Going under the knife is standard practice now more than ever. Altering one’s physiognomy in the name of aesthetic contentment is no longer as frowned upon as it was, say, a decade ago. And bafflingly so in Asia.
Propelled and spearheaded by South Korea, which happens to be the world’s leading plastic surgery capital where grim statistics show between one-fifth and one-third of women in Seoul have gone through at least one procedure, dissatisfaction towards inherent Asian features runs rampant. Its normalisation is further sugar-coated by the global takeover of K-wave, fronted by plastic-perfect girl- and boy-bands. Put on a subliminal pedestal, typical Western characteristics — deep set eyes, double eyelids, elevated nose bridge — are considered aspirational if not ideal.
“A big part of plastic surgery culture today is fuelled by people wanting to have more Western features. Not just in Korea, in this day and age, plastic surgery is a normal phenomena. We tend to have different ideas on what beauty can be. But does the current standard of beauty work for everyone?” Young jeweller and recent Central Saint Martins graduate Joanne Tan declares, “I donʼt think beauty has to be a certain way.” Albeit largely unaddressed, the toxic notion is facing opposition from the likes of Tan: millennials and Gen Z-ers who wield Instagram as fervent as they uphold inclusivity.
A nose cuff in 18-carat yellow gold embellished with pearls, S$1,680 (US$1,215).
Growing up in one of the villages in Klang, a Malaysian port located within the periphery of Kuala Lumpur, Tan didn’t think of designing as a career path. She studied “pure science” before biting the bullet and moving to London for art school. It was there that a casual discussion with a Korean peer on a certain feature-altering procedure followed by a journey down the Youtube rabbit hole that the vision for a Joanne.T nose-centric jewellery capsule first sparked.
Her jewellery namesake’s debut collection, dubbed Not Your Average Beauty, has become Tan’s rallying call. Inspired by “the Asian culture of plastic surgery”, the unorthodox nosepieces — sculpted nose cuffs made of thin, delicate 18-carat gold speckled with pearls and diamonds, their silhouettes outlined in curvaceous lines akin to how a surgeon would trace the incisions of a nose job — are designed in the deliberate purpose of framing the nose in disconcerting fashion.
Tan’s objective? To challenge the wearer’s — and ultimately, the spectators’ — precepts of beauty by shifting the emphasis, highlighting on the possible source of one’s physical insecurities. It’s enhancement on nature, rather than modification by suture. Putting these nosepieces on is meant to be an anarchic act of embracing one’s flaws.
A nose cuff in 18-carat yellow gold with pearls, S$2,405 (US$1,740).
“Iʼm really into human interactions with objects, how we inform certain informations about ourselves through clothing, through jewellery,” says Tan. “When I started the research for my collection, I became interested in how tribal jewellery can inform beauty and status. I eventually decided to create something that will stimulate conversations.” Hence the label’s dictum: “In jewellery I ensue dialogue!” Though Tan’s intention is never to shove her agenda down anyone’s throat. “There’s no particular conversation I want to stir. It acts more as a tool to push people to start thinking and discussing. These days, people focus more on their phones, texting, being online instead of being in the real world.”
Each piece from Not Your Average Beauty took two weeks to a month of handcrafting for Tan to prototype. Its twists and arches were modelled and tested on various nose shapes before glossed to their final form. “I worked them on my classmates, different people with different backgrounds and ethnicities.”
Ever since their launch in 2016, Tan’s nasal ornaments have garnered mixed reception. A quick scroll through her label’s Instagram — her designs as centrepieces of eclectic fashion spreads — validates that they are, in their own right, objet d’arts. But as all things novel and subversive, not everyone gets the message. “Though the idea was backed by Asia’s culture of plastic surgery, but when someone posted them on Chinese social media, people snided that they’d only fit Western features. It was interesting to make them start thinking about its paradoxical nature.”
Another question to pose is: do these beautifully outlandish accessories have a place IRL? Enthusiasts of Tan’s bold facial decor are, as expected, of a niche. Tan reflects, “The wearing experience through my pieces is very important. The drawback from Not Your Average Beauty is the wearability where those who are willing to wear them are limited. As my motto is to communicate through jewellery, Iʼm hoping to open up more possibilities for people to wear my pieces.”
A nose cuff in 18-carat yellow gold with diamonds, S$1,908 (US$1,380).
Late last year, Tan linked up with independent London-based up-and-comer Asai for a collaborative jewellery range to complement the cult womenswear label’s Spring/Summer ’18 lineup. As how creative collaborations within the avocado toast era come to burgeon, Asai’s founder and designer A Sai Ta, a fellow Central Saint Martins graduate with British-Chinese-Vietnam roots, reached out to Tan through Instagram.
“He was influenced by his Chinese heritage. It synced with my research on the Chinese tribal jewellery.” The team-up bore fruit to gemstone-hung ear cuffs, pearl-studded lip cuffs and extra-large orbital sculptures suspended around the ears — presented along Asai’s ready-to-wear as part of London Fashion Week’s Fashion East programme.
As to what’s next, Tan is churning her label’s second chapter: “At the moment Iʼm working on more wearable pieces. More focus on the upper body, necklaces to headpieces. It’s the more obvious part of the body when you communicate with people. Itʼs the first thing they’ll see.” Let the ensuing of dialogues prevail.
Joanne.T jewellery is currently stocked at 50m, a multilabel conceptstore in London. Made-to-order with worldwide shipping can be requested via email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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