“My rings are my armour”, says half-Welsh, half-Iranian branding consultant Lydia Birgani who never leaves home without a ring on every finger. Collected from artisan communities around the world, her love affair with tribal jewellery started in the souks of Abu Dhabi where she grew up.
At school her rings were worn in an act of teenage rebellion but today, living in London and recently graduated with a degree in fashion business, they have become a core part of her identity.
We met Lydia at Dashing Tweeds to hear about her multi-cultural upbringing that inspired her attitude towards jewellery and fulled her career in building brands.
What was it like growing up in Abu Dhabi?
Eighty percent of the people living there are expats so I had friends from all corners of the world. I was exposed to so many different cultures which was amazing and has definitely impacted the way I think about things today.
As a child it was difficult, I felt like I had diaspora identity, I didn’t know where I fitted in. There is an evident divide between social groups which I found quite unsettling.
What made you move to London?
I am the black sheep of the family. I was desperate to surround myself with a rich culture and to be closer to nature. When I arrived in London, I felt like a new person, I had found my place. I try and travel as often as I can but London feels like home.
Tell me about your consulting business.
I work as a brand consultant to multiple clients, handling brand identity, marketing and social media. I have always loved seeing how brands are built and attract their customers.
How did you get into that?
I recently graduated from Marangoni studying fashion business but when I was 15 I started an online fashion platform with my sister, Parisa. It was one of the first blogs in the middle east so we gained lots of exposure. Shortly after we launched, we were approached by Selfridges and Harvey Nichols to consult for them on targeting middle-eastern consumers during the Ramadan period. Now I have finished my studies I am straight back into it.
"My rings tell my story, but they also tell the story of the artisans who made them."
Has growing up in an environment with so many cultures contributed to your success?
I grew up watching a lot of sci-fi films and I always connect with the character that can read minds - I am good at understanding people. The fact that I am half welsh, half Iranian and used to speaking to people from different backgrounds gives me good communication skills.
How would you describe your personal style?
As a kid I played football every day and was a huge martial arts fan so I was either dressed in my sports kit or an army uniform. Today I am a lot more fluid in the way I dress but my clothes have to have structure — hence my love for suits. I love mixing menswear and womenswear. Some days I wear loads of colour, other days I’ll wear layers of black.
Tell me about Dashing tweeds and the amazing suits you are wearing.
I handle the Marketing for Dashing Tweeds. It was launched about 10 years ago at the end of Savile Row on Sackville Street by Guy Hills who's an avid cyclist and professional fashion photographer. Guy was fed up with wearing high vis vests so he decided to weave weave reflective yarn into jackets and suits. Guy has brought together a close knit community. It's wonderful to be a part of the vision and to help the brand expand, targeting a wider demographic.
How did your ring collection come about?
We lived next to a souk in Abu Dhabi. My sister and I visited often to look for jewellery. She had an amazing collection but I didn’t know what I liked. One day I came across an Afghan couple from the Kuchi tribe who were selling rustic jewellery with stones. I begged my parents to let me buy some rings. The couple would take my measurements and handcraft the ring in front of me. I was constantly in trouble at school for wearing them — but I didn’t care.
"Jewellery is a way to capture a moment in time."
Are these the same rings you had at school?
Some of them yes. But I have been collecting ever since. I now have rings made by other tribes around the world including two from the Bakhtiari tribe — my father’s tribe. I love the grittiness of the way they have been made.
My rings tell my story, but they also tell the story of the artisans who made them. Not enough people know about these places and these tribes. I like that I can share their stories whenever people ask about my rings.
What does jewellery mean to you?
Jewellery is rooted in culture. For me it is a way to capture a moment in time. Without my rings I feel bare, vulnerable, I feel they have become a part of me.