Arpana Rayamajhi has earned admiration through her jewelry line which has been displayed on the ramps of Victoria’s Secret, got featured in countless international and national portals and is considered one of the most original and intricate lines in the industry. Shristi Shrestha talks to Rayamajhi to delve into her personal quest, her designer self and her incredible jewelry line.
How did you get into creating your own jewelry line and turn it into a successful endeavor?
Jewelry is an extension of my interests outside of fashion. Even calling myself an “artist” feels strange. I feel like the word has somehow the same level of seriousness as being a “philosopher” does as in, I always feel like the designation should come from the outside, rather than from self. I never set out to make jewelry from solely a fashion/ commerce sense. Of course I wanted to make a living doing something that I know how to do and love, but starting a business and jumping straight into money making has never been a point of interest. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to grow and make a comfortable living doing what I love, but it just means that I am doing my best and working through the process of keeping the artistic integrity while simultaneously establishing a brand. Especially in a time like today, where the internet has made the culture of consumption much faster and a lot more self- indulgent, I think it is all the more necessary to take time and focus on building a strong foundation and going against the grain. Following any trend in a time where trends come and go quicker than the next day comes about, might seem like the right thing to do and right way to make money, but it’s much harder to be satisfied and happy with your choices and actions if you’re the type that values quality over quantity.
What is your process of creating something that is an epitome of finesse and is culturally embedded?
I feel for the jewels I make the same way I feel for a drawing or a painting. The process involves looking at historical images of jewelry throughout time and throughout the world, staring at images for endless hours, seeing what makes the jewelry that I am drawn to and figuring out the same thing about my work. I do not look at current trends and other people’s work for inspiration as much as to see what everyone else is doing and then go against what seems to be trending and informing their work. What does it mean to be original in the 21st century when you have so much history before you and so much simultaneously being made that you might not even be aware of? Who even cares to credit their inspirations? Most of us love ownership, “I” did this and “I” made this. So the duality of these concepts also make me want to create work that stands out from the rest so when people see something similar, they say, “Oh! That looks like ARPANA RAYAMAJHI.” That would make me very happy. But unfortunately, we are living in a time where somehow ownership over “culture” is much more talked about than copyright infringement. The desire to make something original, if that can even be, is what drives me.
How do you perceive being referred to as an artist under a particular type or derivative? Especially when it comes to your inspiration and foundation?
I think in the larger world and in the larger picture, to identify my work as Nepali is to make sense of who I am, where I come from, so there is some type of understanding of my work. But the more I am asked about my work and the more it is seen in a “cultural” lens and only in that way, I feel very repulsed by it. It seems like it becomes a marketing tool over time rather than a part of my life and my work. While I am simultaneously proud and humbled by the fact that it brings so much joy to Nepali people, I am also starting to be very careful about how that forms my public image. I never want to be boxed into anything. I never want to have one singular way of identifying. In fact, I don’t even think it’s possible to pin point and say this is who I am. One can take all socially constructed identity labels and make it their own and attach their entire selves to a word and limit their experiences by it. I on the other hand, if I could pick- I would love to be a formless thing, without any gender, any color to my skin, any caste and everything else that cannot encompass the complexity of being a person who is always changing, who will continue to change. I always think of everything we do and every moment of our lives that we live, exists within one culture or another and no one can take Nepal out of me, ever, but I like to identify simply as an “artist”. Moreover what I absolutely cannot be involved in is talking about culture and identity from an American perspective. This is a conversation that with a lot of awareness, I refuse to partake in.
What does your style as an artist represent through your work?
I am always asked how I would describe my style and after almost two years I have come closer to being able to answer this sincerely, “I am going through a phase”. That is the most honest I can be. I have always been interested and loved traditional Nepali clothing- of all of Nepal. Newari jewels and how they paint their feet red. I love Tharu jewels and the bright colors, I can go on and on about every tribe but now I am being connected to Chettri jewels and artifacts of Karnali region. My love for “ethnic” and old clothes and jewelry, my love for Rock and Roll and my love for colors for most part inform my style. I love men’s clothing - really beautifully tailored pants and button down shirts, suits, and shoes and boots. My sense of style like my jewels is also an extension of my ideas outside of fashion. I have a pretty obsessive personality so when I like something I buy them in many forms. I have a big and still growing collection of plaid, kimonos and robes, spiked collar, coin jewelry and of course beaded jewelry from around the world. I have become a collector of things over time. Beads have become more than a raw material and over time become an anthropological project for me. So beads are a huge part of my style and so far I am still madly in love with them so I do not see myself not wearing them for a while.
While we are conversing on trends and style, what is your take on ethical fashion?
I used to wear a lot of fast fashion when I was younger because I couldn’t afford clothes otherwise and before I really got into vintage but nowadays I try to keep it as ethical as I can. I opt for such brands that do not involve sweatshops and underpaid labors. I do not consume a lot of products made from “exotic” animals inclusive of fur and personally use mostly plant based or cruelty free beauty products. It is not possible to be 100% ethical, in one way or another, but I think it’s important to do my best and be mindful of how much I am consuming. One of my “style” goals would be to own as little as possible.
As an ever evolving artist and individual, what does your future plan hold?
Even though I always look and plan ahead, I like to keep things a secret till they have been fully realized and executed. My jewelry has overtime also brought me in the forefront of my work and through it I have been fortunate enough to work for different clients as a talent/ model. I have a campaign with AVEDA that just came out and I was very happy to be a part of a natural, plant-based beauty company that has been pioneering good products that are good for the environment and people. As for my own work, I have been working on a series for quite some time now. It’s called The Narcissist which has become one of the most labor intensive and tedious work since perfection is a huge priority in this project, as the name suggests. I want the quality of my work to be impeccable so it has been a very heavy process. The concept is the duality of being an artist and understanding one’s mortality hence you can see this as the desire to immortalize oneself but it also touches on today’s time where we have come to a point, and that too very fast, of making narcissism socially acceptable, especially amongst women. Living in a culture that not only allows but encourages and accepts self admiration and often times for some of the most superficial things is also what led me to make this series. We are becoming much more involved and intertwined in this culture that always just talks about body, and perpetuates a standard of youth and physical beauty. I think there is a difference between accepting yourself and loving yourself and being attention craving. I also just applied to summer school and got into one of the best schools in New York and I am so excited to start!