And so it goes: a picture paints a thousand words, fashion is an expression of our inner selves, and music shares all feelings. So jewellery — opulent, sparkling and desired, is more than just its shell. We learnt from Singaporean jewellery designer and founder of her own brand, Choo Yilin, that each piece is a story in itself. With generations of Asian traditions held dearly, she weaves the sentiment into beautiful pieces of wearable art with a focus on jade.
Choo Yilin’s latest project is a collaboration with Malaysian designers Innai Red, Fiziwoo, Nurita Harith, Tsyahmikl, and Syomirizwa Gupta. Through a series of photographs, each designer is given a tradition honoured in Asian culture such as the Chinese tea ceremony and Malay Nikah ceremony. A beguiling look at love embodied by oriental-inspired ornaments is the final product. Yilin tells us more:
Our brand is all about celebrating Southeast Asian heritage stories, and the Malaysian designers we worked with are extremely respectful about it as well. We saw this through their Raya and Chinese New Year collections. We fell in love with their work and we thought that the storytelling would be even stronger if we worked with them to tell these heritage stories.
Over the last year I was lucky to become acquainted with a number of Malaysian designers and I found that they too design reflections of their cultural heritage. With Innai Red, for example, you’ll see kebaya silhouettes, as well as their sister line Innai that works with batik. I had also seen the gorgeous songket bridal gown designed by Fiziwoo for Chryseis Tan. So for us, the collaboration between Choo Yilin and Malaysian designers was a very natural fit.
Jewellery is very much intertwined in a person’s most intimate moments – engagements, weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, the birth of a child etc. These are moments that are incredibly emotionally significant and jewellery, throughout history and geography, has been used to commemorate these moments. It was important that it couldn’t “just be jade” or “just the stories” – the two had to go together for us to do justice to the heritage narratives we wanted to tell.
Jewellery is one of the most widely understood symbols of love, all kinds of it — love wrapped up in the most intimate moments, and also marked by deep cultural practises, rituals and traditions. That’s why I’ve always found it a bit ironic that we would mark these moments with jewellery that traditionally did not say anything about our heritage. We wanted to create fine jewellery keepsakes that spoke to grandparents’ legacies.
One such story comes from the Chinese tradition of bestowing the same first syllable of name to all newborns from the same generation. My name, which was given by grandfather, means ‘moving towards beautiful jade’. It was very serendipitous.
Another thing is the memories and influence of generations of my family in Singapore living in a Peranakan neighbourhood called Joo Chiat, which inspired our Peranakan Collection.
With our classics collection, jade is the story. The designs are so simple and minimalistic, and were actually inspired by a book called ‘The Nyonya Kebaya: A Showcase of Nyonya Kebayas from the Collection of Datin Seri Endon Mahmood’, who is the late first wife of the 5th Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. I bought the book a long time ago not knowing the author, but simply because I loved reading about culture, and now I get to tell stories that honour our homes and grandparents through jewellery.