This Toronto-based Burmese jeweler, Karen Pyu, draws inspiration from her heritage and combines it with the glamour of Singapore to create unique wearable pieces.
Jewellery is more than just an accessory for Burmese Toronto-based Karen Pyu, the creative force behind the brand Mondselle. “It is an everyday art form, one to be expressed in the most beautiful ways.” Karen has made a name for herself with creations that beautifully combine her Burmese heritage with the urban, fashion forward city of Singapore. Her jewels have already won the attention of Myanmar and Canadian celebrities including MYA and Aung San Suu Kyi, the State Counsellor of Myanmar. Her passion for fine art began during her childhood and continued to grow through the years in high school. Karen moved to Toronto for her jewellery design and metalsmith training at Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD), before launching her brand in 2015. Applying her honed sense of style and creativity to the realm of jewellery design, Karen Pyu puts wearability at the heart of her creations.
She tells us more about her design philosophy and the female icons that inspire her work in our exclusive interview below.
Can you give me some background into your journey before launching Mondselle?
I was born in Myanmar and lived there until I was fourteen. As a kid, I remember colouring with crayons and enjoyed working and layering colours to create different effects. My mother saw how much I loved to draw and put me into art class every summer, but it wasn’t until we moved to Singapore, when I was given the opportunity to take a large variety of art classes and really pursue it as a passion. In high school there was a design competition for SIGG water bottles, and my submission was selected as the best. It was amazing to see students carrying around the water bottles with my design on it. This really kickstarted my passion to pursue it as a career. I moved to Canada for my jewellery design and metalsmith training. After graduating from Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCAD), I started Mondselle, which consists of both fine and fashion jewellery.
Could you explain how the name Mondselle came about?
The name Mondselle is derived from the French word “mondaine”meaning a woman belonging to fashionable society, and the word“elle” meaning she. The brand is catered towards many sides to today’s modern women. Through my creative work I hope to make women look and feel fashionable.
How would you define your brand aesthetic and style?
I gravitate towards ornate and sculptural aesthetics, and I’m also highly attracted to floral motifs. I design jewels that I genuinely believe in and I would wear every day. My focus is also on wearability, that’s suitable for both the classical and fashion conscious woman. You can pair one of my rings with a cocktail dress just as easily as you can with jeans. With a fine art training background, I also create visuals for my work. In an industry that is saturated with mass produced fashion jewellery, it is crucial to set yourself apart through talent, quality and craftsmanship.
What inspires your work?
Having lived away from Myanmar since the age of 14, I learned to harmoniously integrate with other cultures. When I travel I always pay attention to what’s around me, the people and incredible art and architecture. I often like to look at the history and traditional elements of a culture, especially Burmese, to derive a theme, making it relevant to current times and telling a story with every piece.
What gemstones do you like working with?
I love working with colours so naturally coloured stones are my playground and I especially love all shades of blue. Sapphire and tanzanite are my favourite stones along with Burmese rubies and emeralds.
What kind of woman wears Mondselle? What do you want women to feel when they wear your pieces?
I want Mondselle to be a place where customers come to create or purchase something that will be memorable. Whether it is a gift for yourself, a friend, or someone you love, we want to create new, meaningful relationships and stories to be shared. We cherish the moment a special piece of jewellery was given to us and it’s a memory that lasts a lifetime. There is a tremendous satisfaction and a great honour to have the opportunity to be a small part of something so special. In my eyes jewellery is an everyday art form, one to be expressed in the most beautiful ways. I found Mondselle in line with this philosophy to create jewellery that will enhance the day-t- day lives of modern women. A lot of care and love has been put into each piece, so I want women to feel confident when wearing them.
How did the Covid-19 pandemic affect your creative process?
2020 was a tough year for many of us. Personally, the pandemic lockdown has been a blessing in disguise. As an introvert, it has given me a lot of time to just create without all the noise of regular day-to-day activities. My sketchbook is now full of ideas that I hope to slowly materialise over the years.
Can you tell us about the women who inspire you the most and why?
Art is a way of life and Frida Khalo is my deity. As a woman and an artist, Frida broke a lot of barriers. She not only defied society’s beauty standards, she also gave us a lesson in resilience when she continued to persevere after the terrible accident that paralysed her when she was 18. Instead of her trauma and pain being an obstacle, she used it to drive herself exploration and art. Being a young woman in a male dominated industry, resilience and standing firm are the virtues Frida had shown, which I admire and also embrace.
Closer to home Aung San Suu Kyi, the State Counsellor of Myanmar, is the living inspiration for me. During difficult times, I look up to her resilience and perseverance for inspiration in her twenty years of house arrest. Never did I imagine she would one day be wearing a necklace from my collection. It’s truly an honour to see it on her.
I didn’t come from a family of jewellers, so I started Mondselle from the ground up and with that came a lot of difficulties that I had to face alone. I learned from her the courage to deal with any roadblocks that may come my way and to continue marching on.
This feature is reproduced with permission of: Art meets Jewellery: Women’s Series.
(*Sponsored by The Jewelry Trade Center (JTC), Bangkok)
Isabella Yan is a British gemmologist and independent journalist specialising in fine gems and jewellery, based in Thailand. She writes for multiple jewellery and industry magazines such as Rapaport, Solitaire magazine, Jewellery Net Asia (JNA), Upscale Living, GAMMA Journal and Solitaire International. She is the creator of Art Meets Jewellery, an online publication which looks at the world of jewellery and gems through the eyes of an artist. In 2021, she launched the Women’s Series that aims to celebrate and amplify women’s voices in all facets and levels of the industry. (Instagram @izza_gem)