Marte Frisnes’s eclectic creations hint at a life led by curiosity, the freedom of travel, a love of art, design, colour and the wild beauty of nature. But the woman behind the brand is harder to pin down.
‘Meeting the maker’ always reveals to me something new and otherwise unknown about the creative impulse driving the artist. Fortunate to have known Marte for years, first as a client and now as a friend, I have witnessed only part of her journey so far. I had the pleasure of sitting down to ask about her inspiration, aspirations and joys in life.
-- Samantha Lawrie, Foster & Bloom
SL: Where did you grow up?
MF: I spent a lot of my childhood living on an old coast pilot’s station, on a very remote island, off the west coast of Norway. I didn’t have any siblings and spent a lot of the time by myself. No TV, no running water. We lived there from when I was two to four, then we kept the island as a holiday/weekend place for the next 25 years - I spent most of my time walking and exploring the island, collecting driftwood, shells, all sorts of things that the tide would bring in.
I developed a strong inner creative resource - making things, drawing, painting, a love of colour, putting things together. I’ve always loved beautiful things, but often find things beautiful that other people don’t conceive as such - a piece of old thing that someone has thrown away. This is not the ethos around my brand, of course, but it’s a feature of my photography and my personality - I like finding things that other people won’t generally see - an undiscovered place, how unusual colours might go together, that kind of thing.
SL: How did you become a jewellery maker?
MF: I always loved jewellery. My Mum had some bijoux from the 60s and 70s on the island - things like clustered, beaded earrings and piles of bangles. I loved playing with them. When I moved to Oslo aged 17, I started working in a clothing store and loved doing the jewellery stock-take and displays, but it wasn’t until I was 27 that I started actually making jewellery. In between I did loads of things: went to university, studied marketing and economy, statistics… super-practical stuff! I also worked in many different jobs; as a model, in hospitality, styling, and in TV production.
At a time of change in my life - a crossroad - I went back to studying, but this time to do a design degree. I learned through my studies how to find something and make it your own - about how to source inspiration and make your own. I always had a good visual sense of identity but I learned the skills to communicate that to someone else, to know how to get to what is really relevant and put a mood board together to express an idea.
I spent every summer in the south of France at that stage and was surprised by how much jewellery was available there - not cheap, but accessible. I would always buy a few pieces, come back to Norway. Back then there was nothing exciting in accessories around, just more conventional and classical high street jewellers.
So I started literally with five pounds; going to the local bead shop, stringing things together. Then that became more elaborate...I began to make things for myself and friends would say: ‘Oh can I have it!’ I started selling things to a few shops. Then a friend of mine who was the editor of Elle, she asked me for some pieces - it went on from there.
SL: Why England?
MF: I always loved interiors and my plan was to get an interior design degree in London, go back to Oslo and set up a design practice; that obviously never happened! While I was in London I got my jewellery into a couple of shops and magazines and before the three years of the degree was over, truthfully I had decided I wanted do jewellery not interior design. But, I don't like unfinished business, so I decided to complete the degree anyway. Interiors design is still a big part of my life and I love decorating and hunting for special pieces for our home. I fell in love with London and while there, I met my husband and moved to Shropshire to be with him.
SL: How does an Norwegian islander cope with land-locked English countryside? Or are you ‘at home’ with such remote locations?
MF: It is not my natural habitat, I love coastal landscapes or a more urban environment. But I’ve been living in the countryside for 12 years, now, and it is certainly growing on me. All the people I work with are in the jewellery quarter in Birmingham, which is close and really nice. I love and miss London, but I do visit a lot for work and to spend time with friends. Once you have a family, things change and the countryside offers a lot of things that the city doesn't.
SL: Countryside or city?
MF: I think I need both. I’m sort of a coast or city person, so it's ironic that I’ve ended up right in the middle of the country, as far away from the sea as you can get in Britain. But we made a deal, to keep opening our horizon and travel a lot.
SL: Favourite travel destination?
MF: How to choose between the beach, the city, remote landscapes, different cultures...quite impossible!
I think Paris is probably my favourite city in the world, though. I love to walk, keep moving. I get my trainers on and just walk, everywhere: I choose new streets, new areas every time, take different shortcuts. There are little gems everywhere. You can find a little back garden, a little museum, a bookshop. It’s that sort of constant voyage of discovery that I love, it just never stops giving. I’m insatiably curious. I want to see what’s in the next street, what might be found.
SL: Do you have a ‘signature’ jewellery piece?
MF: Of course there is the tassel bracelet, which is the piece that most people that know my work know me for...because it sort of went a bit crazy!
This year it’s been 20 years since I started making jewellery, so we’re bringing back a couple of pieces which were ‘defining’ creations for my brand. I’m embracing the history of the pieces but reworking them with a new look - so that they feel contemporary and ‘fit’ within the umbrella of the rest of the collections.
There was a really early necklace that I used to make when I first came over to London - a ring on a ball chain with lots of chunky charms on it called the ‘Clifton’ (it was named after my favourite beach in Cape Town). Back then it was my bestseller and it went on for years and years, would never stop. I’m working on a new edition of the Clifton, a slightly more polished version, but with all the charm and personality of the old piece.
Among the old jewellery pieces I’m reinventing is a butterfly necklace - quite a big, flat butterfly necklace that was very popular. This will also be a redesigned, contemporary version. My challenge in revisiting these old pieces is to make them not too heavy, but not too flawless or generic - so they still have an eclectic and fun feeling about them. That’s important to me: getting that sense of character. Some jewellery brands that go big and mainstream, everything can end up looking very similar: same finish, same polish, same look - that’s not what I want to do.
SL: Can you say more about that - how would you define your brand’s aesthetic and where does inspiration come from?
