From The Threads of Jaipur to the Gemstones of New York

Esha Aphale | December 15, 2023 | Life

For renowned jewellery designer Deepa Gurnani, innovation and ideation began during her college years at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design where she directly studied under Alexander McQueen. Now based out of New York working on her namesake brand Deepa Gurnani with her husband Jay, Deepa sits down with Svasa Life to discuss her journey and how she transformed from a clothing to a jewellery designer.

Often, necessity becomes the spark for creativity. After getting married and moving to New York in the early 2000s, Deepa teamed up with her husband, Jay, a talented jewellery designer. The complications came about when, in the process of applying for her green card, she couldn’t travel for nine months, putting her artisans at risk of being out of work.

“Garment design is a meticulous business, and trying to manage it from 7,700 miles away wasn’t practical,” recounts Deepa. “Every seam and detail needed attention, and a simple message relay was just not cutting it.”

In response to this situation, Deepa took up a creative project, making beaded accessories at home in New York. These accessories were then sent to India, making it easier for her artisans to reproduce them. Despite her main expertise being in garment design, circumstances required a smooth integration of the artisan’s skills and Deepa’s aspirations.

Jay and Deepa’s first venture into jewellery design resulted in an embellished hand-embroidered collection, marking the start of their joint effort. While navigating the challenges of this unforeseen collaboration, the couple uncovered a shared interest in jewellery design. This pursuit sustained their professional lives and became a significant part of their shared journey.

(L-R) Empress Headpiece from Maharani Collection; Deepa’s curated personal style 

The expansion of their creative pursuits led to the initiation of trunk shows in various New York stores, ultimately securing a breakthrough at Henry Bendel. At that time, Henry Bendel stood as a prominent retail destination for those with artistic inclinations. Upon seizing this opportunity, Deepa and Jay found themselves stationed from seven in the morning until eight in the evening, engaging directly with customers. Their journey began with belts and gradually expanded into a variety of accessories. Belts turned into hair accessories, then into bracelets, and continued evolving into earrings and necklaces.

While studying at the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, Deepa’s tutors introduced her to Alexander McQueen. McQueen encouraged Deepa to showcase her creativity and helped her to develop as an artist.

McQueen, in a mentoring role, consistently presented materials, prompting Deepa to explore unconventional possibilities. The duo would take an assortment of materials, orchestrating a transformation that brought about distinctly edgy results. The process involved reimagining elements into something entirely unexpected, resulting in designs that exuded a unique and avant-garde quality. “And that’s why when you see our jewellery, you’ll see we use a lot of brass. We use very unusual materials in our collections,” says Deepa.

After examining a considerable amount of Deepa’s work, it is evident that she uses unconventional materials such as brass, watch components, and car elements in their creations; These rough and tough materials are transformed through a creative process, resulting in feminine and aesthetically pleasing pieces. The use of rough materials is a nod to the McQueen-inspired ethos of transforming the rugged into the refined. “This is how McQueen influenced me,” says Deepa.

Inside the workshop at Deepa Gurnani’s Atelier

Rooted in Indian heritage, Deepa has spent a significant portion of their life outside the borders of India. Despite the physical distance, a steadfast connection to the country’s rich traditions remains integral to her identity. In the realm of artistic expression, Deepa adeptly integrates traditional embroideries and techniques with a modern aesthetic, embodying a harmonious blend of the conventional and the contemporary. The importance of sustaining a connection with India is paramount for Deepa and Jay, and it is this deep-seated bond that consistently inspires the incorporation of embroidery into their creations, serving as a personal link to their cultural roots.

For their creations, Deepa and Jay ensure a meticulous curation of materials sourced exclusively from Jaipur. Employing traditional techniques synonymous with fine jewellery craftsmanship, the team endeavours to seamlessly translate these methods into the realm of fashion jewellery.

Each piece created by Deepa and Jay is adorned with an abundance of semi-precious stones, showcasing a commitment to exquisite detailing. Their headpieces, in particular, exude opulence, mirroring the grandeur associated with the historical opulence of the royal family. For their newest collection, Deepa had drawn inspiration from the regality of the royal lifestyle, weaving it into the very fabric of their creations. The result is a collection that pays homage to the opulent legacy and encapsulates the essence of the royal family’s admiration for ornate jewellery.

In the atelier of Deepa Gurnani and Jay, each piece emerges from their creative crucible, it carries not just the weight of precious materials but the spirit of a rich legacy. In their hands, jewellery becomes a living, breathing narrative—an art form that transcends time and whispers tales of splendour to those who wear it.

Words by Esha Aphale.
Image courtesy Shreesh Prajapati (Svasa Life), Deepa Gurnani.

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