In the heart of Surry Hills, just up the road from Central Station, a matte black plate hangs on a Victorian terrace facade, bearing Holly Ryan’s name embossed in gold. “When I put it up, I cried,” she laughs. Beyond the threshold is the Sunshine Coast-born jewellery designer’s first showroom, and it’s as if she still can’t quite believe it exists – despite having created the brand ten years ago, when she was just 21.
For Ryan, the two-storey, greenery-filled space is a summation of the various elements of her brand. Not only is it an appointment-only showroom, but the terrace also doubles as a gallery for her range of impassive stone sculptures and holds a fully functioning studio out the back. “It used to be an accountants’ office,” she says, walking through the light-dappled corridor and brushing past Hugo, her sleepy, wet-nosed dog who welcomes clients at the door. “A very different vibe. But when I saw it, I fell in love with it. I knew we could make it work.” She smiles. “I just had to go hard with the sage.”
Kitted out with vintage Le Corbusier chairs and a reupholstered lounge set from Vampt Furniture Design, a kitschy furniture store across the road, the sitting room is bright and not overly polished. Clean lines of the pillars supporting her sculptures juxtapose with the rough, textural wood of the upcycled coffee table, which carpenter Sam Creecy charred and preserved using a traditional Japanese technique known as 'shou sugi ban'. “Everything used to be something else,” says Ryan.
Mid-afternoon light streams in, catching on the delicate gold and silver designs which dangle on the mantelpiece and glint beneath glass cabinets. Large, iridescent keshi pearls are a focus of Ryan’s latest collection, which is geared toward occasion pieces. It’s been a long time coming. “I thought it was time to create something like this because I’d been creating so many engagement rings and wedding rings for friends and clients over the years – but I’d never made them into a collection.” She leans in. “Plus, I did notice during Covid,” she says, conspiratorially, “that so many more people were getting engaged. Or having babies. It’s absolutely a thing.”
In order to fulfil the jewellery-related demands of pandemic weddings and lockdown engagements, the internal studio is where Ryan and her team spend most of their days, working on carving, soldering and shaping delicate chains, luminous pearl drop earrings, and heavy, artful rings. Tiny, precious shavings swept up from benches are sorted into little ceramic pots – one for gold, one for sterling silver – and then those metals are used to make smaller parts of Ryan’s pieces, like earring backs. “The beautiful thing about creating jewellery is that every single piece is a small success,” she says. “You feel that satisfaction for every single piece. And that feeling doesn’t really go away.”
Photograph: Maddy Matheson | One of the Holly Ryan's team at work in her Surry Hills studio
In deciding what kind of physical home she would give her creations, Ryan was committed to remaining entrenched in the “real work” of making, designing and reworking fine jewellery. It was natural, then, to begin with a showroom based on specific time slots – where she could “create a special experience for each person who walks in that door” – instead of a full retail offering.
The experience Ryan aims to create in that showroom is one of intimacy and being known, which extends the traditional purchasing relationship as between consumer and object. The maker occupies a third, liminal space in that relationship, but at Holly Ryan, the maker is positioned in the middle of the experience. Shoppers are invited to step inside the studio, and to take an active role in the jewellery making and designing process.
"As a designer, I feel responsible for the things that I create," she says. "If a piece is no longer serving you, bring it back. We'll breathe new life into it – and turn it into something you can love again." When a client returns a piece, Ryan works with them to transform it, whether that be through replacing a stone, unstringing pearls, or melting down the materials to start again. "I believe that waste is a design flaw. I'm trying to create a circular economy for my brand."
That jewellery should have longevity and embody sustainability are ideals close to Ryan’s heart. "I’ve only ever worked with recycled materials, and as sustainably as possible – but over the years I’ve learned more and implemented those teachings in the brands.”
She took the cancellation of Fashion Week in 2020 as an opportunity to break away from the industry's fast-paced seasonal model; currently, her brand is seasonless, with collections not necessarily wedded to the industry's externally dictated schedule. "Timeless investment pieces that become modern heirlooms shouldn't be driven by summer or winter."
While Ryan's brand has always pursued lofty goals in terms of sustainability – it achieves a waste output of close to zero, it has an in-built recycling initiative, and each piece is made in one of her two Australian studios – she's adamant that her brand isn't perfect. "We just try our best. Sustainable production and responsibility is being talked about in the fashion industry, but it's not nearly enough." She pauses. "I just don't want to fuel mass production. We all really need to slow down, and make considered purchases."
In carving out a space for close, human conversations about beautiful objects, Ryan's first showroom fundamentally reflects the experience she wants to create for her clients. But with a decision to position four walls around the brand she has built and tether it to space, Ryan's new space also represents a yearning for permanence in a shifting world. "It's what everyone's craving right now. Clients can come in, get a feel for the aesthetic of the brand, meet the people here, and know that it's us."
You can swing by the Holly Ryan showroom on 489 Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills NSW 2010 – just make an appointment via email at email@example.com.