There's cool, and then there's Hannah Martin.
She’s happiest in the mosh pit, mates with the Peaky Blinders IRL and relaxed enough to have her WhatsApp number on Instagram. She also designs what she calls “big, fuck-off jewellery” and advocates piling it on, especially when locked down with nowhere to go. But, if you think Martin and her “big, fuck-off jewellery” sound too cool for you, think again. Her punk-inspired pieces are for everyone, guaranteed to empower as soon as you put them on.
Her recent collection, A New Act Of Rebellion, is one of her most powerful yet, encapsulating Martin’s desire to redefine modern luxury. “I’ve always been super curious and I hate the idea of settling for something,” she tells us. “I’m driven by the adventure of finding or changing, holding things in constant movement, wanting to keep going and taking things further. I am such a fantasist – I love stories and music, I read loads and I totally love getting lost in a world.”
It’s impossible not to be drawn in by the world that Martin creates, an emotional sucker punch of design that couldn’t be more relevant for right now. In the collection, she says, “I was trying to capture the feeling that you get if you’re in the middle of a mosh pit. You are there and nothing else is happening – you’re not taking pictures to put on Instagram, you’re not thinking about anything else. You are being pummelled by this loud noise and bodies and sweat and it’s really visceral.”
“I get my kicks from that and other people get them elsewhere, but whatever that feeling is when you’re in the moment, the thrill when you’re not thinking of anything else, that’s what I was trying to capture with these pieces.”
Here, we talk more about where Martin gets her kicks, her dedication to jewellery that transcends gender and generations, and her take on new luxury to lift the everyday mood.
How did you get into jewellery?
It was actually a total accident. I went to a local comprehensive school and our art was basically painting or sculpture, so I chose sculpture and loved it. Then I went to Central Saint Martins and the foundation course is amazing, you do all these little bits – three days of fashion, three days of design, three days of jewellery… I loved the workshops. I love tools and that’s where I first fell in love with jewellery. It is sculpture, basically. I didn’t know that you could even be a jewellery designer, but when I discovered it, I thought ‘wow, this is going to be fun’.
I think what I loved about it most and what has always stuck with me is the mix of fine art and practicality. The design element has to have a function, it has to fit on a human body and it needs to work in some way shape or form. I love that combination of the two things – creativity as a sculpture, but also with a function. I think that was what really got me, as well as the fact that I loved the making of jewellery and the materials. Everything about it was wicked.
Do you design with a particular person in mind?
They didn’t have the term ‘gender fluid’ when I started out, so when it came in recently, I thought this is brilliant. I was always obsessed with gender, I don’t know when it started, but it’s something I’ve always been really interested in. I even wrote my thesis on masculinity, about this idea of a sliding scale and how we all sit somewhere on it – it fits into the world now, but at the time [it wasn’t really discussed]. What’s interesting for me is what sits on the borders, the grey areas where everything mixes.
So, it just fed into my work. When I was studying, there wasn’t a huge amount of men’s jewellery, it wasn’t really a thing. Well, it was a thing, but it was rank. You could either buy a school ring – which are very cool and brilliant, but there are millions of them – or something that looks like a part of a car.
I went over to Paris to do a scholarship with Cartier in the middle of my degree and that’s where I fell in love with luxury. I thought it was incredible, but not my style at all – I wear menswear, always have. So, there were these two parts of my life that weren’t coexisting. It made me question: Why isn’t there luxury jewellery that men can wear that is equally chic, elegant and beautiful? And why can’t jewellery be for whoever likes it?
Peaky Blinders’ actor Paul Anderson is a fan of your jewellery, how did that collaboration come about?
That was such a tangled web. I work a lot with Savages frontwoman Jehnny Beth, she’s a very good friend of mine and we totally creatively inspire each other. Anthony Byrne, the director of Peaky Blinders, directed some of her music videos, we all met at a festival and became really good friends. He then directed the film that I did for the new collection, mentioned that Paul really loved my stuff and asked if I would want to do something with him. We did the shoot in the middle of lockdown, wandering around Smithfield meat market. He’s wild – no direction whatsoever, I just put the jewellery on him and he went and did his own thing.
Talk to us about your love of the punk aesthetic and how it features in your New Act Of Rebellion collection?
The rock ‘n’ roll punk vibe has always been a personal thing. Punk music is a massive part of my life, I spend most of my time at gigs – well, I used to spend most of my time in gigs, I’m missing it so badly in lockdown. I also work with loads of musicians and I’ve grown up with that kind of music in my life, which has always fed into my work.
