In Conversation with: Rosh Mahtani of Alighieri

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For a brand as thoughtfully unembellished as JOSEPH, it was a surprising turn when Creative Director Louise Trotter decided to show a selection of sentimental silver jewellery alongside the unravelling lace dresses and deconstructed suiting of her Spring Summer 2018 collection. To conjure the delicate treasures she had in mind, Louise sought the talents of London-based jewellery designer Rosh Mahtani of Alighieri. Here we speak to the self-taught craftswoman about how it all came to be…

Photography by Rosh Mahtani

On finding jewellery design…

At university I studied French and Italian, and became really passionate about Dante’s Divina Commedia. I really wanted to bring the poem to life - I wasn’t ready to let it go. So, I started making a piece of jewellery for each canto. At the time, I wanted to pursue writing and photography, and creating these pieces was a way for me to do both. I didn’t know any of the jewellery-making rules so it was also incredibly liberating.

On Dante’s poetry…

Sometimes I’m struck by a particular word or quote from the poetry, and that makes me think of certain shapes and textures for jewellery. Other times, I'll be foraging in markets, or playing with a candle at a dinner table and a shape appears that immediately reminds me of the Inferno, or even just one word from the Commedia. It happens quite organically, I don’t really “design” or “plan” much. I like to let things just happen.

The Found Talisman Bracelet
The Lost Dreamer Earrings
The Fractured Cloud Charm Necklace
La Bella Figura Earrings
The Floating Talisman Choker

On beginning a collection…

I sculpt the pieces from wax. I usually go on a little trip alone before every season and take some time to think about the theme or mood of the collection. This season it was Naples. It's usually very reflective of what's going on in my life at the time. I like to make a journal with photos, passages from Dante, and artefacts, and use that as a starting point. I then have three weeks to create the collection!I'll make lots of wax fragments and cast them in bronze. That's when I'll play around and put these fragments together – this is my favourite part because there are always things that break, or go horribly wrong; these often end up being the pieces I'm most attached to.

On her JOSEPH collaboration…

I've always been a gold-person, and I had worked with silver a little bit, but the JOSEPH collaboration was the first time I really explored it in depth. When Louise suggested it, I was really excited because it felt like a fresh challenge, and a little parenthesis from the gold chapters.

On working with Creative Director Louise Trotter…

When Louise called me and told me her inspirations for the SS18 collection, we started brainstorming and came up with a flurry of ideas. I remember her describing the muse as a Pina Bausch-like figure, with a tension between tailoring and breaking free from it. I immediately imagined this girl as someone who would collect objects and pile them on a chain as she travelled, wearing them as a talisman on her journeys. The incredible slip dresses and deconstructed blazers conjured up layers of delicate anklets, and oversized hoop earrings that almost mirror the arc of a dancer's port de bras. The JOSEPH uniform is so beautiful and strong that I felt like the jewellery had to be like punctuation. Louise was incredibly generous and open to ideas, so it always felt like a conversation and I will always treasure that process.

On Alighieri’s classical/modern tension…

Alighieri pieces are "Modern Heirlooms" because I loved collecting old treasures and leaving them rusty or destroyed. However, in terms of clothes, I've always loved sharp tailoring and monochrome colours. I made the jewellery that I wanted to wear and it was antique-like but always styled in a real and modern way. JOSEPH was actually the brand that I always imagined the Alighieri woman to be wearing.

On imperfection…

Every time I tried to make something perfect or precise, I'd fail and get upset. I also found things that were upside down or "incorrect" very alluring from a young age. It's like a "Please do not touch" sign; when I see it, I immediately want to disobey it.

On unconventional practices…

I don't have any jewellery training and in the beginning, the casters and gold-platers in Hatton Garden were horrified at how I was working. I still use a candle to sculpt the pieces (instead of a soldering iron) and like to break the waxes just for fun. I don't think of myself as rebellious, I'm just really bad at precision, and perhaps I also have an element of Peter Pan syndrome. I struggled with that at school and university, and never quite felt good enough. When I started Alighieri, I finally found a language that came easily or made sense to me. I wasn't trying to be anything. Just transferring my feelings into objects. The fact that people connect with those objects now, that’s incredibly magical.

La Pina Choker
The Floating Talisman Necklace
The Floating Talisman Hoops
The Adagio Anklet (canto l)
The Adagio Anklet (chapter ii)