Good as gold: the jeweler disrupting the narrative through art
Martine Ali’s latest collaborative project captures the softer side of decorative hardware through boundary-pushing photography and design
Sunday 12 June 2022 By Gautam Balasundar
It's easy to get lost in the 'drip,' when looking at jewelry brand Martine Ali. From starring in Kendrick Lamar's iconic DAMN-era videos to adorning Robert Pattinson for his punk-infused GQ cover for March 2022, those glistening sterling links have captivated a fashion audience increasingly in search of hardware to define their personal style. But for Ali, jewelry is just the medium to capture an aesthetic narrative that has come to define the brand. “I literally grew up watching music videos on repeat, and that was my Vogue,” the designer recalls. “Those were my runway shows; that was my reference for style and fashion.” While those influences have remained constant, the brand has evolved in how it represents them, leading to Ali's most recent passion project, an art book made with frequent collaborators, Hannah Sider and Paige Landesberg.
With photographer Sider behind the lens and Landesberg’s publishing background, the trio had experience creating print projects for the brand. A few seasons ago, they produced a zine which doubled as a lookbook they could bring to market week in Paris. “It created,” Ali notes, “this amazing parallel between the needs of a fashion business, how important it is to communicate the feel of a collection” with what she calls the “permanence with a printed project.” Since then, the value of print has only grown on her. “When people release collections it’s super digital, and it’s very fast, and you might be able to see it on their website on their Instagram, but it’s very forgettable. It’s like, what's next?”
Ali is also something of a collector, finding fascination in both art books and magazines from various eras, a stack of which is seemingly always at her disposal. That proclivity is what drew her to Landesberg, who splits her time between Martine Ali Studio and Williamsburg’s Miriam gallery and bookshop. (The pair quickly bonded over books when the latter was working at Hauser & Wirth.) Their first collaboration – a Martine Ali keychain with a removable Lucite-encased print hanging off it – set the tone for what was to come. “I think it grew out of a deep ongoing study of interesting books that really approached the book form as an art object,” Landesberg says of their shared passion for print. “Something that you can live with that historicizes content, and invites curiosity and interaction; that is more accessible than owning a painting or even an expensive fashion item.”
Enabled by the medium of an artist’s book, Ali wanted to create a deeper narrative this time around. Taking inspiration from Fiona Apple music videos, particularly Criminal, the team spent a weekend freely shooting in a house upstate. “Let's not edit,” Ali says of her thinking behind this approach. “Let’s really tell the story. Let’s use the number of images and the range of the story to our advantage.” This was particularly suited to Sider, who would always end up with enough content for multiple campaigns when she and Ali worked together. For this project she honed in on the elements that encapsulated the brand, beginning with the casting. “Every time Martine and I shoot, the casting is very much these people that already have so much personality and so much personal style,” Sider explains. “It’s like they bring a character to a shoot."
That played an even more important role this time. And because the team had worked with the models, Amanda Baez and Brandon Carlton, before it brought a sense of familiarity and comfort that was essential. “It was very informal,” Sider remembers, “and I feel like that really allowed us to experiment.” Sider shot what amounted to a week’s worth of photos in just a couple of days. Contrary to the boldness of the jewelry, the series captures intimacy in quiet moments and creates a sense that you’re moving through these people’s lives in every shot. “It really feels like there are entirely different scenes to the story,” Sider says. “Even the way that the edit of the book is done – a few people have described it as like looking at multiple stills from the same film.”
The trio put an equal amount of consideration into the presentation of this narrative. Inspired by archival art books, both sides of the book are the “front,” opening up to either Brandon or Amanda and divided by a metallic spread at the center. To create a sense of anticipation in opening the object, the book shipped in a white box with a handle and included a pair of the white cotton gloves that art handlers typically use – and which Ali’s studio uses to handle jewelry. “Something that we're always thinking about across the board, in all of our products and projects, is how the person experiences the object from beginning to end,” says Landesberg. “Every part is ceremonial.”
In fashion, pieces can stay stuck in seasons and trends, but design built on a breadth of references and a deep fascination towards creative mediums becomes untethered to any one moment in time. With this project, Ali is continuing to find new ways to immerse her audience in her vision, allowing the jewelry to jump out from there. As her brand grows, her creative outlets are growing with it. “What I think is really cool is I get to create these characters,” she says, “and I get to move through my life in a way that's the ongoing, ‘Part-2’ movie of that early childhood influence.”