From specialising in petroleum to crystals, Trixie Khong started By Invite Only on a whim, and can now easily be singled out as one of the best emerging talents for this year in regional fashion. Here, we talk about designing logically rather than creatively, and what’s in store for the burgeoning brand.
Tell us your background story.
I’m Singaporean, born and bred. I was trained in Chemical Engineering at Temasek Polytechnic in Singapore and realised during a stint at a Kerosene distillation plant, that this wasn’t the life cut out for me. At the time, I had already started crafting jewellery pieces as a hobby and was selling them to close friends and family. Since I had the basic skills in jewellery making, I decided to hone my people and marketing skills for my degree. I went on to the National University of Singapore for a Communications and New Media degree and never looked back. I met a friend who was a graphic designer and he encouraged me to have a proper brand to sell my jewellery pieces.
Were you always crafty with your hands?
Actually, I grew up in an environment absent of art or anything crafty. My parents were never ones to visit museums and art exhibitions, nor were into the latest fashion. However, within me was a very keen interest in these areas, though I never dreamed to make this path my career.
I was brought up in a very maths and science driven environment and have always been very good at them. So naturally, I thought of being an engineer (Oil is where the money is and my major was in petroleum technology). I think even now as I am doing my crafts, that I take a very logical approach to the things I make and how I make them.
How did you take an interest to jewellery designing then?
I chanced upon an Indian crafts store on Arab Street in Singapore, and was amazed at all the parts, baubles and chains available. The idea of creating something from my own bare hands thrilled me. Using the pliers was more like a logical skill. The friendly crafts store owners were very helpful in explaining how each part fixes onto another, and from there, I explored the art of jewellery making.
Take us through how you managed to turn your hobby into a career.
When I was 16, I stumbled upon jewellery making and took it up as a hobby. Within two years, it got more serious and I wounded up making more pieces than I could keep, mostly for friends and a small network of customers. I loved how this also allowed me to interact with people who were also in crafts, and who liked what I was doing. This definitely gave me a drive to keep going on.
Until early 2009, I had been selling my jewellery pieces through a blog, when a graphic designer friend encouraged me to properly brand it and take it more seriously. We gave it a name, logo and set up a proper website. At this time, I was still preparing to enroll into university, and hadn’t decided on a major yet.
After the brand got properly done up some time in August 2009, I was in my first year of university and the task at the time was to get a physical store to stock our pieces. We were lucky and fortunate that Asylum Shop, at that time had a multi-label store, and gave us a chance. We sold very well there, and went on to approach Antipodean.
What inspires your designs?
Most of the time, the materials inspire my designs. I like seeing how crystals, for example, are formed, and how they sit on different parts of the body like the neck, ears, chest, wrists and so on.
What would you say is your general aesthetic?
My signature aesthetic is investing time into creating classic pieces that transcend time and also occasion. Pieces that often can be worn from day to night events, or layered and worn with ease. There is also a general youthfulness to every piece – made for the young and young at heart.
How did you get into using precious/semi-precious stones and rarer materials?
I have always been fascinated by these stones and how each piece in its grandeur is formed by nature. They always say that crystals chose their wearer. And in the same vein, I believe that it chose me too.
Take us through your current and previous collections.
Our previous collections mostly explored how crystals are formed, and also the meanings and symbolisms they carry in this world. Our first premium collection launched was called ‘The Higher Being’, which attributed and gave credit to mother nature as the true creator of our collection.
Our current collection is called ‘Nebulous’, which also is the birth of a star. This collection plays with the change in hardware from our usual gold to silver, and how this change creates a different vibe and style altogether. This collection is also inspired by very galactic colours like white, black, grey, blue and purple northern light displays.
What is your general process like, from the sketch board to the selling?
Because I am not from a design background back in school, I often don’t begin with sketching. I begin with buying and research. I seek out certain materials, stones, charms that catch the eye and start a mood board for the next collection. When I see half of the story unfolding, I the materials in.
How I make each piece often gets inspired by a certain material and how it sits. If it is too chunky, maybe a necklace. If it is smaller, I can make it into earrings or bracelets too. Once I make the first piece, it rolls forward to inspire the next design, and so on.
How did you come to conceptualise your current collection?
