Louisa Richwhite, Director and Designer of fledgling jewellery company Violet Darkling, lives in a flat in Notting Hill with black walls. They’re gloss black, and light reflecting therefore – but nonetheless, black. Furs are thrown over sofas, and everywhere are pieces of taxidermy: a pair of stoats on a table, antelope heads on walls. A very bouncy Pomeranian, Mungle Weasel, is the only living creature. “I was just starting Violet Darkling when I decided what colour to paint the walls,” explains Richwhite, and, looking at the jewellery, the black and the taxidermy make sense. Tarsier skulls, with their huge eye sockets, grip stones such as pink topazes between their toothless gums; little creatures, fossas, which are native to Madagascar, wrap themselves around a finger; wolf skulls hold gem-studded bones in their jaws; owl skulls are threaded onto leather. All are perfectly executed, and in an array of white, yellow or rose gold, or, to match the black walls, in rhodium. “They’re animals that only come out at night,” explains Richwhite. “I’m very drawn to all things nocturnal.”
Richwhite herself is tiny and sinewy and bewitchingly attractive, with long dark hair that falls in waves down her back. She originates from New Zealand, but grew up, largely, in Switzerland, where she was at boarding school in the Alps. Then to the UK, where she studied fashion at the American Intercontinental University. She took various semesters out, during which she worked for the New Zealand designer Karen Walker. Her final degree show, three years ago, was a triumph of creativity. Inspired by the fairytale Hansel and Gretal, she “went all out. I had two ferrets on the catwalk. And I designed so much stuff, including, of course, jewellery.” Much of this jewellery, and more, is what I’m looking at now.
The fairytale of Hansel and Gretal recounts two children becoming lost in a wood. They find a cottage made entirely of gingerbread and studded with sweets, and, being starving, fall upon it in delight. But there is a witch living within. “It’s charming, but there’s an undercurrent,” remarks Richwhite. “It’s what the skulls are: they’re so shiny and polished, and they hold these jewels in their mouths like sweeties, but still, they’re skulls.” Violet Darkling, the name of the brand, is Richwhite’s alter ego. She’s a night time persona, a woodland sprite making pretty and witty out of dark. The pieces are bold and tough and beautiful.
Richwhite’s design aesthetic is equally reflected in her style of dressing: she’ll take something pretty and toughen it up, combining chiffon with leather, or frills with sharp tailoring. She talks reverentially of Luella – she of the tongue-in-cheek prom dresses, subverted into something far sexier than their innocence suggests. Various looks are hung around her bedroom, and always, they’re worn with her jewellery. Her favourite piece is a black rhodium-plated tarsier skull pendant with a blue topaz – though “favourites change quite often,” she admits. The fact that many of the pieces are made from more than one colour metal means that everything can be worn together: two or three pendants, three or four of the near-knuckleduster sized rings.
The Violet Darkling office is in South Kensington, and Richwhite keeps her enviable body in shape by walking across Kensington Gardens, accompanied by Mungle Weasel, to get there everyday. Weekends are spent in the countryside, in Sussex, “which is where all the designing gets done. I need to be away from London to work effectively.” She holidays in Saint Tropez, where a friend has a house, and Marrakech, again, a friend has a house there. “They’re both such beautiful places,” she remarks, “but full on.” And so Christmas every year is in stark contrast: she goes home to New Zealand, where her family live on a virtually deserted island, the only other beings are livestock. “I need it. It’s where I go to re-energise. I love riding my horses down to the beach – it’s so wild.”
Richwhite loves horses. Later, she sends me some images by the photographer Simon Proctor, she’s currently lusting after one of his horse prints, which she thinks “would look awesome on a black wall in the flat.” She also admires the work of Tim Walker and David LaChapelle, “I like the vibrant colour, and the themes. It’s all quite dramatic and fun, with a strong narrative.” Put like that, it sounds like her own designs.
This is Violet Darkling’s first full collection, and, already a favourite of Rihanna, who has worn pieces on several occasions, it’s only going to grow. “Ultimately I would like to diversify into Violet Darkling bedlinen, nightwear, everything that you would need to complete Violet’s crazy, dark, charming and witty world,” enthuses Richwhite. “My dream is to have a Violet Darkling boutique, which will transport any visitor to a place of imagination.” What’s the betting it will have black walls?
Photographer: Neil Gavin
Journalist: Fiona McKenzie Johnston
Makeup: Jen Fechter