Originally a sculptor, with a Masters from The Royal Academy, Aishleen Lester was well known for her large scale, sculptural installations and was represented by the Riflemaker and Nyehaus galleries. Looking at ways to make her sculptures stronger, Aishleen started a soldering course, eventually falling in love with the world of fine jewellery and winning The Jewellery Cut Live Bursary with her debut collection Light The Grey in AW 2020. We caught up with Aishleen to discuss her evolution from artist to designer, how she’s navigated the changing world and the power of Le Ster jewellery.
You have a Masters from The Royal Academy and were originally known as a fine artist, creating large scale sculptures. Can you tell us about the moment when you decided to move into the world of fine jewellery?
I am not sure there was a moment, more a series of small decisions made over a long period of time. I had been making a large scale installation out of extraordinarily fragile materials. For the record, large scale and fragile is not a recommended mix!
I started with a soldering course, with the aim of making sturdy, indestructible sculptures, but then I became interested in how these structures worked with the body and then I got introduced to gemstones, a whole new palette of colour! One small step after another over a period of years, I launched my first collection Light the Grey at The Jewellery Cut Live.
Your debut collection, Light The Grey in AW 2020 won The Jewellery Cut Live Bursary, and was described by co-founder Rachael Taylor as “perfectly embodying the current zeitgeist in contemporary jewellery.” How would you describe your aesthetic?
A playful celebration of colour, gems and line, with the aim of giving women a confidence that lasts longer than lipstick.
Amazing. They are both so talented. I love the work of both designers although they are very different from one another. Ama Dhami’s pieces in 18 carat gold have a great sensitivity to line, creating strong shapes that nod to the architecture of her Indian heritage. They are bold and easy to wear, a winning combination. Kelly Seymour, the founder of Cult of Youth, predominantly makes her pieces in silver. Her designs are so effortlessly cool, and she’s both a wordsmith and a jeweller. I love how she always manages to capture a story or emotion. Her instagram is amazing!
You’re very inspired by empowering women and have described your jewellery as modern day talismans, providing power, energy and confidence to the person wearing them. Have you always been interested in this as a concept?
I referenced lipstick earlier on, but you know that feeling when you are psyching yourself up to do something you don’t want to do, you look into the mirror, give yourself a pep talk, put on your favourite colour of lipstick and then turn the door handle and you feel ready. That’s the feeling I want women to feel when they put on one of my jewels. I want to be able to remind people to stop caring about what other people think and live the life they want to live. As a creative this has always been a driver.
How has your style evolved since you started out as a jeweller?
When I first started out, my pieces were beautiful to look at but impossible to wear. Large hand pierced flowers, molten abstract forms that looked beautiful but would inevitably spend most of their time in a box. Over time I realised that I was not fulfilling my own design brief. I had made the choice to move from art into jewellery because I wanted my pieces to be worn. Now I would say that aesthetic impact and wearability are weaved together.
How have you coped with the ever changing landscape of 2020? Have you noticed any changes to your design practice this year or new ideas emerging?
It has been tough. In the first lockdown the whole industry came to a halt, initially I did panic. On winning the Jewellery Cut bursary, I had planned to contact buyers and get my first stockists secured. The nature of retail changed abruptly and I realised that I too had to change my strategy. Once I stopped resisting what was actually happening in the world and started to look for the opportunity within the chaos of Covid, I started moving again. I have to admit my proactive approach was definitely propped up by friends, by my mastermind group and regular conversations with Studio Luxmore, Laura Purdy my graphic designer, my guru for all things aesthetic related, and photographer Rhys Gray who gave me a couple of photography lessons over lockdown. In the end I used the time to re-design my packaging, website, lookbook and linesheets. All things that needed to be done but I had been putting on the long finger. But don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all productive! I did definitely go on some creative wrong tangents as well! As for changes, I think that people have become a lot more aware of where things are bought, where they come from and this is something I want to explore further in my next body of work.
Sustainability has rightly become a key focus within the jewellery industry, and we also know how important it is to you. Can you tell us about your process and materials?
You are right, sustainability has become an ever-increasing issue within our environment, and it does need to be put centre stage. However it is a complex goal to achieve within the jewellery sector. As a small business, I do what I can within my means. I use responsibly sourced stones, all the pieces are handmade in the UK, and are made to order, which is a low impact process with minimal waste. As a designer I live by the premise of buy well, buy less. I use highly skilled craftsmen, with an amazing attention to detail and all the pieces are made in 18 Carat gold or platinum, which doesn’t tarnish with time. I aim to make jewels which feel special, hoping that they will be passed from one generation to the next.
What do you love the most about being a jeweller?
Jewellery is worn, it is very much part of life. Memories and associations you have with a jewel grows as you grow. I still wear a pendant that my Mum and Dad gave me when before I had any idea that I might become a jeweller. It is a constant in an ever changing world.
Who or what inspires you?
I realise it’s not an incredibly useful answer but everything! I am a magpie! However, the places I go to when I get stuck are definitely art galleries, long walks and song lyrics.
What’s next for you?
In 2021 I can’t wait to return to face to face events, I miss chatting to my customers! I also have plans to launch a small engagement collection in September 2021 which I feel really excited about. Roll on 2021!Find out how Studio Luxmore helped Le Ster launch their first collection and with a bespoke Brand Strategy and new Visual Identity.