Gisele Human | Waif

It was love at first sight when I encountered South African designer Gisele’s amazing jewellery line Waif and her incredible lookbook. Not only are those organically shaped pieces ultra modern and beautiful, they are handcrafted by Gisele’s skilful hands. Her jewellery dresses up the plainest outfits but most importantly, they make my heart sing! I would love for you to meet Gisele (in case you haven’t already!) and this interview packs a punch so hope you enjoy!

Tell us a little about yourself.

GH: I am a freelance writer and a self-taught jeweller. My favourite food is brown rice and broccoli and I have a bicycle but don’t ride it enough. I actually take long walks on the beach because I have a dog named Olive who is a border collie and requires daily exercise or she’ll go mad (but I also go mad if I don’t get daily exercise so that’s why we decided to get her). I live with my best friend and long-term partner Travys Owen who is a soon-to-be world famous photographer and director (he’s the one who took my lookbook photos).

How was Waif started? What inspired you to start Waif?

My mother is a goldsmith and jeweller, and she broke some serious ground in the industry during the 90s on an international scale. She crafted hyper-realistic sculptural insects that included never-seen-before purple, black, green and blue gold. For that she was widely recognised, which led her to create the Royal Ascot race’s gift for the winning jockey (a beautiful horsefly with an enormous yellow diamond set in the abdomen, designed so that only the wearer could appreciate it). It’s these and many other projects that she initiated that got her to meet the queen, showed at galleries and be featured in magazines and on TV that inspired me to start a platform for myself where I could have the creative freedom to do anything I wanted.

Describe a typical day at the Waif studio.

I freelance as a writer during the week, so a typical day in the studio usually falls on a Saturday or Sunday when I drive out to my mother’s studio which is way out of town. She has a massive space and much more equipment than I do, and I would spend the day smelting silver, drawing wire, soldering, polishing and texturising. It’s great because I get to spend time with my sisters and parents while getting the work done. During the week I do a session with my intern Mikhailia after hours. She and I will polish earrings and necklaces while brainstorming new projects, products and strategies to grow the business. This is usually accompanied by blaring music, my dog barking at the polishing machine and pizza afterwards. Also, my studio is actually my garage, which makes me feel weird but cool cos Apple started in a garage too.

What do you enjoy most about designing and making?

The most exciting part is coming up with new ideas and prototyping those new ideas. At the moment, I’m doing that a lot. I’ve given myself up until April to come up with and produce a new range of homeware. The awesome thing about having a business like mine is that I’m not limited to make just one thing. I can do anything, and try things out, and if it doesn’t work, all I have to do is move on to the next idea. I have a real need to make beautiful, useful things, and I’m glad I’ve been brave enough to give myself the opportunity to do that.

What is the one piece of work that you’re super proud of?

I really love the Reclining Lady Brooch. I love the shape and form of it. It’s largely inspired by Umberto Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity In Space (1913), a bronze sculpture that I first discovered in high school art class. The Futurists created static work that looked like it was moving. It’s also inspired by a general, abounding love for Matisse and Picasso and Schiele. I get very excited when people order it and wear it. Brooches are so niche, so you’ve really got to have a sense of unique style to pull it off. It’s good to challenge people’s perception of what is cool, what they should wear. Brooches aren’t popularly fashionable, so that’s why I love it so much.

Who are some of your favourite South African designers?

I’m a big fan of the artist Olivie Keck. Her drawing work is really colourful and tells a story, often leaving you with an unanswered question. She’ll give all her drawings these rhetorical, obscure titles that, alongside the art work, send you down a rabbit hole and inspire contemplation of all kinds. It’s really magic. She also utilises bright, jarring colours that create a sense of unease.

What should we check out while in Cape Town?

If you’re in Cape Town, I’d advise you to visit Roeland Street, where you’ll find four of the most exciting places ever (Roeland is also outside of the usual tourist destination routes so this is gold).
#1. Margot Molyneux’s brand new store is a thing of beauty and is found at 69 Roeland Street. Designed by Margot and her husband Marlon, they’ve created a space that is beyond compare to any independently run retail space in the city. It’s a meeting of marble, soft light and peach velvet, and houses her impeccably made garments (as well as the WAIF range).
#2. Book Lounge at 71 Roeland Street, a beautiful space that sells a wide range of books including many independantly published local reads for every possible interest. It’s a small, cosy space with multiple sitting and reading spots and you probably won’t want to leave.
#3. The entertainingly humorous Raptor Room, a colourful jungle that produces delicious drinks and snacks for city-living people from morning till night. They make a sensational corn fritter.
#4. The Kimberley Hotel is a dive bar like no other. The oldest bar in the city, it’s dirty and dark and probably a little worse for wear, but the beer is cheap and there’s a juke box that plays Rihanna for R2 and it’s where I met the love of my life so it’s a must on the Roeland strip.

What are your 5 favourite IG accounts?

@haarkon_ for reams of houseplant love, c_l_o because it’s the literal best IG account of all IG accounts, tony_gum is a local cool machine, I always keep an eye on @sophiebuhai because I kinda wanna be her and @atelieradri is an inspiring feed of local projects she has done as well as on-point inspo.

When can we expect to see your next collection? Could you tell us a little bit about it?

I’m aiming for an April / May launch of homeware pieces alongside Margot Molyneux at her store on Roeland Street. It’s going to be a continuation of the WAIF aesthetic, but for your lounge and living room. It’s going to be sculptural and probably a little bigger than I’m comfortable with but you’ve got to push yourself out of your comfort zone to move forward and progress!

Please go on and give Gisele some well-deserved love! Shop Waif here.

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