Posted by Amaranth
Interview with Alchemy Gothic’s Geoff Kayson
Alchemy are one of those brands synonymous with the alternative scene, the lavishly intricate designs and dark themes have long been seen adorning Goths all over the world. What I like most about Alchemy is that they manage to take the hackneyed clichés and make them once again desirable. I have always loved bats and spiders, coffin shapes and crosses, but in the wrong hands, worn the wrong way – it can sometimes look more like a cheap costume than an exquisite extension of yourself. Alchemy seem to understand this perfectly.
Perhaps the understanding comes from the fact that the company’s roots very much stem from the alternative world. It’s one of those rare brands that aren’t made in China, which aren’t assembly-line produced by some faceless businessman with eyes set solely on the bottom line. It’s nice to know you are buying from a company whose heart is in the same place as yours.
As Geoff Kayson, Designer, Managing and Licensing Director, explains, “born and bred in England, Alchemy is of the alternative culture and has always appreciated its fans, for whom it effectively works, and has continually developed its designs partly in association with them, listening to their comments and aspirations at ground level everywhere, such as festivals and other specialist events all around the world.”
I managed to prize a few moments from this wonderfully talented man behind Alchemy to hear about how it all came about and where it is going.
Q: You actually started out as Alchemy Metal Wear, could you tell me about your beginnings and the metamorphosis into Alchemy Gothic as we know it today?
A: Alchemy’s origins actually go back to around 1972, when I was making historical scale models of soldiers, etc, for display, and then taught myself the making of cast metal wargaming miniatures. The next phase developed about 1977 when, as a punk, I used my experience to make POKER – ‘worthless punk jewellery’ – from cast scrap lead. By around ’79, we had started to grow and had a customer base. We re-branded and developed ‘Alchemy Metal-Wear’, a collection of skull and dragon rings, rune-sword and axe pendants, contemporary with the emerging metal and fantasy role-playing scenes.
As time went on, Alchemy’s popularity grew and the designs tended to develop more along the darker, goth lines and began to include ‘jewellery’ like elements such as crystals. Some little time later we acknowledged the difference and the need to re-identify the range as such, and ‘Alchemy Gothic’ became established.
Q. With your beginnings in metal and gothic jewellery, Alchemy now also produce a range of giftware, lifestyle decor and apparel. Are there any other irons in the fire?
A: To this day the POKER range lives-on, but now as a collection of licensed rock merchandise made substantially as official tour merch, but also distributed internationally for retail. In addition to the highly successful, more contemporary range of UL13 ‘rock & tattoo’ lifestyle jewellery, Alchemy also makes several other small, diverse collections of fashion jewellery in different styles, including for other companies and brands, but is also a designer and producer of prestige awards, premiums and incentives for many clients around the world. For example, Alchemy Studios makes the awards for the Golden Gods and the Classic Rock, annual, London music presentations, as well as the prestigious Cosmopolitan magazine awards.
Q. The Alchemist has been known by many names; Ezekiel Empire Rosenstein, Christian de la Mort, Cardinal Chiaroscuro de Rosa, Count Albrecht Magistus, Sir Mortimer Windsor, Alexander Farthing and Dr Quintus Thorn. Who is The Alchemist and what of his many guises?
A:Amzer is the ubiquitous anti-hero’s name from the origin, though he is best known as The Alchemist, his most renowned incarnation during the 13th to 16th centuries. Amzer, (a corruption of the Hebrew word for ‘bastard’), so named by Yaweh, ‘The Creator’ in a Gnostic apocryphal gospel, and immortalised to perform the role of undercover guardian of the Sangraal throughout time, (‘The Fifth Way’), by adopting pivotally influential persona during his journey through history.
Q: I understand Alchemy Empire evolved out of a special collection of ‘laboratory’ pieces within the 1996 Alchemy Gothic range, all inspired by the infamously, groundbreaking Frankenstein-era and the now legendary, unsung hero, Dr. Maximilion Dedrich von Rosenstein, (seen on the cover of the 1996 catalogue). Could you tell me about these?
