frAsh - Spotted in the Ottawa Citizen

11-01-2012 19:58:26


A frAsh take


Isobel Walker’s overnight success took eight years

Isobel Walker’s FrAsh jewelry has taken off. Above, she wears the Hunter water buffalo horn collar, $195. Left, the Heloise necklace with horn and artisan brass rings, $150.

Isobel Walker’s FrAsh jewelry has taken off. Above, she wears the Hunter water buffalo horn collar, $195. Left, the Heloise necklace with horn and artisan brass rings, $150.

Photograph by: Julie Oliver, The Ottawa Citizen

In the last year, Isobel Walker’s jewelry has rocketed to the red carpet. It’s been an overnight success story eight years in the making.

Walker, 29, has been producing jewelry ever since she and her friend Erin Jakob opened a booth in the ByWard Market, repurposing vintage elements into one-of-kind new creations. Walker’s jewelry is about the contrasts in colours and textures, “between aggression and femininity,” she says.

But momentum only really started building in the past year. First, there was positive notice at Ottawa Fashion Week. Next came Walker’s first foray into mass production — 65 necklaces made of Canadian and vintage components, including turquoise, amethyst, magenta-coloured jade and a ’70s charm for a swag bag at an AIDS fundraiser at the NAC. The necklaces were such a hit that people were fighting over them.

From there, Walker was invited to show in the “premier swag lounge” at the Hazelton Hotel during the Toronto International Film Festival. A stylist from Entertainment Tonight Canada picked up a few pieces for the show. Singer Fefe Dobson also chose a few, later wearing a pair of water buffalo horn earrings at the Canadian Country Music Awards.

For an emerging designer, giving freebies to celebrities is an opportunity to get photographs and maybe a mention.

“You have to hope it gets into to the right hands and they call you back,” says Walker. “It’s a huge leap of faith.”

With winter closing in, Walker is working on her spring and summer collection, which will be available at Victoire and Shepherd’s in Ottawa and The Oyster in Burlington early this winter. Among the materials: polished horn, turquoise, lemon-coloured crystals and vintage chains from the 1970s.

Shepherd’s is featuring some of the water buffalo horn pieces in the window.

“It walks the line between trendy and classic,” says owner Marlene Shepherd, who met Walker at Ottawa Fashion Week in October.

“It’s elegant and simple, but trendy at the same time. You could pull it out of your closet in 15 years and still wear it.”

FrAsh started out as a ‘passion project” and remains that way, says Walker, who has used brass from vintage fittings to spent bullet casings (“And I don’t own a gun”).

She remembers paying $22 a day for a booth in the ByWard Market, and not making enough money to break even on some days. The original enterprise was called frAsh Femme, a reference to “fresh trash” ­— taking apart old things and turning them into something new. “No one would buy jewelry called ‘trash’ so it was called Frash Femme,” she says.

When Jakob left to return to university, the “Femme” part got chopped after Walker discovered that Fresh Femme is an Australian brand of tampon.

She spends a lot of time researching her sources. “I want to make sure it’s right, that it’s something I can stand behind,” she says.

The water buffalo horn, for example, comes from an organic farm in Texas and is polished there. The material is remarkably lightweight and has a subtle translucent quality. Her vintage chain comes from her complex network of flea market buyers and her own network of sources.

“I’ve been in people’s houses where they have boxes and boxes of vintage chains,” she says. “People saved it when the factories went out of business.”

Meanwhile, Walker has already put her mind to a collection for next fall and winter that features emeralds, sapphires, amethysts, raw black diamonds, leather and fur. The inspiration is the 1928 silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc (Walker did film studies at Carleton University) and her fondness for the epic fantasy novel A Game of Thrones.

“I’m still labouring in obscurity,” says Walker, who freely admits to being a cheapskate who likes shopping at Value Village because she likes things that are different. “I just had a few key moments.”

Isobel Walker’s online boutique, goes live on Jan. 15.




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