Jewellery designer Slim Barrett relocated to London in the early 80s from his native Ireland, setting up his studio in the capital’s East End. Working to create the jewellery and accessories that have ornamented the fashionable and illustrious for close to three decades, Barrett’s approach to craft is inimitable. His intricate designs often draw on his Celtic heritage but continue to find their place within a contemporary landscape.
Hailed as a design leader, Barrett’s work is held in the permanent collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, and his jewellery has been exhibited worldwide in institutions such as the Pompidou in Paris and the Museum of Modern Art, Japan, as well as the Royal Festival Hall in London. Over his career, Barrett has been commissioned to create unique pieces for innumerable eminent fashion brands, including Chanel, Dior, Vivienne Westwood, and more recently, London womenswear breakout designer, Charlotte Knowles. His high profile roster of clients includes Beyoncé, David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Madonna and more; and a 2009 movie commission for Young Victoria won an Oscar for costume design.
In 1978 Barrett enrolled to study Fine Art in Galway, Ireland, under artist and teacher Lochlan Hoare. At the beginning of his studies he hatched a pedagogical plan with him which allowed him to undertake four years of art foundation rather than specialising in a degree course. During this time he would experiment with materials and disciplines, creating a framework upon which ideas and work would develop and come to fruition. By the end of his fourth year in 1982 he made the decision to move to London.
Barrett was a pioneer of the deconstruction aesthetic of the 1980’s. His early pieces were all hand-made; taking new sheets of metal, he would deform, burnish and embellish them with texture, creating a unique metal surface that he would often combine with salvaged materials including old clocks, bullet shells, and – most famously – he created brass chainmail which he used to make body armour, and as drapery for his objects. Alongside these couture pieces, Barrett was creating minimalist collections made from hand blown glass.
In 1983 a chance meeting in a café in Camden proved pivotal. That day, Barrett’s girlfriend was wearing his glass jewellery when it attracted the attention of a businesswoman who introduced him to a couturier to Diana, Princess of Wales. The princess loved his work and in turn he was introduced to Bruce Oldfield, the fashion designer who commissioned a collection that attracted buyers leading department stores, such as Harrods and Harvey Nichols. During this time he shared a studio with Jimmy Choo, the shoe designer, and Judy Blame, the uber-stylist and accessory designer, within the former Metropolitan Free Hospital building in Dalston, east London.
It was while he was in Dalston that Vivienne Westwood commissioned Barrett to design and create the originals for the Sovereign’s Orb pendants which he produced in 3D and low relief. Fashion designer, Antony Price commissioned a collection of baroque crowns and tiaras for his catwalk show, which were later purchased by the Victoria and Albert Museum for their permanent collections, and overnight Barrett became the acknowledged ‘King of Crowns’. In 1989, Barrett moved to Camden, where he opened an art gallery, exhibiting artists including Grayson Perry, Duggie Fields and Andrew Logan alongside his jewellery and objects.
Throughout the 1990’s Barrett’s work was much sought after internationally. As his business grew so too did the use of new materials, such as precious metals, gemstones and diamonds, which brought him much attention when he was awarded the De Beers Diamonds International Award for excellence in the design of fine diamond jewellery. Over the years Barrett has meticulously developed his aesthetic without compromise, forming an extensive and continuous body of work. He continues to create limited edition pieces of idiosyncratic individuality that are now highly prized and collected.
Feature image via @slimbarrett