Much like her creations, Anissa Kermiche is a one-off. Born in Paris to an academic French-Algerian family, Kermiche was steered into the world of corporate engineering before changing track to find her calling in jewellery design – honing her craft in London’s Hatton Garden. Her eponymous label followed in 2016, a line of wearable art pieces celebrating womanhood, empowerment and female form. Quickly amassing a cult following, Anissa Kermiche has now expanded to sculptural ceramic vases and every unique vessel embodies its maker; whip-smart, feminine, witty and charming. We visited the designer at her central London home to get the full story – and some interior inspiration.
Can you tell us about your upbringing in Paris? I grew up in Paris with my mother and sister, until I left home at 17 to study in Lille, in the north of France. My mother was really engaged with my schoolwork and very serious about discipline, which in some ways repressed my inner troublemaker. Under her guidance, I graduated with a degree from one of the top engineering universities in France.
Even in such an ultra-academic background, I always remember having an everlasting obsession with jewellery. I used to help my mother whenever she bought jewellery from a very early age, discussing how to style pieces and how to combine them with her outfits. Jewellery purchases are mostly made by men (65% of the jewellery bought is by men for women), but I remember it being a very feminine and empowering action, as my mum worked hard and didn’t need anyone to spoil her.
That probably explains why I design jewellery that attracts strong women now. We always shared a true passion for fashion, so much so that she used to reward good grades with shopping sessions - I don’t need to explain why that made me a committed student!
Did the city influence your aesthetic?I think it did for sure! Growing up in Paris, surrounded by the most beautiful sights, buildings, and coming from a multi-cultural background, contributed to opening my spirit to design and art. I developed a strong interest in design early on and painted a lot when I was younger. I loved the tangibility of making things and would sell my beaded jewellery to my friends when I was out of school in summer.
I now dedicate a lot of time to feeding my passion for visual arts and always prioritise travelling around Europe to visit art and design fairs. I particularly love the Salone del Mobile in Milan, where I’ve had the chance to meet some of my favourite lamp designers, and witness the city changing into a giant showroom for an entire week.
You started out in engineering. Why were you initially drawn to the industry?I had a natural aptitude for science and was pushed in that direction by my school and my mother. She never graduated, because she married my father before the end of her studies and it just wasn’t the done thing back then. It’s crazy that there’s such a gap in mentality in only one generation! I had the chance to graduate in engineering, specialising in logistics, and I worked for a few years in that industry.
When and why did you turn your back on it?I was 25, I didn’t like my job or my future prospects. Working for a big corporation was never a dream, I just didn’t fit in. There was no space for my creativity and I had this inner need to draw, imagine, create and add colour around me. I didn’t see myself reading books about logistics on the side and perfecting my knowledge in computer science to evolve in that world, but would rather spend time making jewellery at home. I think the scientific “male-centric” industry definitely influenced the power-femme nature of my designs.
After I made the leap, I travelled for a year. I had felt like I’d spent my whole life taking things seriously without looking at what was around me. It took moving to London and making a drastic career change to leave that scientific background behind me.
The minute I walked into Central St Martins, it suddenly made sense, I was in heaven! Moving to London and changing path was the best decision I could ever make.
How did jewellery design come into the equation?As cliché as it sounds, it’s been in me since my childhood. I spent hours beading jewellery and wrapping myself in any chain I found, from a broken bicycle to turning earrings into bindis on my forehead. I wouldn’t stop imagining clothes, fabrics and shapes. I just tried to repress it all those years because I was somehow convinced that I would never be taken seriously as a designer.
How did you learn your craft?I studied jewellery design at CSM and then computer aided design and 3D printing to link up with my engineering background at Holts Academy of Jewellery, between the ages of 26 to 30. I started my business during my graduation, as I couldn’t wait any longer! All these sketches I had imagined my whole life needed to come out!
How would you characterise your jewellery designs?Ultra-feminine, daring, empowering and meaningful. My last collection Liberte Egalite Feminite is inspired by the French Revolution and every piece bears the name of a famous figure of that era who took up arms before everyone else to rebel against a system they didn’t agree with.
"My collection is a big soup and the ingredients are my past, dreams, and personal revenges on life."
The line gathered momentum quickly, to what do you attribute its success?I would say hard work and trying to think outside of the box. I tried my best to innovate and come up with designs that I hadn’t seen anywhere else, so I feel like I have something new to offer to the market. I used to run a jewellery blog as a student, interviewing designers, following the trends, to make sure I knew as much as I could about the space, which certainly helped. I also took a few months to write a detailed business plan in order to have clear goals.
And now your vases! What was the starting point for these? I naively made a first vase for my own flat as I couldn’t find anything similar, in the same way I started designing jewellery I wanted to wear and couldn’t source. My friends saw it and suddenly wanted to order one, so I looked for a manufacturer to help me make a batch of 10, then buyers suddenly asked me if I could retail them in their shops, and here we are now, six months later! Their success gave me the confidence to expand the line to 15 more objects, coming in the following year.
