‘Porcelain is much more comfortable to wear than metal. After a while it simply assumes your body temperature,’ explains Amélie Riech, the German stylist and designer behind the label Uncommon Matters. Her collections comprise larger-than-life accessories and items of jewellery made from this delicate material. There are oversized items to be worn around the neck or shoulders, along with outstanding cuffs and rings. Some are gilded, others are platinum-plated.
Riech first created collars made from porcelain in 2008, which were ingeniously set apart from the clothing. ‘Back then it was something new, now these elements are everywhere,’ she says. As others started copying her style, she focused on moving forward, taking her favourite material to yet higher grounds. Over the years, Riech has developed a signature style that’s fanciful and body-conscious, that cherishes traditional crafts and makes a powerful fashion statement.
In creating these imaginative items, Riech draws on the experience of her ancestors. Germany has been producing porcelain for 300 years and a branch of Riech’s family comes from Thüringen, a state in southern Germany which is part of the Porcelain Route, a 550km trail taking in some of the most important porcelain-making areas in the country. ‘While growing up, I was surrounded by porcelain,’ she says. Her father collected unique pieces, her grandmother painted porcelain dolls, her aunt worked for Meissen, Germany’s oldest and most famous porcelain maker, for more than 30 years, and her uncle often used to take her to the factory. ‘I was fascinated watching those fine craftsmen mould and paint this unpredictable material. As a young girl, I thought they performed little wonders.’
Today, Riech integrates these artisans’ knowledge and expertise into her own designs. ‘Craftsmen specialise in different techniques so if you’re looking to produce pieces with distinct features, you need as many of these people to stay in business as possible. However, a lot of the old manufacturers had to close down, which is bringing the art of porcelain making to near extinction. The bridge between old craftsmanship and new design is worth fighting for. If we don’t protect this expertise, which is hundreds of years old, it will disappear forever.’
Although her jewellery is now available in selected boutiques around the world, many of Riech’s creations are unlikely to be spotted on another wearer as a great number of her pieces are one-offs, custom-made if necessary. Inspiration comes from childhood memories, visits to folklore museums, African tribal patterns and contemporary art, and her accessories grab the attention even when they are not being worn. ‘I like it when my pieces work away from the body,’ says Riech.
Expect much more from the designer in the future, whose next step is couture. All she will say at this stage is that she is ‘working on more extensive body pieces’. She can’t reveal more as her new trend-setting ideas are part of a collaboration with French fashion house Paco Rabanne, known for its predilection for unconventional materials.
Riech, who works incessantly on new ideas, says it’s important not to rush things. It is not her style to follow the demands of the international fashion calendar, which calls for at least two collections each year: ‘Only if I feel that an idea is good enough and I know I can produce it the way I see it, will I put things into practice.’