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fashion: feature

Birds of a feather
Birds of a feather

Sylvia Giles talks to Boh Runga about her new jewellery line on her visit back home
Expanded from issue 26 of Lucire


BOH RUNGAS FATHER met her mother while he was stationed in Malaysia. The military man met the lounge singer, who was still being chaperoned. It sounds very romantic, I remark, ‘Yes, very romantic,’ replies Boh, ‘At least I hope it was! I’m sure that it must have been.’
   Romantic, and this military–creative background has made three very successful New Zealand women. Boh, the eldest, is now adding ‘jeweller’ to her CV, recently releasing a range entitled Birdland with New Zealand Mint.
   You may remember Boh from her days leading the New Zealand band Stella. When the band appeared on the New Zealand music horizon, the image of Boh that was burned on to the public retina was that of her flaming red hair. A volcano; less in the distance but much more in the foreground, amongst an otherwise monochromatic landscape.
   These days, Boh works from Los Angeles. She claims she is ‘a doodler—I am not an artist by any means!’ The doodles have been transformed into a concise range of jewellery, depicting various indigenous birds. ‘I like to have them well fed, plump and happy. For the first range, I wanted to make a range for New Zealanders, and I chose native birds because of their appeal. Before I moved to la I wanted to take with me something I liked.’
   Our native birds are not only evidence of our geographical isolation, but motifs representing the cultural isolation which feeds the hunger to explore. It often serves as the furnace driving the Kiwi engine as we trot around the globe doing all those things that New Zealanders do: songwriting, movie making, solving the mysteries of life the universe and everything.
   So how does the New Zealand landscape resolve itself with that of LA? ‘I find it fascinating. There is that outwardness: they are definitely not shy. Coming back home I realize we are move conservative. We are modest, and not as forthright. And if you head to Miami, it’s even worse!’
   It sounds like the next collection may just have more of LA rubbed into the surface. It might be seen as more “settled” than nostalgic. Entitled Weapons of Mass Devotion, it has been influenced by the boutique and vintage stores surrounding the expat in East Hollywood. More complicated, more trinkets and more eclectic. So while Boh introduces New Zealand to Los Angeles with her current work, seemingly the next collection introduces a little LA to New Zealand.
   Boh declares that much of her jewellery design is the result of the ‘crazy thing I get up to at weird hours. I run ahead of myself, but I would like to get into working with semi-precious stones. Oh, and working ultimately with diamonds. I like that the romantic side of someone might buy for someone. Something so outlandish, it’s really totally wasteful. But in that sense I see myself as having a very privileged role.’
   In a design sense, jewellery offers a harder surface in which to invest emotions, more so than a piece of cloth. While Boh may modestly declare her offerings are the result of doodles, it is clear the romance and connections of family are never far away from her designs. She lamented, ‘Our family lost our father a few years back. I just know he would be so pleased with what I’m doing. He would be offering up ideas and stories.’
   Aside from influences and inspiration, how has the musician found the process of designing as compared to the composition and performance of a song? ‘It was very exciting, I just love shiny stuff. It’s so visual and tactile. A song is like a little capsule, whereas ideas for a collection link together. I actually find the prototype wax models that come back first the most amazing, more amazing than the gold and silver. A CD is so commonplace. Or, it feels that way after so long. I love getting those models back.’
   Stella, with Boh at the forefront, erupted in to our “creative eco-system” at a time where the local music scene wasn’t quiet as prolific as it is now. The nostalgic Kiwiana theme has long been in danger of tiring, but Boh tackles the brief with a classic restraint that serves the romance of her materials. •



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Above: From Boh Runga’s Messenger Stories collection in collaboration with New Zealand Mint, shown at the Juliette Hogan show at Air New Zealand Fashion Week in September. On sale from October 1. Shown are the Karearea Wing pendant and the Miromiro Feather bracelet.

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