After studying for a BTEC in General Art & Design at Chelsea College of Arts, and then BA (Hons) Jewellery Design at Central Saint Martins in 1995, Babette went on to set up her own brand, Babette Wasserman, and has subsequently become a worldwide success story, winning numerous prizes for her exquisite jewels and cufflinks, as well as working with some of the fashion and jewellery industry’s biggest names.
When did you know you were specifically interested in jewellery?
I was at Chelsea College of Arts doing a General Art and Design BTEC specialising in Sculpture and Fashion when one of my tutors suggested I apply for a Jewellery Degree. I had never considered jewellery, but realised it was a great combination between the two disciplines that I loved. As Central Saint Martins has such a global reputation as being one of the best art schools it was an obvious choice to apply.
I loved the course at Central Saint Martins. I am a really hard worker and was always one of the last people to leave the workshop each day. I really enjoyed the balance between design and actual making. Stone setting was one of my favourite parts of the course – it’s strange as most students used to hate it, but I found it so satisfying the fact that when you set your stones it really brings your piece into its final stages. I also loved the dynamics in our class and meeting the other students from different disciplines. I had friends who came from Chelsea who were on the Textiles Degree, or Theatre Design and met a lot of fashion students. Sitting in the canteen in the morning and chatting with such a range of hugely creative people of my age, discovering our talents and learning together in the centre of London, in one of the most famous art schools in the world really was a special time for me!
What did you do after graduating? And how did you end up setting up on your own?
While I was at CSM I undertook a few design projects. Edina Ronay was producing her catwalk show at London Fashion Week and asked me to design and make jewellery for her show, which got me front page coverage in the Evening Standard. I also designed and made pieces for some other brands such as Tateossian and Jeff Banks (presenter of The Clothes Show, a programme that made made every girl want to be in fashion!). This gave me a real taste of industry so when I graduated I went to work in PR so I could gain some experience, and confidence speaking with customers, as well as improving my organisational skills! I then worked as a jewellery designer for a jewellery brand before setting up on my own a year later.
I commenced Babette Wasserman in 1997 with a very small range of cufflinks. By presenting my collection to local businesses, I managed to gain a small network of shops that started buying my cufflinks and grew the business from there. I contacted the press and built some key relationships that provided me with some great press exposure in GQ, FHM and Esquire Magazine.
Within my second collection I invented my reversible Saucer Cufflink which was so innovative that I went to get it patented. This design with two faces and a sliding bar could be worn on either side and was quickly snapped up by Harrods, Harvey Nichols and Selfridges within a year. My brand and collection grew from there.
What were the main challenges you faced running your own enterprise? And what advice would you give to other UAL alumni wanting to go it alone?
It is so important to get industry experience. Being in a commercial environment is so different to being a student. Get some good training in a company that you like, learn from others and make your mistakes there so you can avoid them later. Also try to get experience in different areas without jumping around too much. Find out what the others do so you can learn the whole process. When I started up, I went on a short course to learn about VAT and running a small business – this was so essential to get me started. I was designing, doing accounts, selling, and it’s difficult to juggle everything at the same time! Try and get some resources behind you as you probably won’t earn anything for a while, and put the money back in the business to give yourself a buffer when sales are not coming in regularly. Also, there are government grants available to help small businesses start up – find out about them.
Tell us some more about the brand today?
Today my brand has evolved quite substantially – we are a team of seven. True to our origins, we still specialise in men’s accessories and have added sterling silver jewellery for women. My range sells throughout 30 different countries in some of the most luxurious department stores and boutiques worldwide; Le Bon Marche (Paris), Lane Crawford (HK and China), Harvey Nichols, Beymen (Turkey), Isetan, Barneys Japan and Bloomingdales (USA). Each design tells its own little story. We produce high quality, ergonomically designed products for a discerning customer who likes to dress well.
As well as the Babette Wasserman brand, I design and manufacture for other brands under their labels. Some of my clients include the Prada Group, LVMH, Karl Lagerfeld, Dunhill, Gieves & Hawkes, and Hugo Boss, to name but a few.
What has been the proudest moment in your career so far?
I am happy to say there have been many proud moments. Winning awards is a real bonus and this year I won Designer of the Year at the National Association of Jewellers which is the governing body for all jewellers in the UK. Other design awards I have won include Brand of the Year, Best Jewellery range and Export Award winner – these were all great moments, especially when I was presented my award by HRH Princess Anne. A Royal always adds some extra pizazz to one’s proud moment!
I am also privileged to have worked with and met such great industry icons such as Karl Lagerfeld, Tommy Hilfiger and Ted Baker’s original founders.
Having well known people wear my designs also makes me really proud – David Beckham, Antonio Banderas, Cheryl Cole and Paul Weller sporting my cufflinks on the front cover of GQ!
What are your plans for the future?
We are expanding in many different ways. I am in the process of preparing new ranges of men’s accessories to launch at Pitti Uomo, the big menswear show in Florence. I am preparing a trip to go to Japan to visit new accounts and see regular customers, as well as trips to Spain and France. I also have a really exciting collaboration with a very big company that I am currently discussing, which could take us in a new direction! Look out for more info on this soon!