The Devil is in the Detail: a Spotlight on Maltese and Malta-Based Designers Part 1

Maltese artisans - jewellery by Marpesia & co, scarf by Saz Mifsud

Back in the days when ready-made clothes were something of a novelty as well as a luxury, well-to-do and middle-income families in Malta all had their own dressmakers and seamstresses. The latter were traditionally female, as opposed to the tailor, who specialised in the cutting, moulding and stitching of masculine garments. Of course, the few wealthy members of society who partook of the rarity of travel also patronised clothing stores overseas, most likely in Italy and France before the nineteen sixties and subsequently in swinging London. Sewing classes were still popular in the seventies and eighties, most notably amongst women. I recall my own mother attempting to embrace this trend and buying a sewing machine, which was, sadly, allowed to gather dust in a corner of my bedroom once she discovered that her talents did not lie that way. Jewellery-making was, at that time, mostly largely limited to the teaching of filigree-crafting, which is, in and of itself, a skill that is still unusual to come across and wonderful to uphold.

Up until the nineties, it was unusual to even consider making a living as a designer if you were Malta-based. One of the few design houses that began to be successful in this regard was Charles & Ron, with their then label Beatrix and the wonderful creations which were housed in the atelier in Manwel Dimech, Sliema, “Cream”. However, in the noughties this slowly started to change, with growing awareness about fashion, courses becoming available at the Malta College of Art, Science and technology, and students being able to more easily benefit from scholarships to courses at overseas universities and colleges thanks to Malta’s entry into the EU.

Today, we are lucky enough to be able to feel spoilt for choice as far as Malta-based designers are concerned, be it for handbags, jewellery, swimwear, day and evening wear or even bridal gowns. The first two designers whose work I shall be exploring craft wonderful examples of accessories of different sorts. The first one, Saz Mifsud, has become the go-to local designer for scarves and bags.

The Saz Mifsud brand deals in products that have been exquisitely fashioned using the technique of digital printing. The creator and her team work with the silk fabric, painstakingly transposing the digital designs on to the delicate material. Warm, earthy tones curve and swish to embrace the material, whereas jewel-like hues embellish the beautiful items that carry Mifsud’s own designs. It is easy to reconcile the fact that she began her artistic career as a painter when you take a closer look at the shapes and patterns that adorn each unique piece. The crowning glory of Mifsud’s latest collection is her range of handbags, particularly her leather, across-body bags. Having been inspired by feathered creatures of all shapes and sizes, especially peacocks and parrots, Mifsud has created a world which plunges the viewer into flights of fancy. You might be in a tropical paradise, or an exotic jungle. Nature, with all its vibrant multicoloured permutations, can be experienced in this collaboration with a New York-based leather printing company. The designs are also ethical – as the website proudly proclaims, for every twenty scarves that the company sells, one is donated to a woman undergoing treatment that results in hair loss – a noble gesture if ever there was one. I am also very attracted by the fact that the styles promoted are ageless and timeless, as opposed to some design houses that seem to pander to the very young.

The next brand that this blog post will highlight specialises in bespoke jewellery pieces for myriad occasions, be the events in question a christening, a wedding, birthday, mother’s day gift or simply a gift from oneself to a special person. Marpesia & Co has been going strong for ten years now – incredible, when you consider how young the designer still is. What is especially impressive about Martina Guillamier’s designs is how delicate, ethereal and weightless they all seem – it is almost as if you expect them to float around your neck, gently caress your wrist or land gracefully next to your ear. This is due to the designer’s approach to making her pieces – in her own words, she “hand cuts, files, hammers and drills” materials such as aluminium, wire, brass, jasper and sterling silver, adorning these with marvellous gemstones, freshwater pearls, vintage glass and Swarovski crystal. Some of the stones she has used in her many-hued pieces include amethyst, agate druzy, ametrine and azurite.

In her interview for the Sunday Circle, Martina explains that she gets inspiration for her metal works from music and going forward, she wishes to make more of her collections based on music titles. Here below is a necklace she made as a tribute to Chris Cornell’s – Black Hole Sun title by Soundgarden.

In addition to the necklaces, anklets, drop earrings, wrist cuffs and bracelets, Guillamier also custom-makes headpieces, combining, for instance, vintage coral (an eco-forward choice if ever there was one, considering the state of coral reefs worldwide) with mother of pearl, the aforementioned freshwater pearl and funky glass beads. Whether you require such a piece in order to set off your bridal outfit or simply want to dazzle in a whimsical get-up, these graceful headbands are a sure complement to any outfit.