Vibe Harsløf, goldsmith
On craft and the art of solving riddles
Interview by Julie Moestrup
Did you grow up in a creative family?
’Actually, they’re a real mix of artists and engineers. Although I’m hopeless at figures and maths, there’s very likely a nerdy engineer hidden somewhere inside me. I approach my jewellery work both intuitively and technically. I’m really fixated on the angle in an earring being just so or finding the perfect way to fasten a necklace. Nerdiness is part of my practice and I love to set myself tasks. For example, how can I make an earring where pearls seem to be pouring out of the ear – and fit as many different ears as possible? I spend much time simplifying the complex and overcoming the technical challenges. My father and grandfather both trained as sheet-metal workers and ended up as engineers. I’ve probably got my dexterity from them. My grandfather spent hours in his hobby workshop repairing just about anything. I grew up in a family where we were encouraged to go for the things we really wanted to do – and to believe that we’d succeed.
What kinds of jewelry do you remember from your childhood?
My grandfather had given my grandmother a beautiful medallion with a flamingo on the one side and a peacock on the other, both made from down feathers. He had bought it in Colombia where he worked as a young man. I remember that he made a new and nicer mount for it in his workshop. I’ve inherited the medallion and it means a lot to me. I’ve always been fascinated by jewellery but perhaps more by their narrative than their actual expression.
"I’ve always been fascinated by jewellery but perhaps more by their narrative than their actual expression."
What was the first piece of jewellery you made?
During my childhood, I was not interested in making jewellery. Instead, I drew and cut out lots of paper dolls and lots of clothes for them. My interest in jewellery was induced by my mother when I was twenty. We visited a couple of her friends in Germany, who worked at a design school with a jewellery branch. We saw the graduate show where the students had used all kinds of materials from lacquered dog biscuits assembled to royal crowns and necklaces made of cleaning sponges. This was a whole new world to me. I saw that jewellery could be many things. Once back from Germany, I was excited and couldn’t wait to get started. I made my first piece of jewellery in my father’s basement workshop where I was busy with soldering brass, drill, file, and saw. The result was a large and fairly bulky brass finger ring with wire wrapped around it.
"In hindsight, I’ve been exploring and playing with techniques and materials long before I knew I was going to design jewelry."
I’ve always loved the smell of hot metal. At school, my favourite subject was metalwork. I produced countless ashtrays and candlesticks. Working with a saw and a file and the Bunsen burner with a huge flame was my idea of happiness. In hindsight, I’ve been exploring and playing with techniques and materials long before I knew I was going to design jewellery. My approach to the craft has been to challenge the conventional use and wearing of jewellery. It’s all about sensualising a body part by making the person wearing the jewellery aware of it. Like some of my hand jewellery, for example; because they slightly interfere with the wearer´s gestures and draw attention to the hand – they will in turn, naturally make the person wearing it move more gracefully. Another example is the ankle – by framing it, it becomes sexy rather than just being a body part with a small funny bone on the side of the foot. It’s fascinating to emphasise the body’s oddities as well as its natural lines –For instance a silver thread accentuating parts of an ear or asymmetrical play with its curves and shapes.
How and when were your ears first pierced?
I must’ve been around twelve and in with this group of friends where we pierced each other’s ears. Just one. We used pins as jewellery and it was probably the idea of a piercing rather than the aesthetics that fascinated me. Since then, I’ve had proper piercings made, one in each earlobe. In my early twenties, I had my nose pierced after a trip to India, but that’s gone now and exchanged with a clip-on for special occasions. That’s why they’ve been part of my collection for the past eight years.
Which path did you take to become a jewellery designer?
When I returned from Germany, I quickly managed to become an intern with the Danish jewellery designer Jane Kønig and totally fell in love with the craft. In the evenings, I was allowed to make my own designs. The tools and metals … a playground just as fascinating as the metalwork lessons back in my school days. I didn’t doubt for a second that this was going to be my profession.
Where do you source your inspiration?
Everywhere. An overheard conversation might conjure up pictures in my mind, resulting in a specific idea for a piece of jewellery. A piece of music or a work of art. The clearing in a wood. Anything really can spark the inspiration and then the work begins. With some pieces, the construction takes shape quickly. Others might take months. I often lie wondering and fantasising about a piece of jewellery in bed at night. How could I bend the metal to make it precisely as I imagine it on the body –basically I try to 3D scan it in my thoughts? Eventually, I drew sketches to remember at the workshop. The art consists in transforming two-dimensional sketches into three-dimensional objects.
You’ve created jewelry under your own name since 1994. Which have since become your signature pieces?
