Toronto Star



Maestre's jewellery designs make bold statement

Designer finds inspiration in North African bazaars, aboriginal art and the Amazon jungle

Mar 28, 2008 04:30 AM

Living reporter

Has Dandi Maestre mowed down an entire herd of deer?

You'd think so from the baskets of antlers and horns in the jewellery designer's Spadina Rd. studio. But no animals were harmed for her art. The antlers are shed naturally, sourced here in Canada.

Maestre also fashions bull horn from the U.S.; amber; seeds from the Amazon jungle; petrified wood; and coral (but no endangered shells) into show-stopping, got-to-have-it-screw-the-rent bracelets, cuffs, necklaces, rings and handles for handbags.

Her designs were a huge hit at the Greta Constantine show during L'Oréal Fashion Week in Toronto, even more impressive considering she pulled all the accessories together in two weeks or so.

Maestre approached the Greta guys, Kirk Pickersgill and Stephen Wong, because she liked their work. She emailed them pictures of hers. The admiration was mutual and they asked her to collaborate on the show. They gave her carte blanche: Maestre could do whatever she wanted as long as it was outrageous. In other words, go big or don't go to fashion week.

It played into her mantra: be bold, be strong, be green.

"I was doing my new collection and I went bigger and over the top," Maestre says. "I woke up at 3 a.m. one morning thinking that I could do antlers (as neck wear and handles on bags)."

Maestre is influenced by "art, nature, popular culture and colour."

Other influences include Georgia O'Keeffe (a cow skull hangs on her wall) and Frida Kahlo (whom she resembles without the unibrow and moustache).

For inspiration, she's scoured bazaars in North Africa and aboriginal art galleries in Australia, Port-au-Prince and the Amazon – but not the pages of fashion magazines even though she has tapped into the fashion zeitgeist of the season: the tribal, safari, rich-hippie look and the big bangle theory.

Show her a page from British Vogue with the headline "Wrist fulfilment" and she is singularly unimpressed with the stack of oversized bracelets – with the exception of the photo of British writer/political activist/anarchist and shipping heiress Nancy Cunard posed with her signature African bracelets amassed on each arm.

"I'm not interested in fashion; I do what I like," Maestre says. "I believe that women should express their own style. Style should not be dictated by trends, style is all about individuality. I'm not into trends or what is happening. "

Maestre was born in Colombia 44 years ago and was a photographer and graphic artist before she made jewellery. She studied at the School of Visual Arts in New York and was the recipient of its Rhodes Family Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Media Arts.

She worked as a graphic designer for 20 years in South America before immigrating to Toronto five years ago when her husband, Rodolfo Moseres, became trade commissioner for the Colombian government.

She wanted to reinvent herself so she started making her own creations. Besides, she could never find any jewellery she liked. It was too polite.

"I've never liked anything small (though she's not exactly a giantess herself; she's petite), conventional or typical. I always did stuff for myself and people responded to it."

Two years ago, she exhibited at the One of a Kind Show with great success. "I did lots of things with seeds, horn and amber and I mixed them up. My work is very organic; everything is natural. Natural materials give you a unique energy and make you powerful and secure."

"There is no front or back to my pieces," she says. "You can add on rings and layer the pieces. I would wear five necklaces if I could."

In Toronto, she sells at Holt Renfrew World Design Lab on the second floor; in Ottawa at Clothes by Muriel Dombret; as well as throughout the U.S. Her website is "My customers are age 30 to 80 but it's not about age," she says. "It's about being independent and sure of your style and who you are."

She'd like her own shop one day, but harbours no ambition for fashion world domination.

"I'm having fun. I'm doing what I like. Maybe one day, I'd love to sell in Paris."

Fun is fun, but she should get danger pay. The antlers and horns are sharp: one of her bracelets has a horn protruding from it that looks like a dagger.

"I like danger," she says, laughing.


© 2008

Jewellery maker Dandi Maestre’s outrageous accessories were a huge hit at the Greta Constantine show during Toronto’s Fashion Week. Style is all about individuality, says the Colombian-born Maestre.