My partner, Edwin Tan from Bravo Company, is obsessed with space and everything that comes with it. I think in a way, I was very influenced by his obsession, and we spun off from there.
Which would you single out as the key piece of By Invite Only?
I would say the double pyramid cuffs. We always sell out every time we have a fresh batch.
Describe the By Invite Only girl.
She is modern and powerful – always on the go. She is someone who looks for eye-catching pieces in her wardrobe and appreciates timeless and classic designs – wardrobe pieces that are able to bring her from day to night, or rather more than one occasion. She is also someone who doesn’t blindly follow the masses or trends. She has her own opinions and supports artists, brands, designers and musicians whose work involves passion and heart.
If you were to have a celebrity muse, who would it be and why?
I like Miranda Kerr. There is something about her Australian understated style in her daily casual wear that captures me. At the same time, she isn’t afraid to spice things up when working for Victoria’s Secret.
How long does it normally take for you to craft a piece?
A simple ring or pendant necklace can take about 10 minutes, while a cocktail piece might take about 30 to 40 minutes.
How many pieces do you normally make per design?
We usually do less than 10 pieces per design, because the materials are often rare and not available in large quantities. For designs suitable for export, we keep to less than 150 to 200 pieces for each, to keep it limited.
Describe your workspace, and why it’s more conducive to you in terms of productivity and creativity.
My workspace is an organised mess. The walls are filled with cut-out magazines of items that inspire me or colours that are my current muse. Stones and trinkets are all organised in Ziplock bags, but littered all over the desk. Shelves are saved for magazines and books, but think of it as scattered and ‘overflowing’.
I constantly need to get to my supplies quickly, so they are often sprawled at a corner on my table or on the floors. Mannequins are often draped with multiple necklaces. I learned that a neat table often means I have nothing to do, which is a bad thing.
What are the tools you can’t live without, as a jewellery designer?
Definitely my pliers, chains, and all the parts that hold my pieces together.
What are your favourite and least favourite things about being a designer?
Favourite: Being able to have full control over the creative aspects of my work.
Least favourite: Dealing with customers, retailers, industry veterans or media who are just bitter about life in general. He or she spreads a very negative energy in life, that is redundant.
Do you believe in the healing properties of crystals and stones? Is this incorporated into your designs?
I believe that each stone holds a certain energy that is very mysterious to me. As I am very involved with them, I have books and articles about them that say amazing things. But I don’t design my collections based on that. I see it as providing the customers who believe in a beautiful and chic way of wearing and having crystals close for protection or any other reason like absorbing negative energy.
What’s your favourite material?
I love the Aura quartz. It’s a quartz treated over 1,000 degrees and infused with a mixture of metals in a vacuum. This results in a metallic iridescent sheen over the quartz crystals that make them look more edgy, current and eye-catching. The mix of metals determine the colour of the final product. For example, a cobalt based mix will give a metallic blue sheen.
When working, what’s in your bag?
A Baggu leather cosmetics bag, Bobbi Brown Pressed Powder, Chanel Rouge Coco 42, hair wax for baby hair, eye drops, credit cards, name cards, Ringgit Malaysia (Yes, I always have more Ringgit than SGD in my wallet for some reason), a pair of shorts (It’s always raining now in Singapore, and when it pours, I need a fresh pair of shorts to change into when running errands).
How’s it going for By Invite Only?
It’s constantly growing, and more people are getting to know about the brand – not just in Singapore, but Kuala Lumpur, Indonesia and Hong Kong as well. I’m so blessed to be able to meet the people I have so far, and to have products carried at the stockists I have.
What does 2013 hold for By Invite Only?
I’m thinking of joining an overseas trade show to expand on exports, and also to work on the website to become more consistent in providing pieces, especially to our overseas customers.
By Invite Only currently stocks at:
• Pixie Market (Online)
• Clout Shoppe (Online)
• Gnossem (Online)
• Nana & Bird (Singapore)
• Quintessential (Singapore)
• Manicurious (Singapore)
• Isetan Scotts (Singapore)
• P.A.C.T (Singapore)
• Kapok (Hong Kong)
• 3939 Shop (London)
• The Goods Dept. (Jakarta)
• Bazarro (Kuala Lumpur)
• Shoes Shoes Shoes (Kuala Lumpur)