Tuesday, 29 April 2014

it's a cultural thing

Some men just can
So there was a shout out for bead artists recently on facebook to have a go at making jewellery for men. Yup, man bling. I started thinking about this and in the spirit of primary research, I asked the question to a few chaps, 'Would you wear beadwork?' The responses were interesting because they said a lot about ego and confidence and concerns with appearance and perceived identity.
I found some age defined boundaries; 'surf dude' beads and an armful of festival bands are fine as long as you're under 30. Designer matt metal and iconic watches are OK for career guys, just as long as it's brand identifiable and doesn't veer off a narrow path of acceptable chains, moderately plaited or aged leather and chunky thumb rings. Older guys looked a bit scared and concluded it would be a bit effeminate and not really their thing.
Seriously though, the more you look, the more complex the male relationship with jewellery becomes, and the more it really is a sub group marker. There are the stereotypes, gold sovereign pinky rings that scream used car dealer, and fine dudes for whom gold is a symbol of success. Oh, and three cheers for bikers, goths and (in the same sentence) die hard mods and punks who pierce and be-stud and jangle with retro regalia... and do the long, dyed, shaved or glued hair to match.
Overwhelmingly though, men just don't do the jewellery thing; Nope most of us are hard pushed to get them to wear their wedding rings! and as one guy pointed out, 'We're not all Johnny Depp you know!' how true... how sad.
If you widen the research to global, there are thousands of men wandering around on a daily basis, bedecked in colourful beadwork. Our combined cultural histories are packed with gorgeous man jewellery, from Egyptian collars, to Viking silverware, Medieval rings to Victorian watch chains.
Swoon worthy Samurai with exquisite carved gem buttons and enamelled Inro, the list is endless.
Maasai Man, image by Steve Pastor 2006
A few years ago, I was on a walkabout in Africa with a lovely Maasai guide, he was wearing traditional clothing and a couple of beaded armbands. So I asked him if he'd be willing to explain why I saw some Maasai men covered in beadwork and others not... did it signify something like age or marriage status? He kind of shrugged, smiled and leaned on his stick and said, 'Some men just like pretty things more than others,' and wiggled his eyebrows. So, then I asked, so do your wives make your beadwork for you? and he looked puzzled for a minute and said, 'No, we get them from the Indian guy who has a shop in town, I think he buys them from China'.
So, primary research is all well and good but I think we still have a long road to travel before the average man is happy to don his beadwork in the mornings...which leaves me with the question as to what can I design that just might tempt him to release his inner Johnny Depp? I resorted to a few stereotypes myself to get the designs ideas moving...
Post apocalyptic Mr Gibson and the so macho it's scary Snake Plissken... for example.
Sombre colours... hmm, nice safe matt black, macho gunmetal, maybe a tiny speck of danger red...
Scale, too chunky to EVER be considered girly...
and for sources... nuts and bolts and snakes and crocodiles, might just throw in slugs and snails and puppy dog tails.
What I wasn't expecting, was to enjoy the process! But it was great, I loved the freedom to up the scale and forego the usual sparkle and detail.
Here's what I made...
Sinuous snake bracelet
worked in O beads and seed beads
with a tough wire core

The Hombre cuff
worked in Czech Mate, two hole pyramid
and super duo beads
with a chunky parachute snap clasp