Auckland-based designer Shannen Young creates bespoke jewellery inspired by childhood nostalgia

“Dream-like… as romantic as scrunched-up aluminium foil can get.”

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New Zealand jewellery designer Shannen Young is somewhat of a creative extrovert. Working alongside four friends at Auckland-based showroom and open studio, The Keep, a string of Shannen’s most recent projects have been dreamt up in collaboration with her nearest and dearest.

“Creating and sharing knowledge has always been at the forefront [of my practice] and is my main source of drive to continue what I do,” Shannen says. “I learn so much from working with someone who’s devoted to their practice and also I get a new friend out of it!”

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With a background in fashion and costume design, Shannen’s bespoke pieces take on a playful contrast; where twisted gnarls of silver meet to form hearts, spirals, stars and flowers. Below, she speaks on community, childhood and designing with intention.

Before getting into jewellery, I was working in fashion and costume. I completed my Bachelor of Design (B-DES) in Fashion Design at Massey University. Upon completion of my B-DES, I got an offer to complete my master’s degree but I turned it down to go straight into the industry.

I moved to New York on my graduate visa. It was only valid for a year, so I did try to make the most of it! I ended up at two internships and five fashion jobs in the end. On my return to New Zealand, I promptly started a role in costume design for the film industry.

I was doing workroom jobs like embroidery, hand-stitching, and beading. It really sparked my love for craft and detail, which ignited the decision [for me] to enrol in jewellery school. Spending 30-plus hours a week for 6 months on a jeweller’s bench was somewhat therapeutic. There was a slowness that I liked, as opposed to the pace of fashion and costume work.

I don’t really recall the moment it really started – I just continued making jewellery after my study ended. I wanted to keep it as a slow progression, taking the time to learn and practice. At first, it was [only] my friends commissioning me for pieces.

Once I moved into The Keep (a studio and store with me, Emma Jing, Wilbur Hsu, Taylor Groves and Lela Jacobs) in February, I set up my practice. I’m still challenged by time constantly. It’s easy to say yes to too many projects… I have to remind myself to go back to a pace I can sustain.

What were you trying to achieve from the project at the time? How has this evolved and what are you trying to communicate through the brand now?

When I started jewellery design, I wanted it mostly as a creative outlet. After working in the fashion industry, I felt like my relationship with fashion was too close. It weighed heavy on me and I felt conflicted ethically [in] creating garments. I feel a sense of freedom with jewellery making. There’s so much knowledge I’m yet to learn; the ‘not knowing’ feeling is an exciting place for me to be creatively.

I’m not hugely interested in growing quickly. [I’d rather] grow slowly and intentionally. The process is always the most interesting part of anything. In the design process, I plan loosely but it’s often nothing close to what I intended in the beginning [at the end]. Ultimately, I want the person seeing or wearing my work to question the process of it.

My work has always been about play and reminiscing on childhood curiosity. I had a lucky childhood playing a lot and exploring on my grandad’s farm while classical radio played loudly, filtering through the house. I often wish to be in that state when I’m designing.

What are you most proud of in your work on your label?

So far, working with people on creative projects. I recently collaborated with artist Susu on digital renders of my work and sound maker/musician Current Bias on the score. Big love to those two for making my dreams come true.

Currently, I’m working with photographer Zoe Bertenshaw. We gathered 14 of my friends to feature in a photoshoot. Back to back, we shot 14 friends in 3 locations in one day. I’m really excited about this one and hope to release it very soon.

Creating and sharing knowledge has always been at the forefront [of my practice] and is my main source of drive to continue what I do. I learn so much from working with someone who’s devoted to their practice and also I get a new friend out of it!

Honestly, I don’t wish to know more or less than I did. It was that perfect naivety of knowing just enough to dive right in.

Who do you think is most exciting in Australian/NZ labels right now?

Emma Jing, Taylor Groves, Wilbur Hsu, Jing He and Jarrod Reid. [They’re all] emerging designers with a mix of aesthetics but each has a unique eye and a spark of difference.

What about the Australian/New Zealand fashion and jewellery industry needs to change?

I think brands need to think about longevity; growing while staying consistent. I’ve seen too many brands have their moment and then disappear. In my own experience working in the industry, I see changeovers happen so quickly. The turnover in the industry is fast… I worked for an NZ fashion label, Penny Sage, which has set a high standard in the industry for me. There’s so much care in everything they do.