Designing Lives: Maeve Gillies

Scottish designer serves up malt whiskey, music and intriguing creations born from her Celtic heritage.

[dropcap cap=I]nspired by her Celtic heritage, Maeve Gillies’ bridal and fashion pieces for her collection, MaeVona, bear names taken from her native Scotland, revealing  an affinity for the legends and landscape she grew up surrounded by. At trade shows, you can find her cheerily spinning yarns about her designs, in between expertly playing the harp and serving single-malt Scotch. “We believe in the total experience, and we definitely have a genuine story to tell,” explains Gillies. “The women for whom I’m designing want to be able to relate to something about the pieces and are more drawn to subtitles and authenticity than showiness or bling.” Throughout the MaeVona collection, the beauty is in the details, and particularly in the engagement rings, which, says Gillies, “allow the wearer to put her own imprint on the style she chooses and to create her own true tale of love.” — INTERVIEW BY BETH BERNSTEIN [/dropcap]

ARTISTIC INFLUENCES: “I grew up in Edinburgh, Scotland, in a nationally-acclaimed artistic, musical and literary family. We didn’t have a television until I was 14 years old. So, I was inspired by the freedom of endless creative time. I was either drawing, writing stories, painting or playing music, or I was up a mountain, exploring ancient Celtic sites with my parents, or feeding the animals on my grandparents’ farm in the Highlands. Eventually I became a professional musician playing the Scottish harp, and was a six-time national award recipient throughout my early teens.”

TRUE LOVE: “My grandparents had a modern art gallery and they showcased the work of a local jeweler, which I admired greatly. She was the first person to show me how to work on the bench. I made my first ring at 15 and fell in love with the miniature, wearable precious world. I obtained two degrees in goldsmithing: one from Edinburgh College of Art, and one from the Royal College of Art in London. This gave me a fantastic overview of the traditions and techniques of this art form. I learned how to fabricate each piece by hand, which I believe is fundamental for any designer.”

CONTINUING EDUCATION: “While studying, I worked in a retail store for three years, where my favorite sale was a diamond engagement ring. That balanced out my art-based education with an understanding of what customers actually want. I knew then that my ambition was to combine the creative with the commercial — to design original jewelry that would also sell. I continued to work all around the world in the field of jewelry, teaching, designing and consulting, across Asia, Australia, Europe, America and the U.K. I spent the last three years before launching my own company as head of design for Domino, the largest platinum jewelry manufacturer in Europe.”

THE NEXT STEP: “In 2005, I opened MaeVona specifically to fill a niche I had identified in the U.S. market for fresh, contemporary and unique bridal jewelry with Celtic-inspired heritage and impeccable craftsmanship. I begin by designing for myself. I am my toughest critic. My aesthetic is sexy and feminine. I am also quite influenced by the flowing stylized lines of the art nouveau movement. But, Edinburgh itself is at the base of my creative endeavors; it is a sophisticated soft-spoken city, steeped in ancient history, which is why the collections are named after the landscape and the legends.”

CULTURAL REFERENCES: “I think it’s important to create a small part of the cultural experience you are referencing in your designs. So at trade shows, I not only describe the pieces to my retailers, I also serve up a bit of my background. My father was one of the founders of the Scottish Malt Whiskey Society, so I do tastings at the show and also play the harp in between appointments. It’s genuinely part of all that inspires me, and I feel it’s important to share this with my customers.”

[inset side=left]“Edinburgh itself is at the base of my creative endeavors.” — MAEVE GILLIES [/inset]

CUSTOMER APPRECIATION: “We don’t believe in profiling our customer. There are certain common traits, however, which have nothing to do with age, geography or background. It’s more about an individual taste, women who want to make a personal statement and connect more on a gut or emotional level to the piece they select. They look for a true design sense and a more understated approach rather than showiness. And, they identify with the story behind our collection, but they also intend to create their own lifetime of memories.”

SENSE AND SENSIBLITY: “As a woman, I believe that jewelry should be an expression of who we are all of the time and our varying moods on different days. I love mismatching jewels, antique and ancient, mysterious and modern, and anything that gives clues to an unusual lifestyle or occupation.”

FORTUNATE ONE: “To think that so many couples have expressed their love with one of my designs and that it will remain and be passed down as a treasured and beloved possession ... wow! I feel like the luckiest girl alive.”

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