Designer Vayshalee Naran’s Bone Collection has made a potentially grim object—the rib bone—into a beautiful bracelet that weighs with meaning. As the delicate rib cage literally protects the heart (and lungs), Naran’s elegant bangle signifies love and protection. Anatomy has held a particular fascination for Naran, a third generation Zimbabwean of Indian descent. As someone who collected skeletons as a child growing up in Africa, Naran considered RISD’s famed Nature Lab an important reference library while studying jewelry and metalsmithing at the famed institution.
Upon graduation from RISD, Naran received a scholarship to attend the Richemont Group’s luxury design school in Milan. She worked on projects for esteemed houses such as Van Cleef & Arpels (the masterminds behind the solar system watch), Shanghai Tang and Alfred Dunhill before taking a design position in Paris with leather and accessories label Lancel. Naran was never far from what she describes as her obsession: making regular “pilgrimages” to the houses of taxidermy and natural curiosities, Deyrolle and Design et Nature on rue d’Aboukir. She’s now been able to transform her fascination of nature and the animal form into tangible objects through her new offering.
Naran felt a growing imperative to invest in culturally rich Zimbabwe, where she makes the bangles herself. Her belief is that luxury is, “something to help elevate the local artisans and their work to a global level.” It’s a mission aligned with Maison Malabar, the new retailer founded by Melanie Masarin (who calls it an “online bazaar”), a former investment banker who left Goldman Sachs’ natural resources desk in favor of working directly with those artisans. Like Naran, Masarin considers a fair wage for stonecutters and safe mining conditions integral components of luxury.
For Masarin—who taught herself English in order to travel from a small village outside Lyon, France to study economics at Brown University—Maison Malabar presents a sort of homecoming. “Malabar” not only references the southern coast of India, but the further treasure to be unearthed from the Malabar Princess plane wreckage in the French Alps, and the bubble gum brand Masarin sold as a girl of 14. Masarin works with those flexible in finding conscious design solutions that help underserved markets achieve global access. To that end, she’s established a burgeoning staple of sustainably-sourced artisan brands that resurrect cultural heritage and contribute to their local communities, while working nimbly and transparently with designers around the globe.
Images courtesy of Atelier Vayshalee Naran