Fashion: What lies beneath

For his new jewellery collection, Husam El Odeh drew inspiration from X-rays and airport security. Carola Long visited his London studio.

Saturday 23 February 2008 01:00 GMT

The airport security queue might seem like the last place on earth where inspiration could strike, but jewellery- maker Husam El Odeh, who regularly works with the acclaimed new designer Marios Schwab, found a strange beauty in the X-ray machines.

Sitting amid a panoply of sketches, magazines and pieces of jewellery in his Shoreditch studio, Odeh explains that his spring/summer range was inspired by airport rituals such as emptying your pockets to go through the security gates. "I really like it when people pull all these curious things that they carry around out of their pockets," he explains. "There is a kind of comedy to it, but it's also very interesting to see people exposing their innermost secrets and stories in a public space." The X-ray machine screens, with their ability to reveal whatever is concealed behind opaque surfaces and create ghostly representations of everyday belongings, inspired the combination of transparent and solid pieces in Odeh's work. A clear Perspex headband is finished with a hard chain detail, and a clear bag features a chain handle and black edging.

This idea of what lies beneath permeates much of Odeh's work– and refers to the human psyche as well as to physical objects. Jewellery might be about surface adornment, but there is a depth to many of Odeh's creations that responds to and stimulates the subconscious. He cites Surrealism as an influence, and his interest in redefining everyday objects recalls the work of Dali or Meret Oppenheim (his vest made of old watches invokes Dali's images of clocks). Once worn, and thus defined as adornment, Odeh's make-up-brush earrings are transformed from simple, functional objects to pieces of jewellery. "I was interested in make-up and the sorts of things women carry in their handbags," he muses: "I made my assistant empty her bag so I could have a look."

Odeh might not do traditionally pretty, hearts-and-flowers jewellery, but his work is accessible in a different way. He explains, "there is an element of recognisability to my work, and reality. When someone wears my jewellery, people always comment on it. I think it's much more noble to use an everyday object that also has depth behind it." Past designs have included a string of pearls fastened by two interlocking combs, and a magnifying-glass pendant.

In addition to designing jewellery for Marios Schwab's main collection – last season featured punky black bobbled cuffs – Odeh has created several pieces to go with the fashion designer's capsule range for Topshop. On sale now, it includes a studded Perspex cuff, a metal-panelled hairband, and a metal-panelled box bag on a chain.

Odeh and Schwab met around 10 years ago, when Odeh was studying fine art at the Hochschule der Künste in Berlin and Schwab was at fashion school. In 1999 Odeh moved to London, where he studied jewellery design at Middlesex University. In February 2005 he was chosen by Fashion East to show his designs as part of London Fashion Week, and subsequent sponsorship from the British Fashion Council enabled him to have a stand at the event for the spring/summer 2006 and autumn/winter 2007 seasons.

Odeh has collaborated with designers such as Siv Stodal and the jewellers Scott Wilson and Shaun Leane, but it was Marios Schwab who helped introduce Odeh to fashion, while the latter was learning to draw in Berlin. "He showed me a picture of Hussein Chalayan's work, and I suppose it must have burned itself into my mind," he explains. "I realised fashion accessories are a much more approachable way of dealing with the same issues that fine art does." Like all the best designers' work, Odeh's creations aren't just pretty trinkets, they are wearable works of art.

Styling by Beth Dadswell.
Photography by Johnny Gembitsky
Model: Feodora at Supreme Management, New York
Hair: Dennis Devoy at Garren New York
Make-up: Gina Crozier at Ray Brown Pro for MAC cosmetics
With thanks to Pamela Love

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