Through the collection of vintage materials and odds & ends from the hardware store, Karen uses remnants of industrial culture to make a statement about consumption. These statement pieces are sturdy, hand-made and shine a completely new light on otherwise boring and ubiquitous materials. Electrical strips and rubber bands have never been so hot.

Please start by telling us a little about yourself, your educational background and what you are currently working on.
I’m a Norwegian designer originally educated in Fashion and Costume design from the Oslo National Academy of Arts in Norway. After my education, I moved to Paris for an intended 6 month break with friends, french cheese and baguettes and now, years later I’m still here… After a short stop working at the fashion house Maison Martin Margiela, I decided to go for my own projects. Currently I’m working on the final steps towards getting my jewellery concept, Retusj, ready for the market.

How did all of this converge and lead you into jewellery design?
During my last semester at school, I worked on a collection based on the subject of consumption, a sort of cross-over between shabby goods and the excessive snobbishness. Among other things, I started developing some pieces around the topic of plagiarism where I made exclusive items imitating cheap products. This material research also inspired me to develop a small series of jewellery based around the same concept, only by upcycling, not imitating the items.

I never thought much about the jewellery before about a year later when I found myself situated in a 10-square-meter “apartment” in Paris. The lack of space restrained me from installing functional sewing atelier, so I decided to look elsewhere for an independent project. And voilà, this is when I started re-exploring the world of jewellery.

The materials used in your jewellery range from plastic flowers to vintage chains and electrical strips (among many other things). Tell us a bit about why you are drawn to these types of materials and what inspired you to start using them in your jewelry.
Studying fashion, it was very clear to me from the beginning that I had no wish to contribute to the enormous mass production of quantity goods that is out there, so I’ve always looked for other ways to approach fashion. Further, creating beauty only for the sake of it, is not what inspires me so I look for unexpected sources to challenge my creativity. My starting point was redesign, but after moving to Paris I got really hooked on the upcycling of everyday products. In my part of town, every corner has it’s own cheap-jack bazaar and this has become my main source of inspiration. The leading throwaway mentality opens up for an enormous production of these everyday products, sadly few items work properly. I’ve decided to do my best to reinvent them to keep them from going to waste. Retusj is all about pulling these items out of the mass-produced limbo, giving them new life and long lasting interest.

Above: Photos from Module I

Can you tell us a little bit about how and where you find your materials?
I’m a real collector and my atelier holds a large stock of things gathered from all over, waiting to be transformed. Flea-markets, bazaars, and huge mixed retails stores are my favourites – along with some selected magazines for jewellery supplies. I also have some secret addresses for rare vintage pearls and old chains.

What comes first – the materials or the design idea?
Definitely the materials. When working with clothes it can be both ways, but the concept of Retusj is mainly based around the use of materials. The whole process is really intuitive, never a drawing or a final idea, I just pull out my selected materials and take it from there.

You are currently located in Paris, but spent several months in Berlin last year and also frequently visit your homeland, Norway. How do these three places differ in terms of their creative scenes and how have these places inspired you creatively?
For me, Berlin has become the compromise between Norway and Paris, in sense of spirits, and also when it comes to their creative scenes. From Paris, the established pro to Oslo, the beginner, Berlin feels like the perfect in-between. Paris is great in terms of its large selection of materials and inspirations, but what I found in Berlin is really what I have been missing here in Paris –  bubbling creativity and new, fresh initiatives all over the place… Not to mention all the space! When it comes to Norway there are a lot of great things going on that I hope I can take a bigger part of in the future. Ideally, I’d like to be able to frequently swap between these three places, as they each have a special energy that inspires me differently: The classical French, the craziness of Berlin and the Scandinavian coolness.

You obviously care a great deal about professionality and the graphic presentation of your work. How and why do you think a strong graphic profile can help you and other designers achieve your goals?
For me it has been important to have my graphical profile and website settled before starting to promote my products, simply because I think this speaks to a more established, professional project. Good products are essential, but in these visuals days I really think a good graphical frame helps you achieve placing your products at your desired destination.

Above: From Module II. Photography by Joachim Grønsveen

What are your goals? Where do you see yourself in 5 years, in terms of your work, and what are your biggest challenges?
My goal is to be able to live fully and freely from my own work as a designer, leaving me with plenty of time for side-projects and creative exploration. In 5 years I hope I to have my own studio settled, working with both jewellery and clothing. I also hope the future brings a lot of interesting collaborations. The biggest challenge so far has, without a doubt, been to establish my project and achieve a professional level meagre finances. On the other hand, I really have to mention all the lovely people who have helped me in the process. The goodwill you’ll find inside the creative milieu for non-profit assignments is really amazing!

Where online do you go for your daily inspiration?
I have no daily online routines. My inspirations come mainly from searching for materials, but for visual pleasures I like to visit sites like ffffound.com and www.intelligent—–clashing.com. There are so many cool ideas out there, but If something is already done, I leave it alone.

Above: From Module II

Anything else you would like to add?
Innovate don’t imitate! In a business that is largely based on copying others (ref.fashion) I think it’s important for all creatives to focus on inventing concepts of their own!

See more of Karen’s work on her website!