North-East first stop on Tatty Devine ‘Tatty Tour’

AFTER finding a bag of leather scraps by the side of the road, Tatty Devine was born. From customising with crystals to candy-coloured perspex, Harriet Vine and Rosie Wolfenden are renowned for their playful jewellery and have used their friendship and  creativity to grow their brand with a little help from ‘Evil Edna’.

Some things just go together – strawberries and cream, sausage and mash and Harriet and Rosie. They ended up as flatmates while at Chelsea School of Art in London and would often walk out of their bedrooms wearing the same clothes.

Their ability to read each others’ minds and intuitively know from a doodle what the decorative end product will be has become a shorthand, fuelling their successful partnership for 16 years.

Before they opened their first shop on Brick Lane in the Capital’s East End, they sold their cuffs and embellished belts at Camden and Portobello markets.

With little money and no idea about manufacturing or suppliers, they found a bag of leather scraps and then scoured shops across the country for novelty decorations to embellish their accessories.

It was while Rosie was working at the uber glamorous vintage shop, Steinberg and Tolkien, which has now sadly closed, that she was asked about her belt-turned headband one day.

Turns out her admirer was British Vogue stylist and their unique creations ended up worn by the supermodel Erin O’Connor in the fashion bible’s iconic Millennium issue.

BIG BREAK: Their cuffs worn by model Erin O'Connor (in pink) featured in the Millennium editor of Vogue which as become a collectors item.

BIG BREAK: Their cuffs worn by model Erin O’Connor (in pink vest) featured in the prestigious Millennium editor of British Vogue.

And within just four months of the label’s inception it was being snapped up by revered retailers such as Urban Outfitters, Whistles and Harvey Nichols. It’s now regularly spotted in magazines and worn by famous faces from Katy Perry to Helena Bonham Carter.

The duo, who were both made a MBE for services to the fashion industry in 2012, were in the North-East recently hosting jewellery making workshops and taking about their illustrious careers at Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead.

“It was about making things that we wanted to wear, our bedrooms were our studios for a couple of years before opening up our studio in Brick Lane in 2001,” explained Harriet, pictured above (left) with Rosie. “We were beginning to get more creative, we liked the beauty in things that other people had discarded.”

CREATIVE: I attended a Tatty Devine workshop at Baltic where I made a parakeet necklace.

CREATIVE: I attended a Tatty Devine workshop at Baltic where I made a stunning parakeet necklace.

HANDMADE: My finished necklace which I've worn every day since!

HANDMADE: My finished necklace which I’ve worn every day since!

Friends involved in arts and music were were used as models and the studio/shop was turned into a monthly art gallery, an early form of social media networking.

It was on a trip to New York that they came across Canal Plastics Center where a white plastic poodle badge made their eyes light up.

After two years of outsourcing the manufacture of their perspex designs they invested in ‘Evil Edna’ -their very own laser-cutter which cost £25,000.

“It was in 2004 that we really came into our own and we began the signature style that we are known for today. We went from finding things to being able to make anything we wanted.

“It gave us freedom and the key to a door that we could show what we were interested in by wearing it,” Harriet explained.

“It was all about trying to be different, being an individual and finding ways to express that.”

Their backgounds in Fine Art also differentiated them from other designers as, unlike many fashion brands eager to always be thinking of future collections, Tatty Devine listened to its customer base which wanted to buy from past seasons and, as paintings have longevity and appreciate over time, a Classic range of timeless pieces now sells alongside the contemporary collections.

All the jewellery is handmade in Britain, production has been located in Kent for the past seven years where relatively small batches of jewellery are created.

But one of the drawbacks to having such a distinctive and popular brand is the growing number of imitators trying to copy their work. “We keep moving as fast as we can,” said Rosie. “On the one hand it’s really frustrating as you wish schools would teach originality but it also means there’s a market of customers.

“It’s especially frustrating if it’s high street stores as it gives them licence to keep on going.  It’s a mixture of anger and happiness – but mainly anger.”

As well as opening a second outlet in Covent Garden they’ve once again used their art as opposed to fashion roots to enjoy several successful collaborations with Selfridges, musicians and artists Gilbert & George and Antony Gormley, creating a necklace of his Angel of the North sculpture — as well as flagship cultural institutions such as Tate, Barbican, the Victoria and Albert Museum and Baltic.

And in 2015 to mark their 15th anniversary they gifted an iconic piece from each year to the new permanent jewellery gallery at Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (Mima).

CLASSIC: The Tatty Devine 'Vintage Lady' brooch from 2000 is one of their items of jewellery gifted to Mima to mark their 15th anniversary.

CLASSIC: The Tatty Devine ‘Vintage Lady’ brooch from 2000 is one of their items of jewellery gifted to Mima to mark the designers’ 15th anniversary.

Their careers have come full circle as they are now leading workshops teaching customers how to make their instantly recognisable pieces on a ‘Tatty Tour’ which is taking the experience around the UK.

“The workshops have been a brilliant thing, we’ve done workshops on a bus in Japan and at the top of the Shard,” Rosie said. “People are coming as strangers and leaving as friends, really bonding with the person next to them.”

Both now mothers, Harriet and Rosie said creating a home/work balance had become more distinct since having children. “But it’s still really hard,” Harriet added. “When you run your own business you can never switch off, there’s always something but that’s also what makes it so good.”

CONTACT:   Twitter: @tattydevine            Instagram @tattydevine

Tatty Devine jewellery is also sold at:

 – Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead Quays, South Shore Road, Gateshead, NE8 3BA.

Tel: 0191-4781810

 – Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (Mima) which also exhibits 15 Tatty Devine pieces gifted to its jewellery gallery, Centre Square, Middlesbrough

Tel – 01642- 931232