That gold necklace you have seen your favourite insider wear, the espadrilles that have taken over Instagram this summer – they all belong to Alighieri, the jewellery brand the fashion industry can’t get enough of.
Stepping inside Rosh Mahtani’s Hatton Garden studio – home to her jewellery brand, Alighieri – is like stepping inside the most beautiful Aladdin’s cave. Taking inspiration from her favourite text, Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, Mahtani has brought antiquity to the modern woman in the most wearable way.
In a scene that wouldn’t look out of place in the classical era, the studio is full of giant blown glass vases that hold layers and layers of gold necklaces, each carrying a pendant of varying shape and size. Candles with perfectly dripped sides play host to earrings dug into their wax, and old books – scattered with bracelets, rings and more pendants – lie open wherever you look.
Jewellery, or rather the idea of keeping hold of something precious, has been a running theme in Mahtani since she was a child.
“I grew up in Africa, and my family and I went on a trip to Cape Town which was really special,” she tells me. “There was a man selling little necklaces that had a tiny glass vessel and in it one grain of rice, which you could write your name on. He wrote my name incorrectly, but I wore it for years and years and years. And there was another piece I was particularly attached to: I found a piece of wire and made a spiral ring around my finger and I remember my mum saying, ‘You can’t wear that, it has really sharp edges it’s going to hurt you and I was like ‘I’m never taking it off, never ever.’
“Then there was an idea of having objects and wearing them like I have a stone collection and a shell collection – I took it very seriously – every night I would hide them in the crevices of bricks outside our house to make sure that no one would steal them. When I moved London, my mum wouldn’t let me take them with me with… because they were bags of rocks. The necklace and the ring came with me though.”
It wasn’t until her time at Oxford University – where Mahtani studied French and Italian literature – that she began taking her creations seriously.
“I’ve always collected and made things,” she says. “At University it was my one pleasure. There was a flea market every Wednesday and I go before I started working on my essay (and it was so cheap) and I would collect old coins and old fragments and I would put them on chains because I really like this idea that no one would have the same thing.”
Mahtani continues: “People thought I was ridiculous, I didn’t fit in. I always worked really hard and I loved literature and languages, but I was never the best at anything. It never came as easy and I felt insecure about that, I was a bit of a misfit. I went back at graduation and everyone was saying what they were doing like a law conversation or going into medicine. And I was like… ‘I’m making jewellery’. My teachers just looked at me with such confusion, like it wasn’t worthy.”
What started as a one-day course on learning how to mold wax has now turned into an incredibly desirable jewellery brand that the industry just can’t seem to get enough of.
“What I loved so much about jewellery was that I didn’t know the rules,” says Mahtani. “If I had gone to jewellery school I wouldn’t have enjoyed it because it wouldn’t allow me to just be free and be myself and I think I would have pretended to be something that wasn’t myself.”
The unique aesthetic of Alighieri is that it isn’t perfect, the shapes that Mahtani creates are imperfect but it’s in their imperfection that their beauty is found.
She says: “I always wanted to be perfect and I just never achieved it. Making Ailghieri was the first time I felt like it was ok not to be perfect, that actually it’s ok to be honest about feeling shit sometimes. That we all feel vulnerable and you don’t have to be shiny and polished all the time, you can be a bit broken.”
It’s that idea of feeling a bit lost, vulnerable and imperfect that is exactly why the brand is called, Alighieri.
“When I finished University, I just wasn’t ready to leave Dante and his story behind,” she recalls. “Dante famously wakes up lost in a dark wood and it’s in the middle of the journey of his life, where the right path is completely unknown to him. To me, being lost and having to navigate your way through is something we all face in our twenties and even later in life.”
When Mahtani first started the brand in 2014, there was one piece that was a must for the collection and it has gone on to be the brand’s most popular necklace (selling 2,000 to 3,000 units a month). The ‘Il Leone’ lion necklace that bids wearers entry into the ‘Lion Club’.
“There is a part in the Divine Comedy where a lion comes towards Dante – it’s so terrifying even the air is trembling around it – and he turns on his heal and he says, ‘I am not Aeneas I am not a hero, I can’t do this journey, I am not good enough, I am not strong enough’ and he gives up.
“He’s in the pit of fear. And that’s when Virgil appears and he says, ‘Dante I am here to help you.’ It’s when complete fear turns to courage and that’s why I made the Lion. I actually made it first of all for myself to be more courageous.”
Just this week, Mahtani and her team put on their first catwalk show. In true Alighieri fashion, it was held in a church where models of all different ages (one model was 91) and backgrounds displayed not only a new collection of beautiful jewellery, but also their quiet strength.
And in that lies the DNA of the brand. Alighieri isn’t about adorning yourself, it’s about arming yourself, creating your own narrative and sharing your stories. It’s saying I am good enough, realising that you deserve something for your efforts, for your own worth and giving it to yourself. And who wouldn’t want to be part of that?
Images: Courtesy of Alighieri / Instagram