Beaten into shape with the most delicate touch: Jonathan Glancey hails the jewellery and home decorations of a young designer whose work has now reached Britain

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HERVE VAN DER STRAETEN is 27, lives and works in what was once a furniture factory in Paris, collects exotic spiders, Cubist paintings, Fifties furniture and dead plants with interesting shapes, and designs and makes some of the most glamorous new jewellery and decorative accessories to be found anywhere.

Just the kind of man to suit the beige fitted-carpet aesthetic of Major's Britain, you might think] Yet despite our cautious and parsimonious attitude towards household artefacts, his work is now on sale here.

Van der Straeten makes his fantastic, harem-style jewellery and sinuous candle-holders by cutting and hammering brass into intricate shapes and patterns. Into these he inserts stones of clear and coloured glass, and sometimes gems.

His exoticism and highly skilled workmanship have drawn him to the attention of leading Parisian couturiers: Christian Lacroix, Thierry Mugler and Dorothee Bis have all commissioned him to design for them. In moving increasingly from jewellery - where he started - to the design of decorative accessories, Van der Straeten has shown very clearly that what is immediately fashionable is not necessarily ephemeral. The best of his designs may be very much of the moment (and he is undoubtedly becoming a trendsetter), but they also have - as far as any artefact can - a timeless quality. Much of this is due to the sheer quality and maturity of his workmanship.

His work is intricate and his inspiration very much his own. Eclectic would be the obvious description of his design aesthetic, but this is an overworked word; what Van der Straeten does is to bring many visual ideas to bear at once on his work, ideas drawn from the objects he collects and strews around his flat, which looks like a beautiful museum that has yet to be catalogued. Yet he manages to make each object look true to itself, as if its luxurious shape had been inevitable.

Van der Straeten is currently working in a vein that shows his fondness for, and sensitivity to, ancient Greek art as well as to French baroque. One of his most attractive pieces has been a mirror surrounded by a frameless frieze of writhing or dancing naked figures: Hellenism, it seems, on Ecstasy.

In Paris he is selling well. A population living largely in rented flats is more inclined to buy a beautiful mirror or candle-holder by a designer and craftsman of the calibre of Herve Van der Straeten than to splash out on double-glazing. But even in our nation of owner-occupiers, anyone with a heart or soul might be tempted to abandon this year's DIY programme in favour of beautiful candelabra beaten from hammered brass and guaranteed to give pleasure long after the beige carpet is stained, threadbare and fit only for the skip.

Van der Straeten's work can be found in London, at Liberty (Regent Street, London W1, 071-734 1234) and Dinny Hall's shop (200 Westbourne Grove, London W11, 071-792 3913). Be brave; let your hair down, hang jewellery from it and look at the magical transformation in a mirror of which Helen herself would have been proud.

(Photographs omitted)

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