PICHULIK and the icon of the Brave Woman

Image from PICHULIK AW16 lookbook. Photograph by Kent Andreasen. Image courtesy of PICHULIK and the photographer.

Photograph from the PICHULIK Nolita lookbook. Photograph by Kent Andreasen. Image courtesy of PICHULIK and the photographer.

PICHULIK is a bespoke range of handcrafted neckpieces and ornamentation designed by Katherine-Mary Pichulik. Made in Cape Town, South Africa, PICHULIK is inspired by the intimate relationship that women have with jewelry. If the PICHULIK brand was a person, she would have a wicked sense of humour; a strong yet inspired presence; kind, wise eyes that speak of many journeys through exotic lands. She would smell the way jasmine smells in Johannesburg at the end of winter – promising spring. She would taste of pomegranates from Granada and rose syrup from Morrocco. IAM met up with Katherine-Mary Pichulik and head fashion designer for PICHULIK, Nadya Von Stein, to find put more about the brand’s ethos.

Katherine-Mary Pichulik of PICHULIK

Katherine-Mary Pichulik comes from a fine art background and has gone on to win numerous business awards, including Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year by the Business Woman Association of South Africa. She has also recently undertaken a Business Management Diploma. In contrast with Katherine-Mary’s experience, and paradoxically, the business side of art and design is often neglected in formal art training, leaving many artists ill equipped to manage themselves from a practical point of view.

Simone Schultz (SS): Along with having qualified with a fine arts degree, you’re also a writer and a trained pâtissière. How do these disciplines inform and manifest in Pichulik?
Katherine-Mary Pichulik (KMP): I fell into fashion out of a love for making things with my hands and an interest in ornamentation. PICHULIK has been around for just over 3 years and we have cultivated a loyal community of wearers, which has led to some accolades by the fashion industry. We are interested in using jewellery for telling empowered stories.


SS: There is something distinctly visceral about everything PICHULIK – can you tell us about how the materials and the transformation impart or evoke deeply personal meanings and messages?
KMP: I see the process as alchemic, transforming an industrial material – such as rope, alongside found materials both precious and unexpected – into objects of meaning and beauty. The stones serve significant healing properties; the shapes and colour choices are steeped in symbolism. We create with intention.

SS: Can you tell us more about your insights on the business of art? What advice would you give to other artists regarding the business side of their practice?
KMP: Organisations are made up of people. The best business creates a space for people to actualise their greatness, to exercise their gifts. Leadership sees the value in each person and organises a system to best access and express it.

Portrait of Katherine-Mary Pichulik. Courtesy of PICHULIK.

Portrait of Katherine-Mary Pichulik. Courtesy of PICHULIK.

SS: You’ve collaborated with a number of other local and international designers and artists on projects ranging from bespoke headphones to shoes, handbags and clothing. Of these collaborations, which ones stand out? Why are cross-discipline collaborations such as these so important for PICHULIK, and for the African design world at large?
KMP: I would never say that one stands out over another as each came at a time where they were relevant for both my personal and brand journey. We try to have continued collaborations, often working continuously with a brand or creative. This year, we follow on the success of our Espadril collaboration with a new espadrille style. We also have a long lasting collaboration with Binky Newman of Design Afrika who we collaborated with on our Zwazwa bags.

SS: You participated in an artists’ residency at Villa Lena in Tuscany in 2015. In the context of contemporary art, how do you think your practice of making jewellery and embellished accessories fits in?
KMP: I think not having a traditional jewellery background means I don’t have a stagnant definition of what jewellery is – and I can play with these boundaries.

SS: The icon of the ‘brave woman’ is at the heart of your design ethos; can you tell us more about her? Who is she?
KMP: She is a woman who speaks and walks her truth. She is able to be silent enough to hear her inner stirrings. I think the most outrageous thing you can do, as a woman these days, is to like yourself just as you are without changing. The beauty, fashion and even medical industry profit on our feelings of inadequacy. Bravery can start by simply growing self-acceptance and self-worth, which leads to self-care.

