Q&A: Biko’s Corrine Anestopoulos

It’s a sunny day in Corrine Anestopoulos’ studio in Little Italy. There’s Chet Baker playing in the background and a lawn mower humming outside the window. Anestopoulos is the creative force behind Biko, the Toronto-based jewellery company, that has been churning out “modern nostalgic” costume jewellery since 2004. Recently, Anestopoulos invited OurFaves into her work space to talk about about where she finds inspiration for her designs, her new spring and fall collection and the creative rut she occasionally has to shake off.

There’s tons of jewellery here. Do you do everything yourself?

I do. I have my interns that help me with chain lengths, but they come in once a week. It’s a lot of work. I find myself working 15 hour days much of the time. And it can’t be like that anymore. I’m looking to hire production. Everything will stay local, that’s very important to me, but I don’t really know how that’s going to work out because I haven’t done it yet and I don’t have any experience. But yes, up until now, everything’s been me and it still is.

How long has this been your full-time job?

Six years. I’ve been very fortunate to have great people who support me and who are repeat customers. Especially at the One of a Kind Show – that’s why I love the retail shows. I get to see my customers face-to-face rather than through wholesale. When I’m at the shows, I realize a lot of these people are coming back to support me and I think that’s why I’ve kept going and why I can make a living – because of their support.

What are you planning for spring?

More recently it’s been mixed metals, which I’m in love with. The contradiction between the copper mixed with silver and the brass and the gold and some hints of black. I try not to be too girly. It’s like girly with a bit of edge. Always contrasts. I guess that will always be a running theme in my work. But as far as fall goes, I’m really trying to learn to work with leather. I’ve never done it before, but I love leather. I’m just playing around and hopefully something good will come of it.

For next spring, I’m working on integrating bright pops of colour which is the way I dress. It’s my aesthetic that I love so much.

How long would it take you on average to create a necklace?

To design a piece is one thing and then to produce a piece is another. For the past two to three weeks, I’ve been trying to design this collection and I’ve never come to such a creative block as I have this time around. There are a few pieces I start with and then I stare at them from afar and then I go back to it a couple of days later and something hits me while vacuuming or in the shower and then I have to go back and revisit that idea. So it can take days or weeks, even. As far as producing, it can take anywhere from 20 minutes to a couple of hours.

What is your creative process like?

Very random. Can I even put a finger on it? My creative process is playing around. I love to travel for my materials. And a lot of the times, I’m inspired by the materials I find and I don’t know what I’m going to do until I see that piece because a lot of things are vintage. (Picks up a tiny telescope) This is from England and actually works. I had no idea these things even existed until I found them. Upon finding those materials, I thought, what can I do. I made something simple out of it. My kaleidoscope necklace is a few years old and I still wear it religiously. I love it. Other times, I draw things out. So it varies. A lot of trial and error, I’d say.

Do you have a favourite piece?

I tend to wear five pieces over and over again. The one I’m wearing is new for fall. This is me playing around with leather. It’s so simple, but I just love the texture. I’m all about texture and shape. This one I’ve been wearing everyday for two weeks now. And these bracelets I wear all the time. They’re great stacking bracelets. There’s a fringe necklace that I wear over and over again. It’s kind of messy to one side. Every season, I come up with my new favourites but sometimes I’ll wear things from years back like the kaleidoscope.

What’s your most popular piece?

Over the years, the kaleidoscope has been very popular. I do leaf drop earrings that are very popular. They’re a signature style.

How would you describe your typical client?

It varies all over the place. But I’d say usually somebody between 25 and 45, female. My mom always says I’ve got such nice customers. Every woman who buys my stuff is a nice woman. I couldn’t ask for better customers. They look great in the stuff.

My ideal woman is the woman who is comfortable in the spotlight but doesn’t need to be the centre of attention. So someone who can handle themselves well.

Would you say you design for your customers or for yourself?

I design for myself because it just so happens that what I wear sells the most and so I feel that somehow, my energy just translates into the business. I notice that when I’m not at the shows, my sales aren’t as strong because people, I feel, like to buy direct.

How would you define your sense of style?

I definitely like to say minimal, neutral with pops of colour. I definitely like basics, but not in the jogging pants basic sort of way. I guess on-trend, but I also have my personal classic style that’s not too girly. A bit rock n’ roll meets vintage meets minimal, if that makes any sense.