A: Yes, Alchemy Empire is a strain of the AG collection, started in ‘96 with the advent of Dr. von Rosenstein and his ‘Art of Science’ philosophy, depicting some of his wondrous 18th century instruments. These included such scientific marvels as the ‘Alchestiallary Sphere’ and ‘Induction Matrix Sextant’ pendants, the ‘Induction Principle’ buckle and its complementary device, the ever popular ‘Dr. von Rosenstein’s Induction Principle Ring’. The Empire genre is growing and is currently championed by Dr. von’s chronological successor, the 19th century Ezekiel Empire Rosenstein, and now seems broadly to appeal to the ‘steampunk’ sector of alternative culture and has recently justified its expansion into its own dedicated catalogue.
Q: I have noticed that the steampunk range has begun to become a more prominent feature in your inventory. Is this not jumping the bandwagon and following a trend rather than remaining true to your roots?
A:For us, the ‘steampunk’ movement has more recently emerged out of the same principles that have existed in Alchemy’s creativity and thinking for many years. Quite naturally, and unashamedly, Alchemy has ‘enjoyed’ this popular revival of the theme, responded with enthusiasm to the many requests to expand on our earlier ‘inventions’ and has imaginatively developed this collection with more, similarly inspired, unique ideas and elements.
Although we have also added inspired new blood into the team, Alchemy’s backbone of designers are broadly the same now as in the beginning. While we have all grown and developed over time and continued to reinvent and explore new approaches, our core principles are the same. If your definition of “remaining true” is that we should fossilise and still just be making the same basic runesword, skull and pentagram pendants, I think the criticism would have been directed from the other end of the barrel, (if indeed we had survived!), and that we were sterile and a spent force.
Q: Speaking of fashions, I noticed you created a “dark engagement” ring strikingly similar to Princess Diana’s which was recently passed on to Kate Middleton. What was your thinking behind following a fashion piece made famous by mainstream celebrity culture? How do you feel this culture is similar/differs to alternative culture?
A: Parody! A delicious piece of alternative, and hopefully not too distasteful, ironic fun; the point being that there is no similarity between the two cultures.
Q: Many of your pieces hint at an arcane and esoteric knowledge. Is this purely for show or is there a deeper understanding by those who create and name the items? Are they meant to be more than merely decoration?
A:There is, it is true, a great deal of research and understanding, as well as style and aesthetics going into the majority of Alchemy’s product designs. However, the appreciation of this is in the eye of the beholder. Each piece can be as meaningful, (and effective), as the owner wishes, in the same way that a plain crucifix to one person is their symbol of a lifetime devotion, and to another is nothing more than a fashion statement.
Q: You have a huge back catalogue of discontinued items. What causes you to discontinue an item and if someone was looking to buy one where could they get it? (I for one had to scour the internet to find a dealer who still had stock of the Muroni pendant when it went out of production)
A: There is, and always will be an inherent desire for the new. We are creative people. Add to that that Alchemy is a going concern who’s life blood is, of course, commerce, (along with all of its trade customers worldwide), and the inevitable consequence is that we will continue to design and create new ideas and products to supersede the previous. Creativity is progressive and older (and less popular) ideas and pieces will naturally make way for new and more successful ones, as in ‘natural selection’. Sometimes this can be sad or frustrating, when any of us see our favourite pieces being dropped to make way, but we cannot stand in the way of progress, even when it is ‘alternative’. We, (Alchemy Studios), do now, however, offer a service whereby practically any obsolete piece can be privately commissioned to be made in silver or other precious metal: Alchemy custom shop – TheAlchemyStudios.com.
Q: What would you say is your favourite piece and why?
A: After hundreds and hundreds of pieces over the years, this is an almost impossible question to answer. I would probably choose the B65, ‘Lamentian Skull’ buckle, because of its mournful simplicity and understaded’ness, and then the R151 ‘Dibnah’s Venesective Blast Pipe Ring’, for exactly the opposite reasons.
Q: Is there anything new in store for us lovers of Alchemy in the near future?
A:There will always be something new coming around the corner from Alchemy. Amongst other things, and without giving too much away in advance, the AG collection that we are working on now for later in the year will include the showcasing of a brand new concept in hybridisation, and should appeal to all deviant vintage lovers. There is more UL13 and UL17 – (girls only), on the way, and we are also planning the launch of a new collection of rock-scene jewellery for all committed festival-goers.
The New Alchemy Catalogue is out now!
Published in Devolution