SS: You place enormous emphasis on empowering and uplifting women in local communities, especially the local women who form the PICHULIK team. Can you tell about the ethics of engaging with the ‘craft sector’ in the way that you do and how you work to avoid a top-down relationship between designer, maker and buyer?
KMP: It is important that in every aspect of the business we seek to empower women. What this means to us is that we choose to work with as many local women-owned producers as possible. Our CMT (‘Cut, Make and Trim’) factory is female-owned and local. Our dust bags are outsourced to local women. Our team is pan-African and mostly women. And our environment is encouraging, supportive and developmental – our price per unit payment is negotiated amongst everyone in the team and not dictated. We choose to collaborate with predominantly women-owned local and impactful companies such as the collaborators mentioned above.

Nadya Von Stein of PICHULIK

PICHULIK recently launched its first seasonal fashion collection, Nolita – inspired by the shapes and silhouettes of the Italian summer. Each of the pieces is made from hand-dyed hemp fabric, an eco-friendly, carbon-negative and pesticide-free natural fibre. IAM posed a few questions to Nadya Von Stein, head fashion designer for Pichulik and co-designer of the Nolita range.

SS: PICHULIK’S fashion collections are “complementary to the core offering of the brand, its jewellery.” Can you tell us how the fashion ranges compliment PICHULIK’S ethos of “Bold jewellery for Brave Women”?
Nadya Von Stein (NVS): Reinventing a classic by embellishing with PICHULIK rope details. Looking to the past for inspiration and adding contemporary details creates garments that are suited for an older woman to feel beautiful, graceful, ageless and current, while also modern enough for younger women to wear the same pieces too. This reinforces the concept of sharing items between generations; embodying old-school elegance and simplicity. So the clothing is accessible to the ‘everyday’ woman, regardless of age, due to their timeless shapes and silhouettes. Acute attention to detail is emphasised by exceptional tailoring.


SS: You’re formally trained as a fashion designer but have been working for PICHULIK for a number of years. How has working with PICHULIK influenced your personal aesthetic and design practice?
NVS: Creatively, these have been the best years of my life! At PICHULIK, there are no boundaries when it comes to design and every day at work is fun. We have a great team and always support each other. One of the most important lessons I learnt was that there is a solution to every creative problem, something we always forget when getting lost in the design process. Katherine-Mary is a mentor and a friend to me. Her brand is everything I stand for as a woman.

SS: Please tell us more about the incorporation of the half moon motif in your work, which is present in almost all of the pieces. What is the significance of using the crescent moon symbol, typically associated with ancient notions of femininity and power?
NVS: The moon represents the sacred feminine and the crescent shape resting on a woman’s nape is intended as a marker that she is one of the strong women who make up the PICHULIK community.

SS: Can you give us some insight into the relationship between yourself and Katherine-Mary? What does your partnership involve and how do the two of you work together to conceptualise each range?
NVS: Katherine-Mary is the creative director of the company. She conceptualises each seasonal theme and briefs me on her vision. I have full creative freedom to make the clothing collection my own and then report back to her with my ideas.

SS: Finally, what are you working on now and what can we expect to see from PICHULIK’S fashion department in the near future?
NVS: Currently we are working on SS17, launching at the end of September. All our collections are kept a secret until the launch event. With all our collections we stay true to our ethos of only using natural fabrics. We are currently loving hand-dyed hemp fabric in a colour to suit the season – summer or winter-friendly. Aside from being eco-friendly, added benefits are blocking UV rays, and being a carbon-negative and pesticide-free natural fiber.

More about PICHULIK
PICHULIK accessories are designed and crafted in Cape Town, South Africa. Katherine-Mary, trained artist and Patissier started PICHULIK in Sept 2012 after a trip around India. PICHULIK is inspired by the intimate relationship women have with jewelry – it speaks of her travels, her mother or grandmother and the people she has loved.

Find PICHULIK on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PICHULIK, on Twitter: @Pichulik and on Instagram: @pichulikafrica.


28.09.2016 – Interview conducted by Simone Schultz for IAM – Images: Courtesy PICHULIK and Kent Andreasen.

More about Simone Schultz
Simone Schultz is a freelance writer and editor based in Cape Town, South Africa. A graduate of the University of Cape Town, she is also the former Deputy Editor of ART AFRICA magazine.

Les billets IAM sont publiés dans leur langue d’origine | IAM blog posts are published in their original language.

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