Annelise Michelson was trained as a fashion designer in Paris but found herself increasingly dissatisfied with the lack of imaginative jewellery around. So she decided to do something about it, trading cloth for precious metals. Annelise began her own jewellery line in 2010, and metalwork soon followed with her Carnivore collection. This was made up of bold pieces including her striking ear cuff, a style rarely seen at the time that kickstarted a fascination in fashion with the shape. With no formal training Annelise has impressed the originally sceptical French jewellery scene with her outlandish pieces that have been seen on the likes of FKA Twigs and Rihanna. The designer hopes to challenge perceptions and create jewellery that treads the line between high fashion and high street – they are affordable, but slave to no trend.

Below, Annelise tells her story...


I used to be a fashion designer, I went to the Chambre Syndicale in Paris and I wanted to make couture. But when I got my diploma there was no work in couture, and couture was in crisis. So I started working for Hermès and Picard and cool designers at the time. I was seeing all the different views of the industry, and I couldn’t really see myself growing as a designer because I was clearly not the next Yves Saint Laurent. And I thought, if I’m not the next Yves Saint Laurent, what’s really the purpose of making another pair of trouser and another knit? Maybe it’s not my path. I had this friend calling me for a freelance job as she was shooting with Carine Roitfeld who was still at Vogue at the time. She told me ‘we want to make some accessories for the shoot, but we don’t want anything that already exists, so would you be interested in making and creating some pieces?’ Of course I said yes.

I had no experience in making jewellery, none at all. I had designed some bags and shoes, but not jewellery. So it was really a challenge, but I thought it was exciting and especially in this context. By creating those pieces I just realised that there was really something missing in the jewellery industry, which was this in-between that is a cool piece of design but affordable. Not something too high-end, and not something too high street. So I made all these pieces then I got some requests from other stylists. The next thing I know, I was launching the brand without even knowing what I was doing. I just felt like there’s something to do, there’s definitely a niche, and I have to do something. I really had a point of view of what I wanted to express, and I knew that there was a big way of designing jewellery that was more abstract, less figurative, less girly and more personal. I started with zero, and for my first show I asked the bank to give me a loan, and this is how I started.

The first ever piece I made I was embroidering lace on mail chain, and I was mixing them with very old rosaries. I found a very old metre of rosary in Berlin. Mixed with the lace it was a little bit romantic but not, a little bit feminine but not, a little bit delicate and precious but not. In fact it's this contrast that I try to keep in all my collections – always a mix of different things.

I remember coming to London wearing ear cuffs I created (at the time there were no cuffs for ears), and people were stopping in the street and they were like ‘what is this?’ In Paris they were just like super shocked but they were not asking me anything, here they were stopping me in the street. Nobody wanted to make it at first because for jewellers in Paris they didn’t understand the ear cuff. They were like ‘it doesn’t exist for a reason because it can’t hold on to the ear.’ I was sure there was a technique. Then I met this guy who was a little bit punk too. He was like ‘okay, let’s do it. I will find a way.’ He liked the challenge and we made it happen. At the beginning for all these jewellery people I was just like a girl coming from fashion wanting to be a jeweller, and it’s kind of like another job and you have to be an artisan. Especially for a girl and a young one – I was 26 – they were like ‘calm down, be quiet, because first of all this is bullshit, and second of all let’s see, let’s try but don’t get too excited.’ It got to me a lot, but now I see that they recognise me as one of their own which is very nice. I kind of made it. The whole collection (that the ear cuff was from) became very popular and I understood that I could allow myself to go into metal because actually people were having fun with my pieces. I felt that it was in fact better, it was easier for me also for production for all the hand sewing was crazy. I suffered a lot from that. At the beginning it was fun but then when I began to get orders it was too couture.

My work is really an expression of myself. I’ve never been a punk, but in my mind I always was because I was always against everything, I was not an easy person. I’ve never gone with the flow. My father was like that too and he raised me like that. I think also my family and my context was very much about not following the rules. So I didn’t have to make a statement like dye my hair, it was just my personality. I think that I like also to surprise, and maybe provoke people. So my pieces are like electric shocks, and I like that.

I’m from Paris. My mother’s South African so I have something that is not completely French. My father’s French. My mother was into music, she was an opera singer when I was a kid. I definitely grew up with this very creative environment. I was always spending time with painters and sculptors. I never thought about doing anything other than creating, there was never any other option in life. I was like ‘I want to be a designer, I want to be part of that fantasy world!’ But that was the nineties and when I graduated from school, even at school I was a little bit shocked because I really had the dream in my mind, and when I got to school I realised that nobody was into that fantasy side of the fashion. It was about minimalism and all these trends. For me fashion was always having fun. It was very important to me to be having fun, and making things that will astonish people.

I actually always hated jewellery. I thought it was so silly to wear old things from your grandparents. I couldn’t see anything that I liked in the stores and I got some rings from my grandmother, but I don’t like to wear things that are old. I’m more looking to the future than in the past. I don’t like this kind of nostalgia. That was also something that was exciting when I started making my own. Finally I could look at jewellery in a very different way. I was just afraid that people would not understand it.

Wearing my jewellery is like putting armour on. Women told me that. That’s the best comment because I really felt that they had the same feeling as me. They put on their jewellery thinking this is giving them power, it is a message and they see it and they feel it. That’s great to say you’re giving something extra to someone, even if it’s just silly it’s fashion but still you’re contributing to something in their life and I love that.

Film by Javier Sola