Making a Statement: An Interview with Designer Anita Quansah
British-African designer Anita Quansah may be the undisputed queen of statement pieces. Her gorgeous collections of carefully embroidered necklaces and clothing have captured the world’s attention for over a decade. Drawing inspiration from her Ghanaian and Nigerian heritage and nature, Anita’s designs use recycled materials and reclaimed vintage fabrics to create wearable art. Ayiba’s Akinyi Ochieng spoke with Anita about her design process and her road to success.
How did you enter the world of jewellery?
Jewellery design was a path I stumbled upon due to my curiosity to see how far I can push my creative skills as a textile designer. When I launched my brand Anita Quansah London in 2006, I was still working and freelancing as a textile designer and still researching the handmade jewellery industry.
I loved wearing bold accessories, and often when I sought a particular style, it wasn’t out there in the market. So I decided to start designing neckpieces using recycled materials fused with vintage components that I have gathered over the years. I have no formal training in jewellery design, but have a very creative mind, and my studying textiles at Chelsea College of Arts and Design, allowed me to push my creative visions. I often like to challenge myself to see how far I can push myself creatively, and to date am having fun with these challenges that I’ve set myself.
What does elegance mean to you?
Elegance to me is great personality and character.
Can you describe your own personal style?
I don’t follow fashion trends; I create my own style to suit my personality. I often wear black, with a splash of colour in my accessories.
How do you find inspiration for your pieces?
I draw inspiration from many things: my culture, surrounding, people, art, even a pattern in nature can be of inspiration, from swirls in the river, to patterns in animals. I love soaking up new experiences and ideas and it’s so fun translating those into bold expressive designs.
How do you decide which materials to use? How do you source these materials?
Each piece from my collection is not planned prior to the design and the making stage. I don’t sketch any of my designs nor use illustrations to help me structure my designs. I work entirely from my head, all the beads and patterns are chosen whilst I work, which makes it incredibly special, because I don’t know what the outcome will be.
It’s a huge risk, many might say, but I believe by working in that way am in tune with my creative energy and this makes it incredibly fun and exciting.
You clearly draw inspiration from your own culture, but as African-inspired aesthetics become more prevalent in the fashion industry, how do you differentiate between cultural appropriation and globalization in the world of fashion and art?
When I started my brand in 2006, I always wanted to design wearable conversational pieces that are works of art with unique stories weaved into them from my culture. This has always been a key approach that has driven me creatively over the years.
Presently global arts and cultures have become a key inspiration for many designers, each designer approaching this subject with care, but drawing emphasis on key focal points that will appeal to their core markets. Fashion has always been inspired by arts and culture and within reason we should celebrate this, and no distinction should be made.
Of course we should tread carefully within reason when using this subject as a key inspiration; we have to make sure great respect is given and the subject matter handled in a way that it becomes celebratory.
How would you say that you have evolved as a designer over the years?
As a brand I’m delighted with the journey so far and how the brand has evolved. I have accomplished many things that I hadn’t planned at all. Where I go from now is always exciting. I always try to remain sincere and true to the brand, and most importantly having so much fun whilst doing it.
When Anita Quansah London was first conceived, I set out to create well-designed works of conversational statement wearable art, that’s a celebration of true craftsmanship that appeals to a broad market in love with art.
Whilst I acknowledge that my handmade products and designs are the core of my business, I’ve strived to build on that core vision and make my products more original, superior, expressive, high-fashion, distinctive and different. All these make the brand stand out from this overly crowded accessories market.