We at THEN AND NOW believe that classic style is timeless, and what could be more classic than pearls? In keeping with this belief, we recently introduced ORA Pearls and wanted to learn more about this beautiful brand from the designer herself – Bibi Southwell.
1. Can you tell us about the origin of the company and where the inspiration for the name of the company came from?
I have spent the last decade locating and exploring pearl farms and gem sources around the world and immersing myself in the pearl and jewellery industry. Alongside a full time career in private equity, I became qualified with the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and started creating bespoke jewellery pieces for family and friends from my London flat. In 2015, I left the corporate world to pursue my passion and I launched ORA. ‘ORA’ is a Latin word meaning ‘shore’ or ‘coast,’ which is the essence of the brand.
2. How has your brand evolved since your first collection?
My design philosophy focuses on minimalistic simplicity and quality craftsmanship and materials. My vision is to bring new life to the way pearls have been traditionally worn so continually developing fresh and fashion-forward designs offering everyday luxury is the challenge.
3. What countries are you currently manufacturing in? Are they specific to your company’s image?
I hand select each and every pearl myself at the source ensuring the finest quality. I also design and hand-make every piece myself in my studio in Chelsea, London. Being a British jewellery brand where items are manufactured by hand in central London is quite a novelty nowadays.
4. How would you describe your customer?
Diverse. Both men buying gifts for women and women of all ages and nationalities. There is something for everyone.
5. How do you want women to feel when they wear one of your products?
Elegant, stylish, unique, inspired.
6. Who are your style icons?
Gwyneth Paltrow and (in more recent years) Victoria Beckham with their minimalist and chic approach to fashion.
7. Which fashion designers have inspired you?
The visionaries Alexander McQueen and Sarah Burton.
8. What aspects of your life do you draw inspiration from for the brand image and products?
I studied Classics and Ancient History so I am utterly obsessed with cultures past and foreign, and the evolution of art and architecture. I am intrigued and obsessed by aesthetics and I am constantly absorbing the world around me in a quest to find beauty in its various forms for inspiration.
9. Is there anyone you’d like to design for and why?
Gabriella Wilde for her sheer beauty and elegance, and Lady Gaga for the creative challenge.
10. Do you follow fashion trends or do you work from your own inspiration?
My own inspiration.
11. Can you guide us through your design process?
I believe that a lot of jewellery design can overcomplicate or overshadow the gem itself. I want to create jewellery that celebrates the innate beauty and timeless character of nature’s most natural gem. My latest collection focuses on featuring one huge prominent pearl set alone on a chain. These particularly large pearls are relatively new to the pearl market.
12. Are there any new design techniques that you’ve introduced for the first time with your latest products?
13. What were your biggest challenges as a company starting out?
The financial challenges of funding the business personally and learning strict time management as the sole individual responsible for all elements of the business from accounting to social media and customer service etc, not just the sourcing and manufacturing.
For more about Ora Pearls and their beautiful designs, visit Ora Pearls here.