What materials do you work with?Ceramic. I am starting to work with glass soon, mixing it with ceramic, I can’t wait to show you, it is too exciting!
Can you tell us about your creative process?I normally sketch in the morning or when I walk. Shapes never come to me during working hours, as I running my business is very intense. Stress and creativity don’t marry very well. Usually when I wake up, I have time to think, so I will sketch on a little notebook that is next to my bed. I designed my entire first collection on a computer, using 3D printers. From a 3D wax model built with software called Matrix, we take the piece to a caster who takes care of the mould making and the following steps (polishing, stone setting, etc).
"Every collection celebrates the preciousness of women, with some pieces doing so flagrantly, like precious pubis, rubies boobies, with precious stones representing the nipples or other symbols of femininity."
You must be busy! How do you balance both sides of your business?Funny you ask! I’m not great at that I must say. I am lucky I love my job and things are going well, but it hasn’t always been easy. I don’t have a CEO and I manage both the creative and financial sides of my business. I conceptualise and design all the collections, organize the campaigns, keep on top of cash flow and manage HR, making sure my team is happy and performing well at the same time! I used a lot of tools learned in the corporate world from my previous life, like management theories etc. There are a lot of hats to wear, but in the end, it’s worth it. I would say I haven’t found the solution to balance anything for now, but I am hoping I will one day! I stopped working during evenings and weekends last year, which is already massive progress. When it is your own business, there is always something more to do!
Both your jewellery and your vases celebrate the female form. Is this core to your brand?My collection is a big soup and the ingredients are my past, dreams, and personal revenges on life. I wanted a super feminine line. Circular shapes keep coming back, the round being the symbol of femininity. It all revolves around womanhood, either in the roundness of the pearl or the curves of the body language line.
My years as an engineer were highly frustrating and triggered in me a hunger for extravagance, glamour and fun. The opposite of what hard science teaches you. All I wanted for my pieces was to be noticed and empower the wearers. My friends tease me saying that it was an actual coming out.
What role have women played in your life? They are everything! I grew up around women, my mother brought us up alone, and we would mostly spend time around her sisters. I also have a sister myself who has two adorable daughters, so there’s a lot of estrogen in my life! Women never let me down in my life and have always shown strength and solidarity. Before I worked in fashion, I had the silly preconceived idea that it was a horrible industry full of clichéd voracious women, but I actually met dozens of friends-women who carry each other and support the same idea of independence. It is my duty to celebrate them. Every collection celebrates the preciousness of women, with some pieces doing so flagrantly, like precious pubis, rubies boobies, with precious stones representing the nipples or other symbols of femininity.
What are your primary sources of inspiration?Literally anything, it can be a poem or a building, or the legs of a chair. My brain manages to dismantle elements and rebuild them elsewhere into a different design.
When did you make the move to London?Seven years ago. I first came to London to timidly try my luck at summer classes in jewellery design and fell in love with the energy, the English wit, the diversity and curiosity of people here.
And into your current home?Three years ago, just when I started my business. I chose a place with wooden floors and high ceilings, which would remind me of a Parisian space.
"The synthesis of emotion, creativity and colour really make me feel like I'm at home - which was my fundamental aim when I first started decorating the place."
Do you spend much time here?I do indeed, as my studio is at home and I have pretty much stopped travelling since I launched my brand, to fully dedicate my time to it.
What’s your most treasured possession within it?It is a painting from Francois Morellet. He was one of my favourite contemporary artists, whose shapes were inspired by mathematics, logic and calculation. It is a black monochrome with white neons on it. I also love my Berber rug, inherited from my grandmother in Algeria. I also love, love a headboard I commissioned from the young and promising artist Luke Edward Hall, representing Greek gods on a pink background, floating around my bed!
How would you describe your interior aesthetic?My flat is a mélange of both contemporary and vintage finds. I wanted to create a stimulating yet tasteful surrounding for myself, so as a result it has become quite an eclectic juxtaposition of sentimental treasures and modern pieces. I believe the medley of my grandmother's Berber rug with my zig-zag chair by Gerrit Rietveld for example, is a satisfying depiction of my interior identity. The synthesis of emotion, creativity and colour really make me feel like I'm at home - which was my fundamental aim when I first started decorating the place.
Why did you choose to stock your designs at Liberty?I have a meaningful emotional attachment to Liberty. When I was younger and would come to London either with school or my friends, I would always stop by Liberty’s and get some souvenirs. Growing up and knowing more about fashion retail, I realise it is a perfectly curated shopping destination that gathers the absolute best of everything. I am also now obsessed with silk pyjamas and cosiness, and the homeware section is just perfect to find gifts to all my friends who are getting married. I never imagined I could ever sell my creations one day, especially not in such a dreamy place!