It must be the LILY ear staples and ear wraps, I began working with them around 2008 – and they’ve since gained a solid position in my jewellery DNA. To me, they presented a new way of addressing ears that was a turning point. I now have a large range of ear cuffs besides the Earstaples, which I’ll continue to make. They’re at once minimalistic and complex. It can be difficult to put them on if you don’t know-how. In that sense, they’re enigmatic and I like that. Once they’re on, they’re very comfortable. They don’t require a pierced ear, but you need to be able to solve the riddle. That turns me on as a designer. We have to collectively share the understanding of the piece’s mindset. I love making jewellery that is not just aimed at piercings in ears or meant to fit around necks or fingers. I love underplayed sexiness and the interplay of classic masculinity and femininity. For example, a feminine version of a cowboy tie where the lower part disappears below a neckline or a detail from a bracelet jutting out from underneath a sleeve – the art of understatement which can only be accentuated by a piece of jewellery.
"I love underplayed sexiness and the interplay of classic masculinity and femininity."
I’ve always been interested in decorating overlooked body parts. Moreover, I also like to comment on the times we live in. For example, AirPods have become part of our wardrobe – like sneakers.
I first made sneaker jewellery in 2013, since then it has evolved and several new pieces have been added
AirPod jewellery was launched in the spring of 2020 following a very lengthy and elaborate development process
What’s the first thing you do when you enter your workshop?
I make coffee and turn on my computer. When I’ve finished all the practical/office work and my head is cleared, I’m ready to sit down in my workshop and work. I prefer being on my own and I only make jewellery there – never at home.
Do you lunch out or from the fridge?
From the fridge five minutes before panic hunger sets in. Whatever is on the shelves: milk, carrots, tomatoes, rye bread, tofu, salad, perhaps a couple of eggs for an omelette in the microwave. Often, my lunch ends up being a weird mix.
Do you have fixed work routines?
I can work at all times, day or night, but best of all between 5 and 8 p.m. At this time, I’m filled with serenity, with nothing to disturb me. I also like working in the workshop on Sundays.
Which tool can’t you live without?
The pliers I use for bending metal. This is where a piece of jewellery first takes shape and the proper process starts; where 2D turns 3D. And then my pencil for the sketches.
To whom is your jewellery addressed?
"I think it’s a fun challenge to rework old into new jewelry"
Does going green affect your jewellery design?
I’ve always been aware of not overproducing and I’m now busy exploring the possibilities of producing my jewelry in Denmark so that I can make smaller and more flexible series. I also reuse all the styles that for one reason or another, exit the collection. I think it’s a fun challenge to rework old into new jewellery; this is how the IRIS earring long wire evolved. It’s not always possible and then I reuse the stones or pearls and recycle the silver.
What do you listen to when you’re working in the workshop?
I always revert to New Order. It’s familiar and easy on the ear when I’m sitting at my work table. The same goes for Iggy Pop (and generally early American punk). Of more recent music, I am really into Tirzah, Yune Pinku, Chubby and the gang, Viagra Boys and Nick Hakim at the moment. When music becomes too much, I change to podcasts or audiobooks. The magazine Rolling Stone has some good pods called Music Now, documentary pods are also good, for example, the series Land of Giants that, in many episodes, explores everything about big tech companies such as Amazon. I’ve recently listened to the trilogy by the author Rachel Cusk.
If you weren’t a jewelry designer, you’d probably be a…
… chef, i love cooking -its almost as grounding and meditative as making jewelry is to me.
Your favourite colour is…
… changing. At the moment, it’s green.
Your first childhood memory…
… a teddy bear bigger than myself.
Five people – dead or alive – you’d invite to your dream birthday party…
… David Bowie, Simone de Beauvoir, Alexander McQueen, Anne Imhof, Sigmar Polke, Elsa Schiaparelli, and my friend Jeanette who’d make the conversation roll when I’m sitting in the corner, starstruck.
What makes you laugh…
… almost everything. I laugh a lot.
Your favourite dish…
… oysters, green papaya salad and tartare. Pure ‘raw food’.
What did you dream about becoming when you were a child…
… an archaeologist – I found digging in the soil and looking for finds from the past fascinating.
Vibe's never-ending inspiration
I’ve got a version of Dazed & Confused from 2000 which knocked me out when I first flipped through it (in a good way) and which has followed me ever since and still inspires me.
Dazed & Confused from 2000
Who are your biggest design inspiration?
Alexander McQueen and Martin Margiela are both iconic to me. Another big inspiration has been old Paco Rabanne Of newer designers i am always excited to see what Marine Serre, Botter and Lutz Huelle makes all very conscious of the environment and how to reuse old garments but with very different outcomes But there are so many interesting designers, both new and olde, too many to mention.
Who do you follow?
What is your daily inspiration?
I love kitsch and have collected it all my life, some of it’s now in the basement (otherwise I’d drown in it), but the best things are still out.
Kitsch favorites from my apartment
Kitsch favorites from my apartment
My other passion is the art and now I have a small collection. I’m personally attached to most of the works, as the all have a story attached –some were bought on journeys, others made by friends and family.
Generally, I’m just a hoarder!