Boh Runga rose to global fame in the Nineties with her band Stellar*. After a fortuitous introduction to the New Zealand Mint, back in 2007, Runga found a new outlet for her creative talents and began designing jewellery.
The Last Fashion Bible stopped by her ‘Bohtique’ on Ponsonby Road to celebrate the store’s second birthday, talk to her about her creative process — and toast her 12 years as a successful jewellery designer.
Were you always interested in jewellery design?
I’m a fan of understanding how things are made and I love the feeling of appreciation when you see something beautiful. But I never thought of becoming a designer. I used to make my own jewellery when I was a kid and when I told my mother that I was actually going to be doing a jewellery range, she was, ‘Oh, you always used to make your own jewellery,’ so it was really cute.
Any surprising parallels between writing music and designing jewellery?
Everything has to have a story. It needs to have a story. It can’t just be a pretty kind of thing… but I think what works is having a little bit of a thought process behind it, going ‘this is a story that I wanted to share with people’. That’s the big kind of thing.
When you write a song, you’re not just writing it for yourself, you’re writing it for people who might hear it. It’s the same thing with jewellery and having that little link with somebody is really nice. Jewellery is easier. People love buying jewellery. Music is very hard, there’s a lot of political stuff involved. It’s a different world.
Tell us about your latest Boh Runga collection, Shapes.
It’s based on a really beautiful piece of calligraphy work by a Japanese monk, Sengai Gibbons, that is basically a circle, a triangle and a square — the elements in this collection. I felt a connection to it because what his beautiful artwork was trying to say is that human beings need to encapsulate everything they can actually understand. The way I like to see it is, we’re moving from one state to another. A transition… it’s like growth. Thinking about where you are in your world, where you want to be, your transition from there to here and just the transition of that journey. But it could be that I fundamentally like circles, squares and triangles.
Do you have a favourite piece from the collection?
My favourites are the triangular earrings. I also really love the pieces together — the actual three. It’s just interesting. A little bit different. But I do like the triangles because I think they’re really pretty on the ear.
What inspired Birdland, your first collection for the New Zealand Mint?
New Zealand is very famous for our native and endemic birds. When I was asked to design a collection, the very first thing I wanted to do was a very New Zealand-centric range.
Why do you think your jewellery resonates so well with people?
People love feathers and wings. I think people have a real fascination with birds in general and the idea of feathers and wings and flight — and angels, as well — totems that are looking out there. It’s really powerful for people.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gifted Meghan Markle a pair of your earrings on the recent Royal tour. How did that happen? Did Jacinda approach you directly?
One of her people actually contacted us and didn’t know what she wanted them for. We just assumed they were for herself. Jacinda is a big ambassador for New Zealand designers. Then I heard that she gifted them to Meghan Markle. Our website went mad. It seriously did. We were tagged by these mad fan websites. People were buying from all over the world.
I was so chuffed. To be gifted is the essence of our brand and it’s such a thoughtful gift. Plus, we’re cool enough for the Duchess to wear… it was phenomenal. Vogue Japan contacted me and asked about that whole thing. Harper’s Bazar, too. That was really amazing.
For Earth Day this year, you planted a tree for every piece of jewellery sold in April. Tell us about that.
Project Crimson plant trees to restore our forests. We need to do that as a country, to restore our native habitat.
I did an interview on television about it, they were saying, ‘How much is that actually offsetting – maybe not that much?’ But every little bit counts. Every little bit makes up something else. That’s the way you need to think about it. Because it becomes overwhelming. And I think people get overwhelmed. You have to think about your environment, what you can maintain and handle, if you do that to the best of your ability, that’s all you could ask of people. That’s all you can really ask. And if you have that kind of thing to reach more people, then that’s great. But, you know, if you just do that bit. You have that impact and that’s cool.
Do you have any design heroes?
I was quite madly in love with Alexander McQueen. Design heroes in jewellery? Cartier. I love the beauty and the luxury and the whole animal thing they’ve done in the past.
Where can we follow you?
What don’t you leave the house without?
I have to leave the house two or three times – I always forget something. Like this morning when I left, I had actually forgotten my laptop. But because I have to pack the two dogs, I always have to do a rethink, to actually pack before you leave the house… keys and dogs. And my phone… shit! If I forget my keys, I have to call my boyfriend – “Can you let me in the house?”
View the latest Boh Runga collection Shapes online or stop by her ‘Bohtique’ at 95B Ponsonby Rd, Auckland.