Sunday, June 8, 2008

how it all began

The short pedestrian version of the story is this: I started work. I felt frustrated. I travelled. I found inspiration. I started creating.

The unabridged version is long, and potentially self-indulgent at times. You've been warned.


Immediately after my last paper in my final year of college, I left for Europe as a little present to myself. Excited that I would have some of the world's most beautiful sights at my doorstep for an entire month, and content that I would come home to a dream job, it was possibly the happiest period of my life. I felt the invincibility that only youth can feel, and the world at my feet for me to conquer.

A month later, I started work, eager to begin life as a working adult. While work was exciting and intellectually fulfilling, I started suffering from a bad case of post-travel, post-University blues. I missed Europe like crazy, and found myself nursing its accompanying memories, feeling as if I had lost a part of myself.

The possibilities didn't seem endless anymore, and my mind conjured depressing images of being trapped in the corporate world for the rest of my life. I moped and snarled at everyone around me and was an absolute horror to be with.

The turning point came when I began to travel alone again, this time to South-East Asia. The little pockets of having 24 hours in a day to myself without having to answer to anyone was a much blessed thing. It gave me hope that life didn't have to end after college – a clearly erroneous but strongly held belief at that time.

In one of my trips to Saigon, I made friends with a tiny Vietnamese lady. Self-assured and so optimistic, she invariably opened a world for me when she showed me how it was possible to create. She made beautiful, beautiful Vietnamese silk embroidered bags and when I asked if she had gone to school for it, she laughed and said her major in college was in English. Yet, it was as if it was the easiest and most natural thing in the world to do what she did. I didn't know it then, but it was a subliminal “aha” moment for me, when I saw how instinctive and easy it was to just...create.

One day, back in Singapore, I serendipitously chanced upon an old man and his jewellery atelier. He was cranky as hell, and would always have something cutting to say about my appearance (Too sallow! Too white! Too badly dressed!). But strangely enough, I was fond of him, and a fledging friendship formed. I asked him to execute a design of a necklace I had in mind, and he did it perfectly.

I found myself spending my Saturdays there, putting coloured beads together and just doing what I learnt in Saigon - creating. I designed for myself then, with no goal in mind, and the process filled a void that had formed ever since I left school.

It was a friend who gave me the idea that I should aim for something more ambitious; that I could put together a label and sell my semi-precious beaded jewellery. And so I did. Over the next few years, I placed my jewellery in independent luxury boutiques in Singapore. It was a growing process for me, both creatively and emotionally and this allowed me to, in some inexplicable abstract way, recapture how I felt when I was travelling.

left to right: green onyx marquises, multi-coloured tourmaline briolettes, pink topaz briolettes

In 2007, I discovered a brand new world, where fine gemstones were drilled. These stones were mined from all over the world and shipped to Jaipur, one of the main cutting and drilling centers of the world. Like a child in a candy store, I experimented with these new stones, weaving them in precious metals of gold and fine silver. At the same time, I also started working with expert craftsmen who were trained in the revered methods of metal-smithing. The initial designs were mainly bespoke pieces which I thoroughly enjoyed creating, but separately, I wanted to find a way to exhibit my own style, and thus, Choo Yilin was born.

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