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Nina van Houten

Freshly graduated from Central Saint Martins, London, designer Nina van Houten explains her fascination with beauty and jewellery.

By Katie Dominy /asdf 06-07-2012

Prior to studying in London, Nina van Houten had an extensive career as a wig-maker and make-up artist for theatre, being trained by the Dutch National Opera House in Amsterdam before moving to London six years ago to work for the Royal Opera House and the Royal Ballet, going on many international tours; her skills more recently enabling her to fund the college's tuition fees.

Nina van Houten's graduate collection is entitled Scars and its inspiration lies in the ten years working in make-up and hair: “My work mainly consists of making people more beautiful or changing their appearance, it made me wonder why we are so obsessed about being something else, never appreciating who we are, but finding perfection outside of ourselves. I feel it is important in a society so obsessed with beauty, and forever trying to ‘perfect’ ourselves, to sometimes take a step back and be able to look at ourselves and realise the beauty that lies in imperfection.”

The pieces in the Scars collection, brooches, a cuff and also necklaces, are metal-based, some gold-plated, some copper and have been cast directly from the skin into alginate (a material used in dentistry for taking impressions of teeth). The alginate, van Houten tells us, “picks up the skin texture beautifully”. The alginate is then cast in plaster, from which a silicone mould is made and then wax is poured in. The wax is then cast into metal, creating wearable jewellery that, as van Houten says, ”shows the beauty that lies within our skin and scars.”

“Scars, usually seen as an imperfection and often hidden away, when taken out of context they become the opposite. By casting them in different materials, they get highlighted in a different way, and we are able to see their beauty for what it truly longer signs of imperfection but beautiful additions to the body that make us all unique.”

“I love the fact that you can really see a difference between the areas the scars come from, a knee scar looks totally different then one on a foot for example, and you don't usually pay that much attention to your body, but its really beautiful to see. Also people don't necessarily know that they are scars to begin with, the are just beautiful pieces. Later when explained, it adds an extra value and by taking it out of context, people can appreciate the beauty of them without seeing the pain usually attached to the scar.”

We also spoke to van Houten about her collection My Heritage that revisits Dutch traditional headpieces. “By moving abroad I regained new appreciation for my own culture and heritage, things that were so normal to me, and therefore overlooked, regained my interest. While at Central Saint Martins we were asked to create a piece made from tin by the Worshipful Company of Tin Plate Workers; I therefore decided to work with my own background.”

The designer chose to make a modern day version of the traditional Dutch headpieces. “They are so striking and unusual, the more I looked into them, the more they fascinated me. The qualities of the tin (being a very light material) allowed me to make quite a big piece so I decided to transform the tin into a lace-inspired headpiece. I tried to take references from all over Holland, such as the shape and the flower patterns etc, seeing as they are very different in every city.”

Photography:  Ani Lang

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