Danish jewelry designer Malene Glintborg talks about how she transitioned from architecture to jewelry design, and why this was the perfect choice for her.
Malene Glintborg, a 36-year-old jewelry designer spends most of her days in two locations in Copenhagen – at her workshop at home or at the “Ladyfingers” shop, which is a joint collaboration of six jewelry designers. Glintborg is a mother of three boys, and the youngest is one year old. “A couple of months after my youngest son was born, I decided to go back to work part-time. I was experiencing an increased interest in my jewelry and I did not want to miss that opportunity.” She set up a workshop at home so she could work while taking care of her son. “I think something happens when it is your third baby. I remember my first child and how I was blown away by how different life was after we had him. I am much more pragmatic with my third son. He got to sit in a carry cot next to me while I worked, then in a high chair, and then he got to crawl around my legs.”
I wanted to be able to create an object just because it is beautiful (…) and based on my gut feeling.
With her long hair and slender physique, Glintborg is the picture of contemporary chic – just like her designs. “I contemplate a lot about how I can take a pure geometric shape and give it a twist,” she relates, “for instance, in my Split Circle collection I had a very simple point of departure – a circle. I made a slit in the circle, and gave it a few folds so it could catch the light in different ways. The pure geometry appeals to me,” she says. Glintborg’s designs emerge from “architectural and constructive principles.” The Origami collection had an origami box as the point of reference, while the X collection had a friend’s chair design as inspiration. Each of her designs “twists the convention a bit” – for instance, her Spheres necklace can at the same time be worn as a brooch and an earring.
But prior to 2010 Glintborg did not know that jewelry design would be her destiny – she did not even wear jewelry. In 2007, she completed her Master’s degree in architecture and started working as a consultant. She quit her job in 2010, not because she knew what she was going to do next, but because she simply wanted to do something else. “When I quit my job it was because I wished to design, to work with my hands, to think about aesthetics and get to do something that had aesthetics as a goal.” While her consultancy job required detailed empirical and theoretical analyses before any decision could be made, Glintborg’s desire was to work with something that would allow her “to create an object just because it is beautiful” and to do things based on her “gut feeling.” Then she remembered that she used to make jewelry as a teenager and that she attended a jewelry-making course, which she enjoyed a lot. “But I had never worn any jewelry myself. I sewed my clothes and made my own furniture, but since I did not wear jewelry, it was never on my radar,” she explains. Jewelry design appealed to her because it was “a profession where one could still be involved in all the phases of the development process, from idea generation to product development, without it demanding a big production system.”
I contemplate a lot about how I can take a pure geometric shape and give it a twist.
So she joined a one-week jewelry-making workshop, which was taught by a “really competent goldsmith.” It covered the basic skills of jewelry making. During that week Glintborg had lots of fun and immediately got a feel for jewelry making. But how was she going to proceed from there? “My first instinct was that I had to do it in a proper way and learn everything from scratch.I approached various goldsmiths and asked for a one-month internship. I was an intern at two places.
The first one was very artistic, unconventional and craftsmanship-focused goldsmith while the second was “a hard-core goldsmith, very talented, working for high-end customers, with precious stones and expensive materials.” Based on the two internships she gained an understanding of what it meant to be a jeweler, and what it meant to be an intern. “It was very much like ‘No, it’s uneven. That won’t work. Start over again’,” she laughs. “I felt that I was a little too old for that type of work process and that I probably was too much of a fireball to just sit there and devote myself to perfecting every single detail. My desire was to work with design, the artistic expression, the universe, and alike.” She then realized that she would not pursue a long-term internship. “I didn’t need an additional education. I decided to ‘fall back’ on my architectural education and slowly become better at my craftsmanship. The more things you create, the more routine you get, and the better you become at it,” she adds.
Instead, she found a workshop in Copenhagen, a small place where she both could make her jewelry and where customers could come in and purchase it. “It was a great way to try to produce something and see whether anyone would be interested in buying it. Luckily, there was,” she recalls. But what truly pushed things forward was when she decided to join some girls that were starting a shop in Jægersborggade, a street in the Nørrebro district of Copenhagen. The street has become known for its specialty stores as well as its artistic and entrepreneurial presence. “Our style is a good match to Jægersborggade and the customers that live in the area.”
Five years on, Glintborg’s jewelry is sought after internationally. With almost no marketing effort her designs are sold in countries such as Germany, UK, Italy, Sweden, Australia and the US. This month she even embarked on a new adventure. Together with two colleagues she started a (…) concept store called “Palermo Hollywood” in Copenhagen, a platform for selling her jewelry but also exploring new product categories and new collaborations. “I would like my company to grow to a certain extent but I like the flexibility and freedom of having a small and simple set-up. I prefer to do a new design because I suddenly have a new idea and not because there is a fashion week or because a new season is coming up.”
Glintborg’s advice to those designers that are planning to start their own business is clear. Think about “how you can do what you want without having to lay sleepless at night,” she continues, “don’t take big loans and don’t bet everything you own on one horse. Start slowly, make a product, see whether it can generate some money, then make two products, and grow your business gradually while you are getting to know your customers and your market segment before making any big investments.” Glintborg is all about being economical. “Do as much as you can yourself and don’t be afraid that everything has to be perfect from the beginning. It’s all about communicating who you are, what you stand for and what your goals are. That’s what worked for me.”