Mirri DamerLast October Mirri Damer was approached and asked if she would make a headpiece for Dawn French for her inauguration as Chancellor of Falmouth University. She is based in Cornwall and had previously made wedding bands for Dawn and so she had suggested Mirri for the job.

Says Mirri, "The jewellery that I presently make is tiny and detailed - I had never made anything on this scale before and I knew that it would be a challenge to upscale my work and still retain my own design aesthetic".

Dawn's headpiece was to be part of her ensemble that day that was to include a gown, designed and fabricated by the fashion and textile departments at the university. The first step was to meet with Dawn and the Department Heads from the University to decide a design brief. Falmouth University was keen to create an outfit that was a contemporary interpretation of the traditional robes and also to incorporate elements that reflected the essence of Cornwall; the landscape and traditions of the area as well as the warmth, informality and earthiness of the region.

Mirri Damer's mood board

Mirri returned from the design brief with the idea of creating a piece based on the term 'blasted heath'. It describes the vegetation and trees around the coastlines in Cornwall that are blown and buffeted by the fierce wind that blows in from the sea. She also had in my mind the Cornish folk tradition 'Flora Day' which is when flowers and greenery are collected from the countryside and used to decorate the peoples' heads and the town buildings for a day of celebration.

"I decided to use a loose wire framework as a basis for the 'crown' to suggest twigs and natural vegetation. I had researched traditional headpieces that had been based on leaves and fauna and decided that this should be more natural looking. I settled on the idea of creating 'abstract gorse bushes' ".

Mirri began to experiment with creating the gorse flowers and tried many different ideas which were evaluated along the way during the process by the design team, a group which consisted of the other designers and students who were all involved with designing the materials and gown that Dawn would be wearing on the day. They met up on some eight occasions during the creation process to share their progress and ideas, bouncing ideas off each other and ensuring that the various elements of Dawn's ensemble would complement each other and add to the 'whole'.

Mirri Damer

"I met with Dawn for fittings on 4 occasions during which we explored the shape and size of headpiece that would suit her best. Something I discovered during these fittings was that a headpiece can affect the way that you look in quite a marked way and in a way that jewellery just doesn't!"

There then followed weeks of trial and error, 'growing' Dawn's crown piece by piece and evaluating it constantly as it developed. Each section was entirely hand formed and the finished piece was then silver, gold and black rhodium plated. One other interesting element of the piece is that it includes serpentine stones from Cornwall and three seashells that Mirri collected herself from the local coastline.

Dawn French in Mirri Damer's crown

And so it was that at the end of a five month project that had involved roughly two and a half weeks of solid bench time, Dawn French's crown was complete. She wore it for her inauguration at Falmouth University with a gown that had been designed by the students from the fashion department at the University. The inside of the gown was embellished with a ribbon of embroidered personal messages for Dawn from the final year fashion students and on Dawn's head rested a very special crown, one that had been borne from the materials, spirit and talent of Cornwall.

Mirri DamerMirri Damer


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B18 6BH

Tel: +44 (0)121 507 0994

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