In The Hothouse
with Alex Monroe
Joining us In The Hothouse this month is British jewellery designer Alex Monroe. Growing up in the wilds of rural Suffolk in an old house surrounded by countryside, Alex’s early years were full of adventure, roaming freely in nature’s playground.
After training at the Sir John Cass School of Art in London, Alex launched his first jewellery collection in 1987 to much critical acclaim. Inspired by nature and nostalgia, each and every piece is still individually designed and handmade in England by Alex and his team of expert jewellers.
Read on to find out about Alex’s personal style, how flowers inspire his work and his top tips for selecting jewellery as a gift.
Do you have a favourite flower and why?
I like pretty much all flowers but particularly wild, indigenous species like herb robert, forget-me-nots, dog roses, buttercups and daisies. So, if you’re thinking of getting me a bouquet as a pressie, make it something really scatty and naturalistic!
What do flowers mean to you?
I love them of course! I’m a keen gardener and I have a very scruffy cutting bed in my kitchen garden. I’ve also done the front of my house like a mixture of a 1970’s seaside promenade rose garden, a wildflower meadow and a country cottage garden. At the moment, all my old-fashioned standard roses are looking incredibly blousy.
“Right from the start, I have drawn flowers, worked out how they are constructed, what makes each one special and then tried to replicate the delicacy of nature in fine metal.”
How do you like to display flowers around the home?
I’m hopeless! Stick them in a jam jar I’m afraid. I need help!
Do you have a favourite vase and what’s the story behind it?
Uh oh, I just gave myself away there! But actually, I do have a fave. It’s a little 1960’s orange earthenware pot with a narrow neck and a little handle. It fits all the scrappy wildflowers that I sprinkle over the birthday breakfast table for the kids. It was left behind in our house when I bought it off the real-life chap from The Great Escape! He was very old and a great collector, but this little vase is my favourite. The kids were born in the house, so it’s been well used for over 25 years.
What’s the connection between flowers and your creative process?
Right from the start, I have drawn flowers, worked out how they are constructed, what makes each one special and then tried to replicate the delicacy of nature in fine metal. It feels like there’s a link right back to my school days, lying in the long grass making daisy-chains for a sweetheart…
What kind of flowers do you like to send as a gift? Do you have a signature bouquet?
Oh, I’m not very good at this. I do try but my memory is shocking, so I never know what to send to who. But if someone is sad, I like to send them big, bright and blousy bunch. We all need a bit of cheering up from time to time.
What kind of flowers do you like to receive?
Scatty, mad, unkempt and natural… which I think is probably the hardest look to get right!
“If someone is sad, I like to send them big, bright and blousy bunch. We all need a bit of cheering up from time to time.”
Tell us about how you started the business and some key learnings along the way?
I started making jewellery because I was naïve and I didn’t know any better! It was a bit of a slog to get anywhere but I think if I’m anything I’m bloody minded and probably a bit stupid. But it’s always been great fun and there was always the promise of things to come.
I wonder if it’s a bit like a marathon and I’m still here and doing OK because of perseverance and everyone else had the good sense to get out and get a proper job earlier! Mainly I’d say enjoy it. If it’s not fun maybe try something else.
Tell us about your interest in bees and pollinators and why they are important to you.
I’m a bit obsessed with bees. I go out searching for interesting solitary bees in the forest. I love a pantaloons bee or have you ever seen a ruby tailed wasp? They’re amazing. But of course, bumble bees are my absolute favourite. My bee necklace was based on bees from a Lucas Cranach painting ‘Cupid complaining to Venus’. You take the honey you take the sting. And boy, do bees make sweet honey, but they also really pack a punch!
Describe a favourite piece of jewellery or a particularly memorable collection that you have designed and tell us why it stands out?
It’s always all about the next one. And I can’t tell you about that because it’s a secret!
What are your top tips for buying jewellery as a gift?
1. Are they gold or silver?
2. Necklaces are so much easier to give as a gift.
3. You’ve got to love it too… so much nicer if it’s got a bit of you in it as well.