One to one: Tomasz Donocik
He may have sought inspiration from a 19th century Russian literature hero but there is nothing outdated about Tomasz Donocik’s designs, as Laura McCreddie finds out
Arrogant, confident, cynical, emotionally conflicted, self-destructive but sophisticated, the Byronic hero has inspired many characters in literature - Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, the depraved yet beautiful Dorian Gray, and Edmond Dantès - Alexandre Dumas’s eponymous Count of Monte Cristo.
However, it is one Byronic hero in particular that jewellery designer Tomasz Donocik has taken for his inspiration - Grigoriy Aleksandrovich Pechorin, the nihilistic, cruel, melancholic character at the heart of Mikhail Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time.
“He was my muse for the Russian Aristocrat collection. I designed his whole wardrobe,” explains Donocik, who, with his long hair and aristo-grunge aesthetic, resembles a 21st century repimagining of his Byronic muse. “When I did the second collection, Rising Star, I developed the story to have him losing his wealth, but not his pedigree, and changed the look
to one of faded grandeur.”
Despite his aptitude for the medium, jewellery design was not what Donocik originally came to London to study.
“I was always passionate about art, since I was a kid,” he says. “However, when I came to London at 18 to do my Art Foundation course at Central Saint Martins, I found that jewellery was a medium where you could combine business and creativity.”
Jewellery design was also a canny move for a young designer because, as Donocik points out, “10 years ago everyone wanted to go into fashion”.
While at Central Saint Martins, Donocik didn’t just limit himself to jewellery design. He entered watch design competitions - in 2003 he won the Ebel Haute Couture watch project - and he became involved in design development training at luxury goods group LVMH.
After his BA at Central Saint Martins, Donocik decided to do an MA in Goldsmithing, Silversmithing, Metalwork and Jewellery Design at the Royal College of Art.
“I didn’t do it for academic reasons,” he says. “I wanted to dedicate time to designing things that weren’t every day, where I didn’t have to worry about finding clients and where it was easier to do things that were more wacky.”
And pieces from that period are hardly made for the mainstream. A one-off piece called ‘Beef in black bean sauce…please!’ is a necklace-cum-scarf comprising plaited silk rope with nine chopsticks suspended on each end.
A Cossack scarf with large oval rings of gold woven into it to loop the scarf through was also an early design, as was his now iconic Chesterfield bangle, which took
the instantly recognisable quilted pattern from the Chesterfield sofa and reinterpreted it as jewellery.
Following his MA, Donocik exhibited at New Designers, the show that celebrates the best in graduate design, where he was picked up by Stephen Webster.
He was there for a year, designing the Burning Rocks menswear collection for De Beers, before setting up under his own name.
Donocik’s first commercial collection under his own name, Rising Star, was, unsurprisingly, a men’s collection.
“There was always a lack of men’s jewellery and it was something I wanted to wear as well,” he explains. “I also wanted to do something for men that wasn’t just a cufflink collection.”
It sounds simple enough but back in 2007, when Donocik was exhibiting Rising Star at Goldsmiths’ Hall, fashion was moving away from the fey beauty of Pete Doherty in Hedi Slimane’s Dior Homme suits. Instead, it was the return of the retrosexual - a throw back to the type of man for whom a bracelet was something covered in diamonds that you bought your wife as an apology for cheating on her, not an item you wore yourself.
Thankfully the fashion press loved Donocik’s work.
The Daily Telegraph’s Hilary Alexander described him as “determined to spearhead a new way for men to wear jewellery”, while a Vanity Fair
journalist called his Rising Star collection “brilliantly wearable”.
With its star motifs, mix of leather and silver and its rock ‘n’ roll vibe, the collection was masculine enough for the boys but had an element of on-trend androgyny that was perfect for women wanting to look like Alison Mosshart, Jamie Hince’s bandmate in The Kills.
Despite first designing for men, Donocik has since launched his first women’s fine jewellery collection, called Garden of Good and Evil. Inspired by nature’s contradictions, it features vicious looking Venus Flytraps and limpid looking Trumpet earrings, with stones dripping from them like a poison meant for Snow White’s apple, alongside innocent-looking Snowbell pieces.
Donocik has also continued to collaborate with other design houses; in the past four years alone he has created two collections for Links of London, engagement
rings for Rivoir Germany and a men’s jewellery collection for Garrard.
And this year he took home the accolade of Jewellery Designer of the Year at the UK Jewellery Awards, a category that had a shortlist comprising some of the best talent currently working in the UK.
“It was a great feeling [winning the award],” Donocik says. “The group was of a high standard and hence it made it even more special winning the award. It really reinforces my passion and drive to establish a global, truly luxury jewellery and fashion brand.”
Because, despite the many plaudits his jewellery has won, Donocik still considers himself an artist who specialises in jewellery. He still creates art installations and draws, and wants his luxury brand to develop to reflect his interest in working with different materials, something he has done since his undergraduate days.
For now there are new collections to develop - unfortunately all plans are strictly off the record - and new markets to conquer, plus his designs are currently doing very well in Japan.
However, if you want an idea of how Donocik wants his work to be perceived, you need only log onto his website and read the quote from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray: “Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For those there is hope”.
2011 Winner of Jewellery Designer of the Year at the UK Jewellery Awards
2010 Commended in the IJL Fine Jewellery Design category at Goldsmiths’ Craftsmanship and Design Awards
2007 Awarded the Gold Award for both Best Junior and Fine Jewellery, and the Silver Award for Fashion Jewellery at the Goldsmiths’ Craftsmanship and Design Awards
2006 Designed and made the Royal Ascot De Beers Diamond Day prize