Jeweller Maria Sole Ferragamo and her soulful SO-LE Studio
Magical designs take shape from unwanted sustainable materials
When Jewellery designer Maria Sole Ferragamo calls in over Zoom, she's gleefully holding up a see-through bag full of brass shavings. She’s struggling to keep the carrier sealed: like a nest of coiled snakes, the metallic strands appear to have a life of their own as if they are about to spring free from captivity. “Look, so many!” she exclaimed. “All of these are factory leftovers. I like to think of them as rescued. Then there’s my mother’s freezer, which is currently full of carbon fibre which I hope to experiment with soon. She’s not so happy about it, but I have some ideas,” she said laughing.
It's mid-January and Ferragamo is sitting in her bright Milan studio, a large open space that serves a science-lab-come-model-making workshop for her architectural designs, noted for they sinuous and articulated shapes, like small-scale simulacrums of curvilinear buildings. Under her jewellery brand, SO-LE Studio, she is best known for her sustainable leather pieces crafted from discarded offcuts that she shapes into looping, twisting and enveloping forms for the ear, neck and wrist. Some larger leather pieces, also crafted from offcuts, are lattice-like, cut into dramatic body adornments such as long bib-style necklaces and oversized cuffs. Her designs are deceivingly rigid and dense as if they are crafted from gold, silver and platinum, when in fact, they are softly malleable and delightfully lightweight. Crucially, they have different volumetric and perceptual readings according to how they are worn and sit on the body.
Her pieces give tangible shape to conceptual ideas surrounding pure form, and for good reason: Ferragamo studied architecture at Politecnico in Milan and later completed an MA in jewellery design at Central Saint Martins in London. “I have been making jewellery from a very young age,” said the designer, who is wearing a pair of her best-selling Revole hooped earrings, crafted from a concertina of silver leather. They look at once modern and zoomorphic as if inspired by giant ammonites. “I’ve always loved the idea of building something and being able to wear it,” she added. “I remember when I was 12, I made my first pair of leather earrings using sample material in my family’s factory.”
The clue is in the heritage: Maria Sole Ferragamo is the granddaughter of Salvatore Ferragamo whose name is synonymous with ingeniously structured shoes. Indeed, like an architect, Salvatore used a plumb line to determine where the weight of the body would fall on the arch of the foot, which in turn helped him to build his lasts. Ferragamo never met her grandfather, who died in 1960, but she has certainly inherited his passion for design and how it relates to anatomy.
A case in point are her Lieve earrings, seen below in crystal silver leather, which fasten to the lobe horizontally and are then spun vertically so that they hug the ear. “These took a while to develop,” she said. “They highlight a sense of continuity, so that they lean on the ear; they embrace it.”
An element of playfulness is a subtle thread that runs through all her designs, as demonstrated by her Spin Cuff, crafted from upcycled metallic leather and inspired by the iconic “Slap” bracelet style of the 1990s. As the name suggests, you slap the flat ruler-shaped leather strip against your wrist and it magically curls, transforming itself into a chunky concentric bangle.
But this playfulness feels very personal, like a secret intended only for the wearer, since against the skin, Ferragamo’s pieces are impeccably stylish, much like the designer herself whose chic and unfussy dress sense imparts an air of louche sophistication. “Our Tricioli earrings [made from brass shavings] are a best seller because they are fun and easy to wear,” she said. “Each one is handcrafted [in Tuscany] and no two are alike. They are a little bit adventurous but very luxurious looking.” Surprisingly, her designs are also well-priced, with many costing €280 (£236) and under.
Known as her Doodle and Cocoon models, these curly-whirly brass earrings are dipped in gold or palladium, and hand-finished with streaks of bright enamel pigments. “I am passionate about sustainability, but what’s also interesting to me is how leftover components such as leather and brass have a unique quality because of the unexplored possibilities of their materiality,” she said. Experimenting with shape and movement is her way of unlocking these possibilities; it follows that the curves and swerves of her work betoken the cyclical nature of the materials she chooses to regenerate.
Most recently, Ferragamo has transformed brass coils into open choker necklaces punctuated with pearls of enamel paint. Elsewhere, her Idra necklace, crafted from interlacing brass strands, is inspired by the undulating ripples of the sea. “I think my jewellery raises questions,” she explained. “There’s a sense of ambiguity that makes you look deeper and allows you to engage with it.” But how would she describe her own position in relation to this creative “build”? Her answer is perfectly succinct. “Each piece has a soul,” she said, hitting the (brass) nail on the head. There’s really is no better way to describe her distinctive and thoughtful jewellery.