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Husam El Odeh x Topman

Dazed talk to famed jewellery designer Husam El Odeh about his exclusive range for Topman.

As the fashion world’s favourite jewellery designer Husam El Odeh launches an exclusive collection for Topman, Dazed Digital spoke to him about his many fashion collaborations, his fine art background and why he loves model aeroplanes.

Dazed Digital: You originally trained and worked as a fine artist in Berlin – what prompted the move from there to London?
Husam El Odeh: I saw the ‘Sensation’ Young British Artists exhibition in Berlin and I was so blown away by it I just thought I have to go to London, that’s obviously where it’s all at.

DD: How did you then make the change from fine art to jewellery design?
Husam El Odeh: I transferred to the Chelsea School of Art, and when I was finished there I was fed up with Fine Art, I just found it really self-indulgent. I had a year of not wanting to do anything creative. I was going to study simultaneous translation like a friend of mine from Berlin did for the European Union. I was just thinking why do we all have to keep saying things about ourselves, I mean who really wants to know? But it didn’t work, I just had to make things. I started making t-shirts and Marios (Schwab), who I’d been good friends with since Berlin, encouraged me to do jewellery, which I had thought about before. It felt less self-indulgent and less ‘about me’ because its more product-like but is essentially still useless. I quite like that you can access the work on different levels, you don’t have to see my nerdy, over-intellectual research, but it's there if you want to. I use everyday things quite often so there’s quite a direct access point. This English football guy came up to me at the station in Milan and said ‘ah that’s so cool, where did you get that from?’ about a pin I was wearing and I thought that was so cool.

DD: In addition to doing your own line you’ve also worked with several fashion designers like Marios Schwab, Mihara Yasuhiro and Siv Støldal. How does the process differ when you’re working with other designers to produce pieces that fit in with their collections?
Husam El Odeh: Most of the time they’ll come to me because they’ve already seen some element in my work that fits in to what they’re thinking about, and I have to find something of theirs that I can tap into. A lot of times I have ideas that I’ve put to one side because I know they’re not right for my collection but I can pull them out when the right project comes along. A lot of it is editing in the end, just tweaking the aesthetic.

DD: One of your latest projects is your collection for Topman. How did that come about?
Husam El Odeh: Well I think Gordon Richardson, Topman’s Design Director, has been watching my work for a while. I’ve done a couple of things for them before like a charity pin badge for testicular cancer a couple of years ago and I’ve kept in loose contact since then. I’ve been really interested in doing something with them for a long time and I think they were as well, so it was a matter of waiting for the right time.

DD: What are the inspirations behind the collection you’ve done for them?
Husam El Odeh: Toys and tools was my starting point. I really like those shops that are full of grown men who like gluing model aeroplanes together. It’s quite a masculine thing that a lot of people can easily relate to. My tools were also a reference point, along with car parts and car tyres. I had stacks of toy soldiers and jeeps and things. Working on something more mass-market meant having to check out the production that they’re using to see what they can do, but that’s always the case. I don’t think doing things on a larger scale means pieces have a lesser value, they just have a different kind of character.

DD: For S/S 10 you’ve collaborated with Acne where you’ve done some embellishments of denim pieces with them. Have you ever thought of moving more into full-on clothing design yourself?
Husam El Odeh: No, that’s not what I want, and I think that’s what makes me appropriate for a lot of these collaborations. I sort of understand how a garment works and I’ve done things where I’ve cut things away and replaced them with other materials, so I’m quite interested in those in-between areas. But in terms of being a fashion designer I think if the world needs anything from me it’s not that. I might do some more t-shirts with my illustrations though…

DD: As part of Fashion East Mens at London Fashion Week you held a kind of pop-up stall selling pieces made from bits and bobs you’d been collecting over the years. What inspired you to do that, and did you find it a cathartic process?
Husam El Odeh: That was one of the things I’ve always wanted to do because I collect things really obsessively or I make things and they’re kind of no good but still sort of nice. It was a way of showing how I work and how such a throw-away thing can be part of a process that becomes something you’re really going to treasure. It's almost like hanging up a sketch rather than an oil painting, they can still have quite strong personalities. And I like having visitors to the studio so it was like a way of taking the studio to the press and buyers.

DD: You travel a lot for work and you’ve lived in different cities yourself – which city do you find the most inspiring and why?
Husam El Odeh: Is it ok if I say London? I do love Berlin too and it’s a very inspiring city but it makes you lazy. You can have an amazing flat for not very much and party every night without really working. I did a couple of exhibitions in Berlin and that would have been enough, everyone would have been like, ok you’re an artist, and I didn’t want that. The other thing about Berlin is everybody’s so bloody cool. As a friend of mine from Berlin once said, ‘there’s no trend too cheap for London’, but there’s real possibility in that.  Amongst all the Shoreditch car-crashes that you see every day there is occasionally something genuinely new and valid because people are so ready to experiment, they’re not afraid to make mistakes. The whole mix-and-match designer-high street-vintage thing is really particular to London, which is also truly multi-cultural, and I really love that about it and find really inspiring.

Husam El Odeh for Topman is available now at Topman Oxford Circus London, Topman Broadway New York and, rings and earrings from £12, bracelets from £15 and necklaces from £18