Interview – Keef Palas

Dress by Beaufille, Earrings by Keef Palas
Dress by Beaufille, Earrings by Keef Palas

Perhaps we want to invite more introspection on the fragility of planet Earth, and the uncertainty of its future as a consequence of man’s actions, and industries run by systems like capitalism.

In an era where the world is rife with unrest rooted in inequality, Keef Palas is the conceptual jewellery line serving as a quiet reminder of the one unifying principle and inescapable truth for which we are all equal: the passing of time.  Aptly classified as ‘fast luxury’, and not to be confused with fast fashion, this ephemeral collection is infused with subtle irony in the form of vacuum sealed garlic clove and chilli pepper jewels complete with expiration dates.

The Keef Palas collection serves as a call to awareness and to the rejection of established, neoliberal ideals which dictate the ever-accelerating pace of industry and society at large. Rather than submitting to a system in which they feel neither represented by nor akin to, founders Claire O’Keefe and Eugenia Oliva instead concede to the ultimate governing force of our planet, Mother Nature herself. In wearing these jewels, which both respire and expire within the time of ownership, we are reminded of not only our own impermanence but of our inability to truly possess anything, as everything is subject to change. Keef Palas is equal parts a celebration of this ephemeral beauty as it is a gentle and compelling reminder. Each gem whispering of our duty to uphold the natural world upon which our existence hinges. Paper Journal sat down with the Barcelona-based creative duo behind Keef Palas to discuss this partnership and their influences, covering everything from the concept of time to summers in Mallorca and gluten intolerances. 

How long have you both known each other and what has this friendship been like?

We have been in the same circle of people for only three years. We shared summer holidays and city venues, but we weren’t intimate friends. This friendship started off more like a partnership that has taken us to get to know each other deeply. It’s been the most fun ride up to the moment.

What happened in the summer of 2016 when the idea for Keef Palas was conceived? How did this experience inform and shape the overall concept?

The stars aligned! We had never worked on something together until then and it wasn’t planned at all—it just happened naturally. One day in early July, we made a pair of earrings out of some olive branches. When we tried them on, we realised just how much Keef Palas could actually evoke feelings of inspiration, and we didn’t hesitate in converting it into our life project. From then on, the concept hasn’t stopped growing. Everything is happening so quickly—as if it were under the influence of its own ephemerality—and we just can’t believe it. We know that the idea is simple and we haven’t really invented anything. But we also believe that it’s a call to humankind from nature itself and not vice versa.

Claire, it’s my understanding that you have worked across a variety of artistic fields, including photography and fashion styling. How has Keef Palas developed from your other creative pursuits? Did either of you study jewellery design?

Ironically enough, neither of us has. We do have a background in fashion, communication and arts. Our aim is to integrate the concept in everything we do, so it has my styling/photography works. My relationship with clothes and fashion is very intimate and personal, and I like to transmit that in my visual universe. I also feel very comfortable with Keef Palas; it’s my favourite hobby.

Dress by Stella McCartney, Earrings by Keef Palas

Can you tell me a bit more about your experience working as a team? How have you found this collaborative effort to influence the creative process and overall development of Keef Palas?

It was like opening Pandora’s box. We’re a good mix. Without Claire’s brains or Eugenia’s craziness, Keef Palas wouldn’t exist. Well, Eugenia is more of an enthusiastic dreamer and Claire is an efficient problem solver. We both have brains and could be considered crazy by anyone in Babilonia.

And it’s not only thanks to this duo that the project has also been able to evolve. Many of the ideas that we’ve come up with were suggestions from friends or people we know. We work like a sect that venerates Mother Nature which intends to reveal capitalism where, without prejudices and without borders, everyone is welcome.  

How did these conversations with friends come about and what did the creative process look like? Could you run us through a memorable example?

Our most memorable meetings are in summer when we do our pop up shows. The project has been through two so far. We always spend it in a very special place in Mallorca, Deià, where a lot of creatives from around the world spend their summer holidays. Claire remembers when a designer from Camper was very impressed with our first action and commented that sealing the natural gems as if they were food would be a very ingenious wink. We talked about supermarkets selling peeled oranges in plastic and how this little and apparently insignificant gesture tears apart humans from nature.

Personally, I think having that creative community within which you feel nurtured and inspired is so important. In your opinion, does collaboration in all forms, be it friends, family or people you just met, strengthen the group and creative output as a whole? 

Yes, we believe in escaping individualism. It’s quite difficult to survive without a creative community with similar leit motif’s to ours, we support and embrace each other.

We try to keep our range of collaborators very wide. We love to work with established photographers and stylists as much as we thrive to collaborate with more underground creatives that are emerging.

Dress by Team Jones, Earrings by Keef Palas
Top by Isa Arfen, Earrings by Keef Palas

Keef Palas undoubtedly promotes introspection on the concept of time and fragility of our own existence. What is it you hope the wearer takes away from this reflection?  

