Inspired by large cityscapes and the intricacies of fine jewelry, architect Malaika Carr's jewelry brand Chalk Jewellery offers unusual, geometric, wearable forms that are influenced by architectural elements, everyday objects, and bold colorful cultural patterns. The London-based design studio produces handmade pieces crafted by the architect herself.
Splitting her time between her day job working at an architecture firm and jewelry-making creates a fusion that gives her jewels a dynamic edge. Malaika studied architecture at the University of Greenwich and completed her qualification at Westminster University, where there, she started experimenting with model and jewelry making.
Her background developed her concentration on function, scale, and precision whilst designing jewelry pieces, and she often bases her collection around a specific building and infuses it with an earthy color palette.
The Folklore interviewed Malaika Carr about her design process, balancing jewelry making and her architecture career, and her hopes for the future.
Can you walk us through your design process?
I tend to look at various typologies when selecting a building for a collection to keep the designs fresh and dynamic. The design process for each collection is the same but the outcome is always very different due to the nature of the buildings.
For example, the arched glazed facade designed by EM Barry’s Hamlyn Hall in the London's Royal Opera House inspired one of my collections for Chalk: walnut shapes form the structure, and I outlined the jewelry with a rich palette of colors incorporating vibrant green and blue hues. An element of luxury is added with etched gold and silver mirrored shapes, adding depth to the pieces that pay homage to one of London’s most iconic buildings. Another building, Walden 7 (designed by Ricardo Bofill) was the inspiration underpinning my designs for 'Shaped Objects'. I try to capture the fun and playful vibe of this architectural masterpiece in my jewelry.
You also have a sister brand called Arco Studios, what architectural references did you use for that collection?
La Tomba Brion, cemetery designed by Carlo Scarpa is the building that I referenced for the ‘Arco Collection’. The linear lines, layered concrete and stepped ridges are heavily incorporated within the pieces. The building is rather brutal, with harsh, rough materials and severe shapes. Arco Studio creates timeless designs that beautifully pay homage to architectural pioneers.
Designing a building and designing jewelry are very different crafts. How do you feel about both practices in conjunction?
When you design a building you think of the end-user, how you can make them feel excited, comfortable, and fall in love with the spaces. This same thought process is included in jewelry making, but I tend to think about myself as the end-user! The biggest difference between the two is that architecture has its limits and requires a lot of patience, as it can take years before you actually see the end result of the construction, whereas the creation of jewelry is more instantaneous!
Other than architecture, what other things inspire you for your collections?
I tend to stay away from fashion trends, as I would prefer my pieces to be seen as versatile and timeless. So historical references about old jewelry, as well as bold, cultural fabrics, graphic prints, motifs, and molding play an influencing role in my design process.
A photograph of Carr wearing jewelry from the Arco collection
How do you balance your time with your work as an architect and as a jewelry designer?
Splitting my time between work and my home studio is both challenging and rewarding. I feel like I can get the best of both worlds. Working in a practice I get to share ideas and learn from others in the team, being a one-woman band can be quite isolating. I do however love being in control of my brand. I am responsible for everything - from the design and orders through to making my own website.” I usually come home from work, make orders and on weekends I do market stalls to increase my visibility and increase orders, so I basically have no work-life balance!
With this lack of work-life balance, how do you organize the rest of your personal life and what’s next in your immediate future?
Well, when I got married I had to reduce my number of wholesalers so that I could focus on organizing the wedding. But now I’m actually thinking of leaving architecture and going freelance so that I can focus full time on Chalk and Arco. I want to increase my number of wholesalers, target different countries and generate more sales. And Chalk is doing very well for itself. It required no external funding too, it basically paid for itself since I’ve made enough revenues through my sales, and so it’s very much viable that it can become bigger with more concerted effort.
As of now, its organic growth has been very nice. When I do market stalls, for example, I’ve observed that people tend to go around the market first and then come back to my stall or they see it and instantly buy it. Many past clients have told me that they get great compliments when they wear some of my ‘showstopping’ earrings. So the brightest, boldest, colorful earrings have been my bestsellers throughout the 8 years.
That’s very impressive that Chalk has been doing well for 8 years now, what did that organic growth process look like?
First I went to tradeshows and attracted wholesalers through that, as well as Stylist Live Events and market stalls, which have attracted the attention of various shops in London. Instagram is also a very good way to find new wholesalers. I also think jewelry is easier to grow as a business than clothing or homeware etc. since sizing doesn’t matter and if you like what you see online, you can immediately buy it hassle-free. It’s also very easy to gift jewelry. I would actually like to go into homeware though, so maybe I’ll use contacts from furniture suppliers from my architecture practice to dive into this area.
If you leave architecture, what would Chalk or Arco continue to look like, since much of your inspiration stems from your job?
I’d love to explore different areas of jewellery, but I still think that architecture is a good reference point and I’d like to keep using that as it’s such a strong narrative. Also with Arco, I actually started doing it because I got bored of wearing Chalk and wanted more solid, three dimensional pieces to wear. It’s captured a good audience so far, and it’s a much more luxurious and expensive line, since the material costs are higher. For Arco, I also pay a supplier to cast and polish it, since the material is harder to mold on my own, so I send a 3D design and sketch on CAD and my supplier takes it from there. However, I want to start taking a jewellery-making course so I can learn to make the Arco pieces myself.
Written by: Christine Noumba Um