Artist Spotlight: Christine Smalley
Pioneer, Story Teller, Interpreter, Bower Bird, Tenacious, Flexible, Patient, Business Savvy, Trend Aware, Colour Clever, Courageous, Passionate.
Etelage is about “Bespoke jewellery made in Sydney for the modern bohemian woman with a warm heart and sassy style”.
Christine Smalley‘s brand, Etelage, has become synonymous with innovative design and meticulous handcrafting using an eclectic mix of vintage and modern brass, glass and gem stone beads with a strong emphasis on ethical work practices and an eco footprint.
Christine began her jewellery design journey at the age of 8, creating from her own stash of beads. When they ran out, and unable to find interesting beads in Australia, she started her own business ‘Etelage’ (French for adornment) in 2002 and purchased beads from Italy, the Czech Republic and India. The large minimum purchase requirements led Christine to open two shops to sell through. She then started having beads made, particularly beads essential for unique designs which were not available elsewhere.
Christine loves objects and the stories they tell. Christine’s passion for unique and beautiful things evolved from the stories her aunts told her from their overland adventures in Persia and Morocco and their exotic embellished clothes and jewellery. She was influenced by the jet set glamour of the 1960s and their elegant and bohemian luxe lifestyles.
Christine says she used to tell people “she hangs out with old men”. Their shared passion for the beads overcame any language barriers that emerged. Christine says ” I love working with vintage beads. I see myself as an interpreter and advocate for the old artisans of Bohemia ( modern day Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic) They were the original makers of beads, buttons and jewellery for the global costume jewellery market of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Antique French Jet Pieces
Twenty years ago the makers in the Czech Republic made beads and sold them to the state controlled distribution company ‘Jablonex’. Christine was only woman in the crowd of men who were sales people and buyers. Jablonex would display the items on cards and Christine would buy from the cards. Christine didn’t meet the makers or visit the family businesses spread all over the country.
Christine says “My business is a privilege. I’m surrounded by beauty and involved in another generation of storytelling” Christine has fossicked through a vast amount of exotic, tribal and rare beads and embellishments to achieve her exquisite range of unique beads.
Her stories of recent buying trips to the Czech Republic highlight Christine’s love of unique, vintage beads. She spent days in cold, damp basements searching through old, moldy boxes for unusual beads to add to the Etelage range.
Brass is the dominant metal in her work as it’s the most sustainable metal whilst maintaining a classic glamour and warmth – like gold.
Robin Hill of Breathing Colours says “I would visit Etelage to buy a specific item and leave with a unique stash of ‘one of a kind’ beads and designs to complete. For me a trip to Etelage was a dangerous delight”
The 70s had a large impact on Christine – from boho chic to retro glam – the era transcended generations like few before or since. She offers a fresh modern take on 70s bohemian opulence you will love to wear for years to come. Every piece is designed to help customers express their own style.
Earrings are Christine’s ‘thing’. They are a trans-formative accessory that can change and soften the face.”Earrings can change your ‘look’ and move you “from day to night in an instant”. She loves “being on the tools” and making unique pieces.
Explore Christine Smalley’s ‘limited edition’ collection on the Breathing Colours online store.
What’s next for Christine?
She closed her Newtown shop in 2014 and is focusing on her online business.
She says “I’ll continue with my ‘Passion Project’ of researching Holocaust survivors who are jewellery designers in Sydney. I’ll continue teaching foundational, technical skills and design fundamentals such as colour, texture and composition. I’ll continue making jewellery and “being on the tools”. I hope my volunteer work at the Powerhouse Museum evolves into museum collection management opportunities in the future.”