Jewellery brand Monocrafft is the domain of designer Merrel Westhoff, based in Rotterdam, Netherlands. The name is a combination of monocrat, the sole leader in a one-person governing system, and craft. With fans—including reigning designer Donna Karan—growing in legion since 2013, Westhoff is sending her simple yet symbolism-packed pieces on a march into fashionable cities across the globe and we were lucky enough to chat with her.
Lola Who: Quick! Describe Monocrafft with one word that isn’t “minimalistic”.
Merrel: Pure-ethnic-modern-power. [smiles] Ok, let’s go with pure!
Lola Who: Tell me about yourself. Who are you and what is your role at Monocrafft?
Merrel: My folks gave me the name Merrel. I am creative, clumsy, and like to observe. While I was working as a full-time stylist, I kept feeling the urge to develop my creativity and create something myself. I took a metalsmithing course and, from the moment I started making my own jewellery, people started asking me about the pieces I wore. I started making my jewellery for others, and Monocrafft was born. I design and make the jewellery and manage all aspects of the brand.
Lola Who: Which designer or artist do you most admire, and why?
Merrel: Alexander McQueen. Everything he did was so well thought out and detailed to the max: designs, prints, presentations. This summer I went to see the Savage Beauty exhibition at the V&A Museum in London. It was absolutely mind-blowing.
Lola Who: What is your workspace like?
Merrel: My workspace is my little paradise. I collected my tools and machines from all over the place, ones which have been used by other goldsmiths, so a lot of the stuff in my space are really old and look amazing and full of energy.
Lola Who: What do you think of the prevalence of jewellery “handmade” from mass-manufactured parts?
Merrel: I like to make all the parts myself except for the chains and wires, which I buy per metre, so I can forge them exactly the way I want. I also make the moulds myself and have them cast by a local casting atelier nearby.
Lola Who: How much of the Netherlands do you put into your designs?
Merrel: I am from Rotterdam. This city was bombed down during WW2, which, of course, is a pity as it was so beautiful. One positive thing is that the architecture has become amazing, especially in the last decade. Lots of modern shapes now adorn our little skyline, which make amazing shadows and reflections in the water. These I certainly use as inspiration for my designs.
Lola Who: Where do you look for new ideas?
Merrel: I get inspired by lots of things: different tribes, architecture, music, and shadows. Also cities and how they form the people who live in them. I absorb all these things to design new shapes and lines in my head. I think all forms of self-expression are beautiful and interesting. Then I doodle some ideas, but I never draw the whole collection as I’d like to be surprised by what comes out during the crafting process.
Lola Who: What jewellery do you wear on a daily basis?
Merrel: I use my jewellery as a sort of talisman. I mostly wear the same pieces. My hands are covered in little tiny stacking rings that I am able to wear [while working on] my craft. My earrings change now and again. But always pieces from my own collection, of course. When it comes to necklaces, I always wear three in different lengths. It sounds like I am covered in bling, but as all my designs are quite delicate, they don’t show too much. [laughs]
Lola Who: What do you most look forward to making (that you haven’t already made)?
Merrel: Hmm, I don’t really know… otherwise I would’ve made it already. [laughs] Normally when ideas pop up in my head, I get really excited and make them immediately. As I said, I got really inspired by the Alexander McQueen exhibition. He made a lot of headpieces… I reckon I’d like to make something like those.
Lola Who: Where do you see Monocrafft in 10 years?
Merrel: The most important thing in life is doing what you love, and I am fortunate enough to do that. Monocrafft began out of my passion and still is my passion. In 10 years, I hope my little soldiers – that’s what I call my pieces – will conquer more parts of the world with their pretty faces, and I hope I will still love my job as much as I do now.