When it comes to jewellery, or any consumer goods for that matter, the general rule of thumb is the longer it lasts, the more prized it is.
Keef Palas begs to differ. Founded by creatives Claire O’Keefe and Eugenia Oliva — an art director-photographer and a freelance writer — the Barcelona-based jewellery label transforms perishable objects into pairs of earrings. These objects include olive branches, wheat grains, immortelle flowers, dried chilli peppers, garlic cloves — things one could easily encounter in the natural ecosystem of the Mediterranean terrain.
“Everything has its own little story,” says O’Keefe of the significance of the objects the duo selects. Oliva lives in Barcelona while O’Keefe recently moved back to Mallorca, the Balearic island she was born in and, coincidentally, where the initial idea Keef Palas was conceived in. There, in small coastal village Deià — a secluded creative hub which burgeoned in the ’70s when artists the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Mati Klarwein moved there — O’Keefe met Oliva through mutual friends who would spend their summer in the quaint town.
The idea for Keef Palas began on a whim. During the summer of 2016, Oliva, who attended a friend’s wedding party, brought back olive branches that were used as the dinner table decor as a souvenir and playfully asked O’Keefe to make earrings out of them. “So I did. She wore them and went out. The reaction she received was really special. People weren’t asking “Where did you get that?” but “What are those?” We decided to make more.”
The ‘Ephemeral’ earring collection.
In all aptness, their line of decaying earrings is dubbed the ‘Ephemeral’ collection. Similar to how one would find mass-distributed fresh produce in supermarkets, Keef Palas’ perishables are sealed in vacuumed packs stamped with packing dates — halting the wearable goods in their peak freshness. The uncontrollable laws of nature are of the essence: The lifespan of the pieces can range between days to years.
The olive branch earrings, for instance, would dry out in about five days; the Immortelle flower (also known as the Everlasting flower) earrings could last up to four or five years. But therein lies its beauty. The organic transformation of each piece jewellery is part and parcel of the Keef Palas experience. Fresh magnolia leaves would be “very green and shiny”, says O’Keefe, and they would gradually dry and turn into a velvety brown shade within the span of three months. “The fun one is the garlic earrings. That one transforms and even smells, and you can cook it, too.”
Pleasantly irreverent as Keef Palas is, what began as an inside joke is now the duo’s rallying undercurrent against fast fashion. “It’s also how people consume it and how people consume everything. It’s just too much and too quick; too many stupid things that you don’t need just to fill an unrewarding emptiness,” posits O’Keefe. A manifesto, posted on their site, outlines their ethos of seeing time as “the real chimaera of luxury, the only intrinsic and inescapable fast.”
Each of Keef Palas’s ‘Ephemeral’ jewels comes in vacuum-sealed packaging to preserve its freshness.
“Being from Spain, we’re very concerned. Inditex, one of the biggest fast fashion monsters, is here,” continues O’Keefe, who formerly worked as a stylist for the company. “We have many friends who still work for them, because it’s one of the only few places that you can creatively grow in the country. There’s always this duality. It’s important to talk about that.” An antithesis to the transience of the mass-produced current, Keef Palas was to be “fast luxury”, as the founding pair termed it. The surrealism of their creations then becomes an ironic jab at the unsustainable industry.
It’s hardly surprising that the people who buy and wear Keef Palas are of a niche. Laila Gohar, the New York-based food artist, once ordered a pair of garlic clove earrings to wear for her wedding. “She bought them again after because she had eaten them at the party,” O’Keefe amusedly quips. She notes that Keef Palas’s acolytes can be as unexpected as a group of “French Yummy Mummies, a collective concept of mothers who like organic produce and love sustainability and are wealthy — it got really popular with them.”
But whether the pieces the duo offers in shops will actually sell is never the point. “We see this as a performance,” says O’Keefe, saying the stores that do stock their pieces play a part as a sort of collaborative stage to their project. “We have our earrings in Lafayette in Paris, in a fridge.” The witty incredulity of having vacuum-sealed products of nature in a fridge in one of the world’s luxury retail meccas is a manifestation of their anarchic philosophy.
The ‘First Supper’ tableware features a plucked Mexican nopale cactus as a plate, a halved seashell as a bowl, a mussell shell as a spoon, hollowed-out pepper as a glass, a pair of branches as chopsticks and cotton flower as a serviette.
Beyond their sellable jewellery, the Keef Palas duo invents pieces to add to an on-going art series they dub ‘Impossible Objects’. Unbridled by consumer-driven restrictions, O’Keefe and Oliva have invented a bikini top strung from green grapes, eyeglasses from pebbles, a dress from mussel shells. Most recently, for a two-night exhibition at Madrid’s contemporary art gallery Ivorypress, they showcased their latest addition: tableware with Mexican nopal cactuses as plates, hollowed-out red and yellow peppers as glasses, cotton flowers as serviettes.
“We’re communicating the need to save the world through various discipline and formats. But in the end, our mission is to return nature back to humans,” says O’Keefe. “We’ve been hearing about the need to be conscious for decades — something that was considered hippie back then. I like calling this a poetic reinvention. This is an ode to sustainability.”
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