Pallavi Foley: Breaking Free

Bengaluru-based jewellery artist Pallavi Foley, a glittering supernova in the firmament of Indian jewellery design, is known for her signature sculptural shapes and audacious feminine forms that veer towards futurism. Movement, dynamism and modernity are the high points of most of her three-dimensional lines.

Gifted with an uncommon imagination, the fearless artist thinks in visual 3D forms. Defying norms, pushing boundaries gives her a creative high and highlights her individualistic streak. The new-age jewellery designer talks to Solitaire International about her extraordinary career and rise to fame.

Pallavi Foley

Pallavi Foley loves to challenge conventions and rewrite rules of design. Each of her collections is backed with thorough research and a strong concept that is first sketched on paper to the last detail; then, it comes to life in the atelier where she spends hours with her craftsmen to look into fine detailing and functionality of each piece.

Pallavi Foley
The 3-space necklace designed by Pallavi Foley won the second prize in the Beads category, of the Saul Bell Awards.
Gold peacock feather in Jaali work.

Early Days

I’ve always been fascinated by the transformative power of art; one minute you have a blank piece of paper and the next minute, it turns into a beautiful illustration or something else.

As a child, I drew all over the walls of my room to express myself. I see patterns in 3D. I’m not sure where I get that ability from; perhaps it could be from my childhood. My father used to be a builder and I would spend a lot of time in the buildings he was making. First,they lay a foundation, then they put in pillars, then a roof, walls, and finally, doors and windows… but it all begins with a drawing, a plan on a piece of paper. Somebody’s got to see that in 3D in his or her head! That always intrigued me.


I studied accessory design at the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) in New Delhi and then design at Domus, Milan. I’d thought about studying fashion design but they told me at NIFT that I was good with forms (the three-dimensionality?) and that I should be studying accessory design. I’m glad I did.

I joined Tanishq after NIFT. I’d won a few jewellery design awards while still graduating and then of course, while at Tanishq, I saw people from around the country wearing my designs. That was a massive high for someone in their early twenties.

Early in my career I got the opportunity to design crowns for the Miss India pageant, and the project helped me push the boundaries. After a decade-long hugely successful tenure at Tanishq, and numerous national and international design awards to my credit, it was time to move on. I set out to establish my own label, Pallavi Foley Boutique Jewels, at the Leela Palace in Bengaluru.

Textured floral gold pendant.
Gold earrings set with fresh water pearls from the Akiko collection.
The layered linked necklace features two oval links set with rubies and sapphires.
3D gold necklace from the Organzo Curves collection.

Inspiration

Nature is my biggest inspiration, and teacher. A leaf that I’ve seen somewhere, or a flower, a fruit, a butterfly — all of these find their way into my designs. Many say that I’m fearless, but I’m actually following what my ‘inner eye’ dictates to me. I’m a visual thinker … a book that I may have read, something I may have heard, my daughter’s talking or singing — all of that turns into pictures in my head. After that, it’s all about picking from those pictures and turning them into pieces of jewellery.

Collections
I’m currently working on a collection called ‘100 Charms from India’. I’ve finished about 50 so far. For instance, a clubbing of lemon and chillies we see hanging outside the doors of Indian homes to ward off the evil eye, the chappal we see hanging from the backs of trucks. To me, each of the charms is also a way of wearing a memory. Another recent collection of mine was inspired by the complex patterns of jaalis. However, I’ve taken that a step further and made them fluid and three-dimensional.

Traditional Indian jewellery-making techniques have always been my base. I also use computer-aided technology to achieve some forms, but the final creation of my pieces happens by hand.

I do some of the crafting myself, often making the first prototype of a piece of jewellery at my workbench. You have to know what can (and cannot) be made to be able to design it.

I am lucky that I work with some of the best craftsmen in the country. I love how they make the most difficult techniques look simple.

I’ve always endeavoured to establish the link between fashion and jewellery. Yes, jewellery is an accessory but it can dramatically transform an outfit.


The Miss India Universe crown crafted by Pallavi Foley.
The crown designed by Pallavi Foley for Miss India Earth.
The wild flower gold ring looks different from every angle.
The sculptural earrings accented with multicolour gemstones.

The Birth of the ‘Wear Your Prayer’ collection

I spent a lot of time with my maternal grandfather while I was at NIFT, New Delhi. Most weekends, we would walk in the Lodhi Gardens where, in the middle of telling me a story, he would begin to chant the Gayatri mantra. He said it gave him strength. It was enchanting to witness his faith.

The Wear Your Prayer charm bracelet.

Years later, a good friend, who was going through difficult circumstances, asked me to make something for her that would give her strength. I thought of my grandfather and his chanting of the mantra during our walks. Merging two strong influences, the iconic Fabergé egg and my late grandfather, I designed the Prayer Egg collection — drop pendants with the prayers of ten different faiths on them.

But why an egg?  Because life comes from it! It is also my way of wishing well for people who wear them. Each egg has the script of the prayer/mantra on it, and customers have been delighted to wear them. What makes this even more precious and humbling is that they don’t necessarily buy the prayer egg of their faith. Instead, they buy the prayer egg that most resonates with them. So much so, even the karigars who have worked on the pieces now wear a prayer egg because they believe good things have happened since they began crafting them.


Current Jewellery Trends

Prayer, I think, is a big trend, especially in these times. Charm bracelets are popular as well. My jewels are dramatic yet wearable. We’ve also been working on pieces that are modular, as in they can be worn in parts, not necessarily all together at once. 

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