Lord of the Rings
Meet Birmingham School of Jewellery graduate Fei Liu, 2016's Designer of the Year. Funny, talented and basically lord of the rings (and necklaces, bracelets etc)
Fei Liu is no slouch: the first ever Chinese student at Birmingham School of Jewellery two decades ago, last year he was awarded Designer Of The Year at the UK Jewellery Awards, his trinkets are regularly featured in glossy fashion mags and he has a loyal celebrity fan base. His work, available locally at three Warwickshire jewellery stories including one of our 5 Muddy finalists Camilla Jones in Alcester, is gorgeous, unusual and feminine. We especially love the filigree ‘cascade’ necklaces, rings and earrings that evoke flowers delicately unfurling their petals in the sunshine (he’s inspired by British blooms such as peonies and roses). Not only is he mega-talented, Fei is loads of fun, handling the more impudent end of Muddy’s questioning with good grace…
Hey Fei, how’s tricks?
I’m OK but I hate the English summer! I have such bad hayfever today, I can’t breathe.
Sorry about that – at least it’s not raining though, eh? Take your mind off it by telling me about your jewellery…
I like to create something a bit new, a bit different to what you get from the high street. And I’ve always been fascinated by 3D forms and how jewellery moves as part of your body.
What are the big trends at the mo?
Earrings are everywhere – I think it’s because we all love to take a selfie and if your face is in a shot, you always notice your earrings. I think next we’ll see a return of the bangle. The market is currently saturated with beaded charm and friendship bracelets but you’re now seeing the girls on the runway starting to wear massive bangles and cuffs.
Any tips for choosing jewellery?
Don’t buy something because you’ve seen someone else wearing it. Instead go for the piece that talks to you the most, the piece that most represents you. Try different rings or bracelets on each hand to compare. Sometimes you need to be nudged into trying something different. I’m very honest with customers, when they try something on and it doesn’t work, I say, “No! It looks shit! Try this instead!”
Ha, you don’t mess around! Let’s talk celebs – who wears your jewellery?
Eva Longoria wore my earrings on the red carpet when she was in Desperate Housewives, and in the UK, Amanda Holden has worn my jewellery five times on Britain’s Got Talent. I don’t watch TV but sometimes on a Saturday night my phone lights up with texts from friends who’ve spotted my pieces.
Who’s the most famous person you’ve met?
In 2014 Prince Charles and Camilla came to visit Birmingham and I was chosen as one of the greeting team. I was wearing a brooch and Charles came up to me and said [comedy posh accent in deep baritone]: “Hello! Is that your work? It’s rather nice!”
What’s the most glamorous moment of your career?
A few years ago I got to go to the Golden Globes because the CEO of TV network ABC was wearing my jewellery. I didn’t get chance to do the red carpet – we had to use a different entrance around the back, haha! So it wasn’t quite as glamorous as I’d hoped.
Was it a culture shock arriving in Birmingham to study?
I hated it for the first year, but then I started to fall in love with the people and then the city. I can’t imagine ever leaving now. I love Brummies – I call them potatoes because they are not glamorous but you can’t live without them. I adore the English countryside too – if I’m depressed or creatively blocked, I go to the country and stand on top of a hill and let the wind blow me away.
Where do you like to hangout in Birmingham?
Around the Jewellery Quarter there’s a huge variety of restaurants and bars. I’d recommend The Jam House for live music and cocktails and the Urban Café to eat – I love it there because my French bulldog Rocky is allowed to dine with me. I can’t bear him staring at me longingly when I order the avocado toast with smoked salmon, so I have to let him share with me.
What’s the first thing you do in the morning?
I drink water but not any random tap water, OK? It’s water I’ve prepared the night before with lemon in it, to cleanse my system. Mornings are very precious to me. I get up early, 5.30ish, and sit at my glass table, with the French windows open onto the balcony, and work on sketches. No one phones or emails me at that time, it’s lovely.
What can’t you live without?
My phone – it is always in my hand, which my friends find extremely irritating. However, once or twice a year I do a 10 day silent meditation course at a monastery in China, where your gadgets get locked away. You get up at 4.30am and meditate all day until bedtime at 9pm. I come back with a completely different perspective on life, full of fresh ideas and completely rebooted.
Which parts of British life do you love?
Don’t judge me but when it comes to food, I don’t think I’m actually Chinese because I’m addicted to fish and chips. My accountant had to tell me that I shouldn’t eat them every day, you’re only supposed to have them once a week.
Of course, you have to put vinegar on your chips to be properly British…
Oh yes, vinegar is brilliant. And I like mushy peas too. My Chinese friends are horrified, they say, ‘Why do you like this? It’s awful’. They just don’t understand.
Fei Liu’s jewellery is available at Howards Jewellers, Cook’s Alley, Stratford-upon-Avon; Camilla Jones Jewellers, 16 High Street, Alcester and Lille Perle, 3 Livery Street, Regent Court, Leamington Spa.
Words: Kerry Potter