Life’s true lessons come in its curve balls, and for Republic of You founder Nicoletta Revis, life saw her coming and had a barrage of ammunition waiting for her.
Over a six-week period, Nicoletta suffered the loss of her job and her house, the breakdown of her three-year relationship, the deaths of her grandmother, two close friends and her beloved dog, and then the clincher: a 120km/h car crash, breaking her neck and back and leaving her entirely incapacitated and bed-ridden.
But, to indulge in another gratuitous aphorism, what doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger and, like a phoenix from the ashes, she gradually emerged, empowered, confident and far wiser than ever before.
“I remember lying in bed and saying to myself, ‘the injuries won’t kill me, but my mind will.’ And so I made a pact with myself that every single night, when I turned the light off, I had to count ten things in my day that I was grateful for. That’s really hard, but I slowly started pulling the threads of gold out of my life. I think that was the point that everything changed.”
Barely able to move, certainly unable to leave her bed, the internet became her lifeline. A self-confessed obsessively compulsive collector, she began scouring websites for vintage nicknacks. Her initial idea, being a dog-lover herself, was to collect antique suitcases, line them with vintage fabrics and travel stickers from around the world and create quirky, artistic dog beds of them. Almost seventy large, bulky suitcases in, it suddenly dawned on her that she could barely lift a cup of coffee to her lips, let alone be able to manhandle such large objects. And so a change of tack was called for.
In her searches, she had found antique dog medallions from the 1920s and from these grew the idea of creating dog necklaces, featuring the medallions alongside other trinkets and beads. She made one for her own dog and proudly presented her mum with another for her little canine companion. But the cautionary pessimism of her mother deterred her from that path as well, fearing the little trinkets would pose a potential puppy choking hazard.
A little disheartened by her second return drawing board, she dismantled the dog necklaces, gathered some old jewellery of her own and created an entirely new necklace, this time simply for herself.
“I foraged around the house for old keys and jewellery and, with the bits and bobs I’d collected for the dog necklaces, I made up two new pieces. I’d never made a necklace before in my life and I had no idea how to put it together. One day I was hobbling around town window shopping and I went into Island Luxe (in Byron Bay) and the owner came up to me and said, ‘oh my God that necklace is amazing – where did you get it?’ When I told her I’d made it she said she’d love to see more. So I went home and I made up eighteen new pieces. I went back and she bought twelve of them outright.”
Within five days, she was demanding more and Nicoletta hastily created another five. By week’s end, they were all gone and Nicoletta’s calling was abundantly clear. “That was the point at which I realised I was doing something different,” she recalls, “and it gave me the confidence to keep going. That was the starting point of it all.”
Republic of You is a vintage rebirth. For Nicoletta, each piece she creates is about telling a story, capturing a piece of history that would otherwise become lost in the sands of time. From ostrich eggshell beads from the Baule tribe of West Africa to brass Bornean protective figurines and air raid whistles from World War 2, every element has a tale to tell, and she includes this information with every piece.
“I love things that tell a story” she says. “I wanted them to be higher priced items but with a story that has been handed down from generation to generation, to create a piece with the feature being, say a whistle, and being able to say, ‘this is from the 1940s, from the Second World War’ and so on…it’s about reconnecting to the past and not losing these amazing little bits of history.”
The exclusive, one-off pieces in the Republic of You collection are an intricately woven story of folklore and history, each beautifully presented in a nest of century-old newspaper, housed in a humbly branded minimalistic black box. But the message of the story permeates even the lesser priced, non-exclusive pieces. Each one is still laboriously hand crafted in the Byron Bay studio and, although not specifically limited edition, every element is carefully thought out and documented.
Take, for example, the Wild & Free necklace. A brass-coated chain is adorned with a tiny key and an intricately carved buffalo skull. Etched from naturally shed deer antler, it pays respect to the ancient totem of the American Indians, a symbol of wisdom, prosperity, gratitude and abundance. The tips of the deer antler are retained and used in other pieces, homage to the American Indians’ belief in giving thanks for and using every part of the animal.
Then there’s a piece entitled Gypsy Spells & Wishing Wells, a simple, solid brass wishbone. But even this has a story. As her website informs us, the pendant is “cast in solid brass directly from a wishbone Mum gave me after one of her famous Sunday roasts. This piece honours the age-old superstitious tradition my sister and I would partake in as kids.” The site then goes on to share the history of that tradition in great detail.
The style of Republic of You refuses to be pigeon-holed. A little bit tribal, a shade of the Americas, a hint of India and a dash of Asia are all brought into a contemporary piece that is simple, understated and unique. Nicoletta’s creations aren’t about jewellery and bling and glamour; they are about becoming Indiana Jones, delving deep into the mists of time, bringing tales and hidden treasures back to life and recreating them exquisitely.
Discover Republic of You: www.republicofyou.com.au
Portrait: ©Kirra Pendergast | All other images: ©SubCutanea
– This article first appeared on Common Ground Australia on Jan 22, 2014