“Millie Bobby Brown wore one of my Fidget Hoops in the Vogue Mexico cover shoot for June 2022. Seeing my name printed in that magazine has been one of my most exciting moments to date.”
While designers are clamoring to get their wares endorsed by any cast members of Stranger Things, this is quite a coup for Edinburgh-based Ruth Leslie, 29.
She graduated from the Silversmithing and Jewellery course at Glasgow School of Art back in 2015. This year, she released her Fidget Series of sculptural pieces, which are made from recycled Sterling Silver using an old-fashioned hand drill. They’re available online, or at various physical stockists including The Scottish Gallery. They start from £45 for the Circle Earring, or £135 for Millie Bobby Brown’s silver hoops - which, in the Vogue shoot, the actor wears with a monochrome outfit of drop-shouldered black coat, white shirt and clumpy boots. Prices go up to £795 for the Art Teacher Collar that Leslie named after her aunt, though the best-seller is the Fidget Ring, which starts from £105 for three-banded versions. Her work manages to be classic, but also a little bit edgy, and, thus, tend to attract an arty clientele.
“My customers are mostly people who love something a bit different and appreciate design. I find other makers and creative people buy a piece of my jewellery when they want to treat themselves to something special,” she says.
As with her earlier collections, this popular range is inspired by textiles.
"I'm constantly drawn to woven fabrics - where you can visibly see the threads and components. The twisted wire element in my jewellery is there to emulate threads within weaving looms”, Leslie says. “There is a certain juxtaposition about the cold structures of textiles machinery and the softness of the textiles itself."
Other creative influences come from the world of fashion and design.
“I’m constantly inspired by big brands like Jil Sander, Acne Studios and Maison Margiela. Each has their own distinctive style that is well considered. There’s also our own Edinburgh-based jeweller, Grainne Morton. She still manages to produce most work in the capital, even though she’s sold globally now,” says Leslie. “I adore the jewellery of Gala Colivet Dennison – she makes big chunky rings and more and her Instagram is a visual dream. Architecture is always a place to look and admire. More specifically, interior design objects like kitchen utensils, lamps, vases etc offer so much inspiration. Hollie Bowden Design and Interiors regularly surprises with big metal sculptures and beautiful art pieces in her projects. Seeing these people work keeps my motivation levels high”.
Some of Leslie’s pieces feature knitted-looking and detachable additions called Heddle Components, which are threaded onto the hoops, and are available in gold-plated silver or silver. We imagine that it’d be pretty tricky to stop fiddling with these springy and tactile pieces, which are reminiscent of Brillo pads, tiny snoods or Slinkies. Were they designed with stress relief in mind?
“That wasn’t the intention when I first came up with the twisted wire design, but as I was experimenting – I tend to sample and refine ideas through a process of play – the feeling of moving the components between your fingers felt only natural”, she says. “That ‘fidget’ kinetic nature is a key part of my designs. The movement always adds an extra layer to each piece, and if it soothes someone then even better.”
Leslie created and crafted these pieces from her studio in Leith’s Custom Lane at The Shore, where she’ll be holding an Open Studio event on September 3 and 4.
Along with architects, designers and producers, other residents in this creative space include photographer Laura Meek, glass artist Juli Bolanos-Durman and menswear designer Kestin Hare. We imagine that it’s a pretty inspiring place to work, as is the city in general.
“Edinburgh is my home. I grew up here, my family and lots of friends are here. I thrive on being part of the ever-evolving creative community. I think my passion to see the creative and design world in Scotland growing continually keeps me motivated”, she says. “My studio is such a wonderful place. Being surrounded by other makers and designers, seeing what they’re working on, keeps you inspired as well as instigating collaborative projects”.
Living in the capital has helped to inform her very distinctive style. Leslie’s creations happen organically. It’s slow jewellery rather than fast fashion, and everything's made to order, so each item can take up to six weeks to make and post to its new owner. Don’t expect a new collection every season, or for her to follow transient trends. Also, she doesn’t intend to move into using precious stones and other materials. Metalwork is her niche, as she likes the “freedom” and “endless options” of wire.
“I tend to work at a very slow pace, compared to what we’re used to anyway. I don’t like forcing designs, so tend to come out with one new thing at a time. It’s also a much more sustainable way of working, to not produce new collections seasonally, for example,” she says. “But of course, my designs will inevitably evolve in time – they have to. It’s a tough gig these days, as there’s so much jewellery out there, it can be hard to find your unique selling point”.