Perhaps we want to invite more introspection on the fragility of planet Earth and the uncertainty of its future as a consequence of man’s actions and industries run by systems like capitalism. Could man really live beyond nature? Like we mention in our manifesto, the ephemerality of the earrings are a consequence of following the laws of nature instead of the ones of economic neoliberalism.

Has the theme of impermanence always been a topic of interest in your works? On a personal level, how has this exploration informed your own worldview (philosophical outlook)?  

Living is a transitory state of being. It’s an inescapable fact. It may seem like a contradiction but Keef Palas, through its unfavourable temporality, aims to be an attempt to decelerate so that we can reflect, and not value as many possessions but embrace the pleasure of everything.

I understand you are from Mallorca. Growing up, what has been your relationship with the natural world? How are the collections influenced by your surrounding environments on the island and in Barcelona?

Claire is from Mallorca and Eugenia is from Figueres, very similar regions. We grew up surrounded by nature, so in a way, it was always just there. It´s only in retrospect that we’ve realised how lucky we are and how important this is when it comes to furthering our growth as human beings.  Our jewellery is designed under the tension between nature and urban life that we all feel. Are we able to follow our most ancestral instinct, to give up the comforts of the big city? If all we need is wifi connection, could we give into this inclination and adapt to rural life?

Full look by Toga Pulla, Earrings by Keef Palas

We have to unlearn old habits, be aware that every time we spend our money we are supporting a certain system. Environmental and social consequences of irresponsible consumerism are irreversible. The time to take action is now.

I think this tension felt between our innate draw to the natural world and the alluring comforts of city life is something many people can relate to. What is your approach to managing this familiar struggle?

We try to keep a perfect balance between living in Barcelona (where 98% of inhabitants are exposed to higher PM10 levels than WHO establishes), escaping to Nature and travelling around the globe. It’s also important to keep inspired and reminded that your own world is only a small piece of the Universe. It’s all about perspective.

I’m curious about the cultivation of your ephemeral gems. How and where is each piece grown and sourced?

We’ve had the great fortune of being born in the Mediterranean, so our jewellery goes straight from nature to your pierced ears. Every time our parents come to visit, they bring us fresh merchandise. In a way, they’re our senior interns, haha! Time and again we think, to create something with a large impact, we’d need big investments and business plans but we’ve limited ourselves to playing with what we have in our gardens. We believe that in a way it adds merit to it all.

So you’ve kept the production of Keef Palas sustainable by harvesting only what is available in your garden. Is this connection to sustainability and ethical consumption something you endeavour to maintain in all aspects of your life?

Our pieces are seasonal. You will find chestnut earrings by the beginning of fall but don’t ask for a pair of pussy willow in June. Reaching out to Monsanto for a partnership in order to satisfy some potential customers whims it’s something Keef Palas values/philosophy absolutely refuse.  

It’s a complicated mission, to consume ethically on a daily basis – there are so many alternatives. We have to unlearn old habits, be aware that every time we spend our money we are supporting a certain system. Environmental and social consequences of irresponsible consumerism are irreversible. The time to take action is now.

How has your most recent ‘Intolerant’ collection differed from the previous? What inspirations did you draw upon for this collection specifically?

Our ‘Intolerant’ collection is made from cereals, specifically: wheat, oat and corn. As you’d easily be able to guess, the idea was born through gluten intolerances that loads of people suffer from. Hereon, we invite the viewer/consumer to reflect on the paradox of intolerance: should we tolerate the intolerant? We leave the field of food and move into the current socio-political framework.  

In your manifesto, you assert a strong opposition to the neoliberal agenda and its subsequent innervations throughout the fashion industry. Who are the cartel of art ‘dealers’ behind your sales and how do they propagate the ethos of Keef Palas?

It was part of an action at the first stage of our project, last winter, to spread the keef. We called out to dealers and accepted everybody that contacted us. We asked them to treat our earrings as an illegal merchandise and to distribute them however they thought best in the black market. We like to call them the outsiders of the influencer scene. It’s fun to be everywhere, we love to be in your grandma’s friends Sunday magazine as much as we love to see Keef Palas in the hippest publications around.

Outside of your dealers, where can the public purchase Keef Palas? Are you stocked anywhere in London?

Apart from the illegal market and our bigcartel, we’ve set up pop-ups in cities like Philadelphia (Sweetflag), Paris (Debeaulieu during Haute Couture Week) and Mallorca (Valldemodda FW). 

What are plans to evolve Keef Palas further? Is there anything in the works at the moment?  

We’ve just designed the poo collection, the equivalent to our F/W, because, well, winter is shit, right? On a technical level, we’re working on a project to be able to develop and launch Keef Palas IV for 2018. But, Keef Palas’ ultimate goal is to get closer to nature, to life.

Top by Emma Charles, Earrings by Keef Palas

Photographer: Morgan Hill Murphy
Stylist: Kat Silva
Set: Tara Holmes
Hair: Hirokazu Endo
MUA: Jinny Kim
Model: Antonia @ Elite