Any style icons whom you look up to?

Coco Chanel. I just love that she’s the first woman to make women feel that costume jewellery was worth something.

Where do you find your materials?

My materials come from many places. I get quite a bit of vintage material from Toronto and Montreal and New York and England. As far as the new materials go, Toronto and mostly New York.

Do you travel a lot to find your materials?

I definitely try to, especially when I’m feeling a lack of inspiration.

Is there a city you find especially stylish?

I love European style. I love London for style because anything goes there and there’s no cookie cutter way of dressing. Parisian style is very classy and beautiful. Very clean-cut compared to London. And New York is a bit of everything. And Toronto’s not so bad, actually. I feel that people are actually getting it together here.

In Toronto, where do you go for inspiration?

It sounds funny, but my group of friends are my inspiration because they’re an awesome group of girls and guys.  They all work in creative fields – design, graphics. Actually, one of my most stylish friends, she’s a scientist, but she’s the one who’s different from the bunch as far as her career path. We don’t hang out at those types of places that are like, let’s see and be seen. We like to sit in the park and go to hole-in-the-wall bars, just more laid back than the socialite circle.

You said you were in an inspiration rut. How do you think you’re going to get out of it?

Well you know what, having you here is great because I cleaned up. You should have seen this place. My studio has never been this clean for months. Literally half an hour ago, I was vacuuming.

This stuff here, that is my fall stuff, this was all scattered all over the place. I tend to spread out on the floor when I work because there’s too much going on on the table. So now, I think that will help me get out of a rut – to have everything in one place, to have a clean slate and a fresh area. I was feeling good about the whole cleaning up thing. Also, I don’t plan on taking trips anytime soon, so I guess I’ll have to hunt for more materials to add to this bunch as well.

How do you know when a piece is done?

Sometimes I don’t know and that’s why I test pieces out to see how I feel wearing them. So this leather necklace, I’ve been testing it out. It’s natural leather and I know natural leather darkens so I want to see how it looks when it has aged. And it’s starting to get darker, but I like that look.

I know a piece is done when I feel like I can wear it and feel proud to show my friends and people that ask about it. And sometimes, I know when it’s not done when I am embarrassed to say this is my finished piece (laughs). Even though in the studio I thought it was finished, I’ll be wearing it and I’ll be like, “I’m not sure about it.”

Does it happen often?

Yeah, for sure. Definitely.

Where did the name “Biko” come from?

It was my nickname when I was a kid. There was this baby food called Bibiko and somehow I was saying Biko and then my cousin started calling me Biko for 10 years and then it ended when I was a teenager. And then when I was coming up with a name, my cousin suggested, why not Biko? And it’s short and sweet. My last name is 12 letters long, first name is seven. So Biko is like four. It’s nice.

Where do hope to take all this?

I just started working with PR reps. They’ve been really good to me for getting me some exposure and with that, I hope to get more exposure in the U.S. I had a great hit on Refinery 29 last month and that just opened up the U.S. possibilities for me. I had so many online orders from the U.S. and I feel like that market is just so much bigger than Canada and obviously, international would be great as well. I plan to work with sales agents in the U.S., in New York and it looks like it will work out in the next half the year. So that’s my goal. Also, being more efficient. So growing the business, but efficiently.

 Refinery 29 is a great site. What post did they have of your stuff?

It was a great one. I actually started crying when I saw it. I was like, this is the best press I ever got. It was the top 5 new e-commerce stores to bookmark now and I was the second one. And they used an image of a necklace of mine in the main page.

That’s huge.

I know, I couldn’t believe it. The day they put it up, I noticed it mid-day. I think there were 8,000 hits on my site and the next day, there were 16,000 hits on my site in one day. The day after that, it went back to 8,000 and then back down to regular traffic.

If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?

I’m obsessed with lighting. I like to think I’d be a lighting designer. Before I started doing this, I thought I was going to be a graphic designer and I did an internship and I did not enjoy it at all. Even to be an artist of some sort, with lighting design. I actually went to art school for new media image arts which was at Ryerson which was 3D installations of art pieces. So I did do work with sensors and video and different things like that. It wouldn’t be that far off to think of doing the lighting installation.

Interview by Maria Cootauco

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