For this collection, I wanted to go back to the absolute roots and elemental forms of what I think of as punk. I spent ages on it, it’s probably the most personal collection I’ve done so far as I’ve been through a tumultuous couple of years – I split up with my business partner and divorced my husband. Now, I’ve found this freedom. When I look back, previous collections have been more about restraint. With this one, I wanted to scream and yell, but in a really good way.
It’s also a real rebellion against everything that I’m seeing in jewellery – everything is small and cute and I want it to be loud. The scale of my pieces came from that, I just wanted it to be like a massive smack in the face. The collection takes super obvious stereotypes of the punk and DIY scene – safety pins, bolts and chains – and then messes with scale and puts them in luxury. When I was designing I wanted to strip it right back, keeping just the ultimate elements. That is why I ended up only using materials like gold, malachite and ebony, rather than any fancy stones. It’s supposed to be really honest and really raw and hopefully give you a sense of that.
Do your other collections also capture feelings or moments?
Yeah, totally. In a nice way, my work is like a diary of my life. It’s really good as I can reference back to it for future work, too. In my degree collection I did safety pins, but I was never 100% happy with them. So in this collection I knew it was time to go back and nail the safety pin.
Which punk creatives inspire you?
For this collection there were a few photographers actually, but mainly a photographer called Karlheinz Weinberger, who I have loved for years. I had never referenced him in my work before, but he came into this collection, hence the massive bolts. There are these amazing portraits he did of Elvis fans in Switzerland in the 1950s – pictures of jean crotch shots, where they use these huge bolts instead of a zip. They’re incredible. David Wojnarowicz was quite influential in this collection, too, his writing and his work.
Who is your biggest design influence?
That’s a really good question. Design wise, it’s really hard to pick one because there are so many influences. I’d say the person that pushed me, that made me do what I do today, was a tutor of mine at Central Saint Martins. I always say that to him, as we’re still really good friends. He made me realise that I could do what I wanted to do, something that I find really exciting and interesting, and that other people would hopefully catch on. So I’d say he’s the biggest influence in my career.
Is there a song you’d listen to to hype up for a big day in the studio?
Do you know what, every collection has its own soundtrack. There’s not one go-to album, it builds organically, because it depends on what I’m listening to and working on at that time. For this collection, I remember I’d gone to an Idles gig. Actually, they played three nights in a row in Camden and I’d gone to all three because I know the guys, we are all in the same world really. They were the best, it was incredible and the crowd was amazing. After that, I spent three weeks locked away starting work on this collection, so they were a huge part of it. Music definitely helps inspire the emotion and the feeling in my creativity.
What’s your favourite piece of Hannah Martin jewellery?
Oh god, that’s literally like asking what your favourite child is. It’s got to be the new stuff. It is kind of like having a new baby actually, as I’m obsessed with the new collection at the minute. So we’ll just say all of that.
What’s the most exciting project you’ve got coming up in 2021?
I would say getting out of the bloody pandemic – that’s my main project. The thing is, with everything that I have been working on, plans have changed about a million times. Hopefully, if things go vaguely back to normal, I’m doing a collection of piercing jewellery with the woman who does all my piercings. Usually when you get pierced you have to have it done with that ugly steel gun and then wait for it to heal. Well, I’ve designed this gold industrial thing that you can be pierced with and earrings that have changeable ends, so you can mix and match. We’re getting a licenced piercer in the showroom and hopefully my tattoo artist is going to come over, too. It will be a pop-up tattoo studio with piercings, which will be really fun, if and when it happens.
Despite recent challenges, the creative landscape seems more essential than ever right now. What’s your take?
Even though I’m absolutely gutted that we had to launch the New Act Of Rebellion collection in the midst of lockdown, when no one could come and see it, it was also the perfect stage. The whole story for this collection is a dystopian landscape – and here we are!
As a creative, whatever you’re doing, you cannot help but be influenced by what’s going on around you. I think what’s super important is that people keep producing work, if possible. The hardship of financial pressures in the creative industries are really upsetting, but creating is the only way you can keep your sanity. I worked all the way through lockdown, it wasn’t always productive or great work, but I kept going. Otherwise, I was going to go totally mad. There is an irony to it, the world that I have launched this collection into. That irony is not lost on me.