Italian-born and London-based Maria Francesca Pepe is an avant-garde jewelry designer. The pieces featured in her eponymous jewelry line blend cutting edge design and sharp geometric forms with a touch of romanticism. Pepe has collaborated with Urban Outfitters and Topshop as well as designed iconic pieces such as headwear for Lady Gaga under the commission of Nicola Formichetti and the popular ear-cuff and chain worn by Rihanna.
You launched your collection with heavy metal tubing pieces and it has evolved to include more delicate statement pieces. Do you have any limitations when designing?
I think designing is a dialogue. It is crucial that your creative message is received loud and clear. This dialogue is dynamic and has followed the path of who I’ve become as a professional and as a person. Initially the boldness of my creations was what defined my aesthetic. Today, it’s blended into a more feminine, luxury and grown up approach. My work refers to a much wider and diverse audience of people and markets, and I have learned to express a variety of feelings, which complement the edginess of my initial work.
How does your namesake collection differ from your collaboration with Urban Outfitters?
When I design for a collaboration, such as the one with UO, what I think is: Who’s the customers I am designing for? How much can they spend? Who are their icons? What’s the latest trend they followed? What music do they listen to? Each answer doesn’t necessarily match what I refer to while designing for my main line, so that’s what makes the two ranges different. Despite this, I like to keep my design as much personal as possible, sexy, wicked and rock and roll. It’s like translating my own language in different accents. Plus I have a great respect for the brands I work for, and with Urban, I have targeted that idea of coolness, romantic-vintage edge and dreamy freshness that’s so much in its DNA.
The collection has been compared to Delfina Delettrez. Do you see similarities?
Well, I love Delfina’s work and I find this a huge compliment. We definitely share a similar aesthetic. We are both brave in our creativity, and refer to pop and Goth symbolism and romantic elements in our work. Plus, we both have Italian blood in our veins. I recently met Delfina’s father, Bernard, and I connect so much to his work as well. Nevertheless, I can see my brand going toward an alternative direction, especially in my art deco references and more minimal-conceptual stuff. I think my style is more subtle and somehow more abstract.
Can you tell us about your styling? Who is your girl?
I wear MFP jewelry everyday and have always been a jewelry freak in general. I mainly wear lots of rings and earrings, hot pants, fishnet tights, leather and fur jackets, silk lingerie and cool shoes. I like to mix effortlessness with sexy luxury. I think this defines the kind of girl I am and what I like.
What was the inspiration behind the eyes in your Fall/Winter collection?
Eyes are a very ancient symbol of protection and God presence against evil. I treasure the idea of jewelry as an amulet you bring on your skin, which reminds you of the ones you love and forms a shield against bad energy.
Lady Gaga commissioned you to design a tiara. What was that process like?
I was called by her stylist Nicola Formichetti, and have been working for him on a few other projects ever since.Nicola is a trendsetter, and his match with Gaga has created a powerful and unconditional aesthetic made of trash, glamour and pop elements, which are all very much present in my work too.
What kind of response has the tattoo jewelry experienced?
I had a great response and I think the whole concept of a ‘wearable’ tattoo is cool and fresh at the same time. We all have our rebellious days.
What is the most interesting tattoo you’ve seen?
I was so obsessed with Martin Margiela when I started studying fashion in the ’90s, and his infamous 4-stitch label was a symbol for me. Who wore Margiela was part of a crew…Then I actually saw someone with that same label tattooed on her back! She also had drops of blood tattooed next to the stitches. That’s being a real fashion victim, I thought! I kind of liked Amy Winehouse’s tattoo of her boyfriend’s name written inside a pocket on her heart. Tattoos come from obsessions.