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In Conversation With: Rosh Mahtani

In Conversation With: Rosh Mahtani

Born in London and raised in Zambia, Rosh Mahtani is the founder and designer of Alighieri, a jewellery collection inspired by Italian poet Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. Having studied French and Italian at Oxford University, Mahtani’s journey and passion for writing and photography saw her found Alighieri in 2014. A brand rooted in literature and travel, each piece corresponds to one of the 100 cantos, or stanzas, in Divine Comedy and is a modern heirloom, embodying stories of adventure, love and melancholy. With pieces handcrafted in London’s Hatton Garden from recycled brass, their battered form resembles a comfortability in imperfection, with no two pieces the same.

Earlier this year, Mahtani received the prestigious Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design at London Fashion Week. A huge feat for the cult jewellery designer, the award recognised Mahtani’s ongoing commitment to sustainability and local manufacturing. Weeks later, the designer moved into her new London apartment, mere moments before the United Kingdom went into lockdown amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

We recently caught up with Mahtani who shares her journey to founding Alighieri, life in isolation and what’s next for the much-loved jewellery brand.

A brand rooted in literature and travel, each piece corresponds to one of the 100 cantos, or stanzas, in Divine Comedy and is a modern heirloom...

Isolation Diaries shot on 35mm. Image: Rosh Mahtani

Reading and reflecting. Image: Rosh Mahtani

Isolation Diaries shot on 35mm. Image: Rosh Mahtani

Reading and reflecting. Image: Rosh Mahtani

On her background

Can you tell me about your upbringing?

I spent my early childhood in Zambia, Africa, before moving to London when I was eight. I studied French and Italian at university in Oxford.

Can you share with us your journey to fashion and founding Alighieri?

It all happened very organically, I dreamt of creating wearable objects inspired by literature. I loved writing and photography and thought, if I start making one piece of jewellery for each of Dante’s poems, I could write and create books and play with objects. That’s when I started, and it all really fell into place.

What was it about Dante Alighieri that inspired you to name your brand after him?

I loved the Divine Comedy because it’s a story about being lost in a dark wood, which I think everybody can relate to. I was going through a rough time in my life, and his poem was almost like a comfort blanket for me. That’s when I decided that I wanted to make one piece for each of his poems. I’ll always love the opening quote:

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita (When I had journeyed half of our life’s way,)
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura (I found myself within a shadowed forest,)
ché la diritta via era smarrita. (for I had lost the path that does not stray.)

On her career

How do you determine which poem to draw inspiration from each season?

It’s always very autobiographical, I get drawn to a moment in the Divine Comedy that resonates with what I’m going through at that particular time.

What is your creative process like? From idea to creation.

I usually find a starting point in the poem, and then look outwards, to photography and music, sculptors and artists. I like creating a universe of objects and ideas. That’s when I start carving in wax. I love using the traditional method of lost-wax casting to create Modern Heirlooms that feel they’ve been dug up from the ground. We’re all about craftsmanship and handmade. Then we extend the universe even further for the look book, to complete the universe I began with at inception.

What would you say to aspiring designers looking to launch their own label?

Don’t look at trends or feel like you have to prescribe to a certain way of doing things. Tell your story.

You won the Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design at London Fashion Week back in February (congratulations by the way), can you tell us about this?

Thank you so much! This was such a surprise, and such an honour! We had three weeks to put together a show and it was such a whirlwind.

How important is innovation and sustainability to Alighieri?

Alighieri is all about creating timeless, forever pieces. We make all the jewellery by hand in London’s Hatton Garden. It’s important to me to respect our chain of production in the same way that we respect our customer and our team, it’s all one and the same. If we know where and how our things are made, if we make them with love, our customer values them with love. It’s integral to our business. We use recycled bronze in our creations and make locally, while connecting and creating communities around the world.

Looking back at Flea Market Finds… Image: Rosh Mahtani

On life during isolation

How have you found your time in isolation and what have you been up to?

I’ve just moved into a new apartment, so I’ve been trying to make it feel like home, whilst running Alighieri from there, which has been a 24/7 pursuit. It’s been a very intense period of work, as everything is changing. I’m longing for some free time to explore and create again.

What has been the biggest challenge?

Switching off, which is tricky to do when you’re working and shipping orders from home.

How have you been staying inspired?

Music is always a big inspiration. I’ve also been lucky enough to work with some really inspiring people, like Katy Hessel, from The Great Women Artists; her podcasts exploring female artists always inspires me. Lou Doillon’s live at 5 readings have also been a great source of inspiration.

What have you learnt about yourself during isolation?

I’ve remembered how much I quite like having me-time. I’m an introvert at heart.

Has any good come out of isolation for you?

It’s the first time I haven’t travelled and have been in one place for longer than two-to-three weeks, which feels very grounding.

What is one thing you will appreciate more when life resumes as per usual?

Being able to hug my parents.

What are you most looking forward to post-isolation?

Travelling, one day! Exploring this beautiful planet of ours, on the ground with my 35mm camera.

What’s next for Alighieri?

There’s so much that I want to do with Alighieri, it feels exciting. COVID-19 has changed the timeline, and it’s obviously a moment of uncertainty, so we need to take a moment and reconsider the ways in which we grow.

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