, unsurprisingly, where he finds many of his ideas. “Nature is where I do most of my drawing and thinking. The further away from civilisation the better,” he smiles. “But then I bring it all back to London and turn it into something wearable and current.”
Monroe’s original love of jewellery came from a more unexpected source. “You wouldn’t know to look at me but I’ve always loved fashion,” he jokes. “I like the meritocracy of the industry and the technical challenges of making things. I love craftsmanship and I want to make things that are used, worn and loved. I guess jewellery is at the crossroads of all these things.”
The new collection, then, was the ultimate meeting of minds: Webster’s statement style married to Monroe’s whimsical designs makes for the perfect partnership, resulting in a range of dainty yet striking pieces. As Webster says, accessories should be anything but demure. Go forth and be bold.