Back in August, at the Kunsthåndværker Markedet - the craft market on Frue Plads in Copenhagen - one stall that immediately caught my attention was the work of the jewellery designer and goldsmith Karina Noyons.
Her work is striking … simple but very clever and inventive … playing with quite stark geometric shapes but twisting them around so rings or wrist bracelets are held out from the body. Here clearly is a designer's and a goldsmith’s skill that, to repeat something discussed regularly on this site, develops from experience and from working directly with a material, to understand what will and what will not achieve a desired result. What this jewellery also illustrates so well is that the simpler the piece then, as here, the more perfect the workmanship has to be … minimalism shows up any flaw and to misappropriate a much used phrase … less means more skill.
But above all, what I could see in the jewellery, is a fantastic and clearly justifiable self confidence along with a real sense of humour. That was obvious in the display that used illustrations by Rasmus Bregnhøi as a background for the jewellery with suggestions about how the more unusual or less conventional pieces could be worn.
Self confidence and humour together can have a significant impact in design, but are not often discussed. It's about not taking yourself too seriously because in fact you really do know what you can achieve - and that allows a designer to relax, try out new ideas and go off-piste … although maybe that's a bit odd ... to compare a designer with a downhill skier. How about the idea that experience and confidence allows a designer to play with ideas much as a really good jazz musician begins to play with themes and sounds because they understand music and their chosen instrument so well? Maybe that's a better metaphor.
Is that what is behind the gold needle shown here? The confidence and the sense of humour to play around with ideas? The confidence to play with something so simple but in such a clever way? Street graffiti is an expression of self but then so too, in the past, was embroidery for women although obviously in a very different way. So why should self-expression be just for disaffected boys? But why a gold needle? Well because a gold needle is more valuable than a standard steel needle, so the task of sewing becomes something special - taken to a different level - and embroidering a unique design on your own clothes becomes an important but presumably transitory act of self expression.
In a broader sense, the idea of a simple needle becomes an item of jewellery, because it is in a precious material, begins to explore wider questions about the effect and influence of good design … so why, for instance, does a beautifully-designed glass seem to make a good wine taste better or why does a special meal warrant getting out the best linen.
And maybe this simple piece of jewellery is also important because it introduces another interesting role for designers … that is good design should make you stop and think. The designer deliberately steps back and looks with a fresh eye at an old design or an old problem and comes up with a new idea … and that makes the rest of us also take a step back with them and take stock. It can take something mundane and utilitarian, something we just take for granted, presented in an unexpected way, that can challenge our preconceptions. Why do we need that and why are we prepared to pay extra for that? Is this the opposite of design that aims to produce something that is better … a rational but possibly boring step forward? Or are the two - the intellectual and the practical - not mutually exclusive. Perhaps that's what makes a beautiful gold needle clever and subversive.