With 10 years of experience running the Design Indaba
conference, Michelle Liao's creative eye is hardly one to argue with. Originally from Taiwan, the contemporary fine jeweller has been living in South Africa for 27 years, and her local experiences have laid the foundation for an intriguing Afro-Asian design ethos.
She takes inspiration from her love of the big, bold statements of African adornment and dress, while adding an Eastern simplicity to the mix. Under the label MichL
, her jewellery is an elegant take on the traditional. For example, she reduces Ndebele bangles to curved, gold lines that are woven with telephone wire in varying colours.
East Meets South
'My design ethos centres on my personal experiences in life and how it can be reflected in a piece of jewellery,' Liao says. By blending simplicity with sophistication, her pieces wouldn't be out of place at a glamorous event but are just as suited to a casual night out.
Liao’s latest range, My Africa, features a selection of hair combs and bangles, mostly created with gold-plated brass, colourful telephone wire, white ceramics and ethically sourced animal horns, teeth and quills from Mandibles Natural History Collection
My Africa represents Liao's mixed heritage. The Diversity comb, moulded in a distinctively African shape, is playfully woven with colourful wire. The Nature comb, on the other hand, has a more tropical element to it – gold-plated brass decorated with white ceramic petals, it's immediately reminiscent of the traditional kanzashi hair ornaments in Japanese culture.
My Africa Bangles
‘In many African societies, head adornments often convey information such as wealth, ethnicity and the spiritual and societal status of the wearer. The expressive power of the head allows complex messages to be delivered by means of shapes, symbols or choice of material,’ Liao says. 'The hair combs are not intended for use. They're very beautiful artefacts that can be displayed or treasured.'