Tessa Packard Discussing Plastic Fantastic
hen a jeweller decides to begin working with an alternative material, it’s always fascinating to see the results. Even more so when the material is one of the most interacted with in our daily lives and has become the centre of growing controversy in recent years: plastic. Plastic Fantastic is Tessa Packard’s thought-provoking, modern ode to a by-gone era of Florida pool parties, fabulous cars, polkadot bikinis, Jello, and of course the explosion of plastic consumer products in post war America.
While most jewellers would relegate this material to the dollar store, Tessa daringly brought it to the forefront of her collection, and embraced the material by setting lusciously coloured rings, bangles, earrings, and necklaces with a host of gemstones and precious metal accents. The plot thickens when you discover that Tessa has also used a collection of vintage plastic jewellery, proving that even outmoded costume jewels can be loved again, elevated to the heights of fine jewellery, and most importantly be saved from the rubbish bin.
Challenging people’s preconceptions on what fine jewellery is can be difficult, and it takes a brave jeweller to break the rules. However, I believe Plastic Fantastic makes a valuable case through its refined and balanced use of resins, gemstones, and precious metals. It also made me think back to a conversation I had with Christian Hemmerle. He once said to me, “…beauty can be in anything and everywhere.” And to me, this collection is the embodiment of those words.
For a deeper understanding of Plastic Fantastic, I sent a few questions over to Tessa. Read below the complete interview with her, and learn about the exciting spirit displayed throughout her collection.
What was your path to using lucite as a fine jewellery material?
Our forthcoming collection, Plastic Fantastic, takes things a step further and marries vintage lucite and acrylic pieces with precious metals and gemstones. We started playing around with resin about three years ago when we started making fake resin cocktails as props for our cocktail themed Under the Influence collection. My interest in resin grew and grew and slowly I began to experiment with setting gemstones into resin. From there I started reading about the history of plastic jewellery, from its emergence in the early Twentieth Century with the invention of bakelite, to its widespread popularity in the 1940s and 1050s with lucite costume jewellery. I began wondering if there could still be a market or demand for plastic jewellery in the Twenty-First Century, and if so, what would that look like given the reputation of plastic in the modern era. That’s when I came up with the idea of recycling or up-cycling vintage lucite mounts and chain to create new designs.
Can you tell me about the collection, and your artistic nods?
Plastic Fantastic is a whimsical collection of jewellery inspired by the spirit and the glamour of the 1950s pool party. Set in steamy Florida, it embraces bold and bright form in all its glory, in much the same way that mid-century America embraced colour after the war. Bright canary yellows, soft pastel lavenders, Barbie pinks and vibrant turquoise hues echo the swimwear, the cars, the architecture, cocktails and jell-o creations of that era. The use of plastics in the collection represents not only the consumer culture and boom in plastic production at that time; it also represents creativity and the inspired, as plastic in the 1950s was a novel and exciting material to work with in all sectors, free from design preconceptions regarding its use. In short, plastic was then what it is not now: cool.
Elements of 1950s Florida can be seen (first and foremost) in our use of plastics, our bold handling of shape and form, our use of the heart motif (representing the fashion for sweet-heart necklines), our consistent use of the bead or ball shape (echoing the popular polka-dot pattern of the era) and our application of colour.
One final element, which might seem a strange source of inspiration, is jell-o. A leading trend of the time for those in high society was to encase dishes (such as lamb chops or chopped salad) in moulded aspic or gelatine to create towers of ‘set’ food. Fun to prepare, they also made food transportation a mess-free affair, which was particularly useful when more and more of the entertaining moved outside, away from the dining room or kitchen. The pool was now the place to hang out, and food needed to be able to get there without spilling or falling apart. In our eyes, there is definitely a visual similarity between the smooth, plastic-looking jell-o and the appearance of clear lucite or acrylic.
What references would we see on your mood board?
If you looked at my mood board you would see images of the famous Raleigh Pool in Miami, ladies clad in polka dot bikinis with sweet-heart necklines, Miami’s Art Deco architecture, gumball machines, dusky pink and mellow orange interiors, the Atlantic Towers Hotel in its heyday, endless images of jell-o, Slim Aarons photography, cabana culture and the original (and wonderful) cat-shaped pool at the Fontainebleau Hotel.
Was this collection designed to elevate lucite, or was it aimed at creating a time capsule of this era?
First and foremost I hope the collection will illustrate that lucite (and other low grade materials) can be used to make timeless and collectable pieces of fine jewellery. I’m on a gentle mission to shake up some of the more established, preconceived views about what constitutes fine jewellery versus costume jewellery. Second to that, I would like the collection to be appreciated as a time capsule of this era, but one that is modern slanting in its interpretation and obviously inspired by my own, personal design DNA. I’m not trying to recreate the past like for like; I’m more interested in reinterpreting it through my own eyes.
Were there any unexpected challenges you faced when creating this collection?
Most of the challenges we have encountered to date resound around manufacturing. Plastic is in some ways an extremely easy material to work with: it drills fairly easily, liquid resin holds gemstones and other found objects extremely well and is pretty hard wearing. However, it is a very unforgiving material. You can’t just melt it down and start again if you scratch, break, bend or chip it. We found ourselves having to be very precise and steady-handed when it came to the assembly of the pieces.