MF: I think the act of discovering and collecting things is a really big part of my overall work. We go to Paris a lot and I love to go to the flea market there. They sell everything from vintage little brass stamps to wooden beads to bizarre plastic doll’s legs, 1960s key rings...I love going in there and looking at everything... I wonder: ‘Could one of them turn into a fun little charm that we could re make?’ Or I get inspired by a simple walk on the beach, finding things... Art, architecture, vintage pottery and textiles are also a great source of inspiration.
SL: Can you choose a favourite era or decade? Help give us a sense of your personal style, since you’re not front and centre as the ‘face of’ your brand...
MF: Yes, that’s a deliberate choice. I don’t (ironically, after being a model) like having my picture taken or be the centre of attention. I have the odd portrait up there on my website or my social media feed, but the brand is not really about me, as such. You see a lot of my wrist, though!
As for an era, I think 70s, late 60s... I’m a bit of a bohemian at heart. While I like dressing up and putting on sexy heels for a night out, I also like being super chilled, free-spirited. I love wearing dresses and just throw a big cardigan or jumper on top in the winter, with trainers or boots or sandals in the summer. I’m trying to buy less, go for something that can work all year round, choose prints that go from summer to winter.
One of the challenges with jewellery is to make sure it relevant all year around — to have pieces people want to wear in December and January. I also have to make sure we offer everyday pieces while responding to fashion, too - my bigger earrings, etc. When you work with with pastels and pom-poms they become very summery, resort-y straight away. Enamel is easier, it can work all year round. I do like an element of colour in my jewellery.
SL: What’s your own ‘go-to’ jewellery piece?
MF: I always wear bangles - I have a nice little stack of bracelets, I don’t wear tassels every day but I wear the ‘Simone’ and my classical bangles. I have an initial necklace with an M, a ‘Darling' necklace, then I wear my new ‘Pixie’ hoop earrings. I love them so much I haven’t taken them off for the last months. They are changeable charms - you buy as many as you want and then swap them around for whatever you feel like wearing. I prefer gold to silver as it’s so flattering to the skin, and 90% of my clients prefer it. It feels more 60s or 70s.
The sexiest piece I own is a tassel ring from a jeweller called Solange Azagury-Partridge - it’s a pinky ring with chains hanging off it. I don’t know why it’s so sexy, something about how tactile it is when you’re wearing it.
SL: Great love of your life (of course with husband and children excepted!)?
MF: The sea. I do really miss it, when I haven't been close to it for a while. I need it, in a way, it’s like home. We go to Wales quite a lot - feels familiar to me, it’s a big country with a coastline that is rough and rugged. The beach for me isn’t necessary about lying on the beach sunbathing, it’s about walking, roaming, exploring. I would go on the beach any day of the year no matter the weather - in Norway we have a saying 'there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing' - so you just put your waterproofs on if you need to and embrace it. It’s like a homecoming for me, being by the sea.
I could also say food, I’m a real foodie - it doesn't have to be fancy food but I love good ingredients done well. Or it could be red wine, we have a great relationship! So a great meal with good food and wine but the sea is the perfect combination for me!
Travelling is another great love of mine. I’ve do feature some of my favourite destinations to the Journal on the website because I’m asked so often about recommendations. It’s my curiosity, again. I want to taste, smell, touch, see what’s happening, know what are people eating, where do they live, what’s their language like... I’m working on my husband; I like to go deeper and grittier than him, when I travel. We're getting there!
Today, there almost isn’t an off-the-beaten-track anymore. I saw a documentary about Mount Everest - there are people queuing up now when the weather conditions are right. That used to be only five guys a year, now it’s package trips to glaciers. But one can still find unusual experiences in places - you just need to go in a different direction to everyone else,or maybe just see things with new eyes to find something genuine and interesting.
SL: What lies ahead for Marte Frisnes in future?
MF: I love my work and am enjoying the journey! I never wanted to have a series of shops around the world, that was never my drive. Growth and developement in general on many levels, I desire, but I always wanted just enough to look after myself and defend the time I put into it. The best part for me is to design, to make, to sell and to have that joy of seeing something I’ve created on someone on the street or in a magazine - that’s like, ‘oooh’!
I am super grateful to be allowed to make, to create as the way I make my living. Its never-ending, but in a good way. I work really well under pressure but it’s a skill, to meet your own deadlines. I generally keep going all the time — trying to keep on top. I can’t really remember being employed, I’ve been self-employed for so long! My office day is very flexible. I have my laptop and my little sketchbook, that’s all I need. I always draw, keep on designing all the time, I communicate with everyone I work with via email or phone so even if I’m away somewhere for a week I can do most of the work I need to do.
SL: What would you have done, in another life?
MF: I’d always like to be making something. But I’ve actually thought a lot about this - as a child I wanted to become an archaeologist. There is something about the act of hunting and collecting, for me, but without aggression, only curiosity; asking where did this come from, why did they do that? My father was a policeman, so maybe that’s where it comes from, the act of linking up stories, always thinking - why? Like a detective, piecing stories together. Again, it’s about discovery, really.
I would have loved to be a travel journalist - doing photography. As well as making jewellery, I’m a hobby photographer. I so admire a good photographer who can capture a moment. Black and white interests me most, I think the brain must work harder to figure out what the colours were and I think it triggers your imagination. Also photography goes quite well with being a sort of hunter-gatherer, doesn’t it? It’s taking a piece of something with you without really taking anything. Collecting, but collecting images that you won’t be able to remember...that you maybe want to keep and take with you. In a way, that’s what I’m doing now with MFJ, I suppose.
Portrait photograph by Mark Newton
All other photos and collages by Marte Frisnes