His roots lie both in France, the land of Haute Couture, and also in Africa, the continent of tradition. Joining forces with bush women from South Africa, the inernationally lauded designer, Mickael Kra, has created a fascinating jewelry collection, uniting both influences.

kalahari pearls

Ensemble, dog collar “Half-Moon” with Baoule weights in gold with champagne glass beads. Matching flowing necklace and bracelet. 1998. Model: Domi. Make-up; Nadine O. Boucher. Hair: Mickael Kra

On August 1, 2005, the Namibian ambassador proudly announced: “The top Paris-based designer Mickael Kra has teamed up with bush women from the Kalahari deser to turn the ancient art of making jewelry from ostrich eggs into haute couture fit for the world’s best-dressed women.” Indeed, there was a project behind this not entirely everyday report, launched by the Evangelische Entwicklungsdienst e.V. (EED), an aid service funded by the protestant churches in Germany. Each year, the EED initiates and supports around 300 projects and programs in Africa, Asia and Latin America, in Oceania, Southeast Europe and in the Caucasus. The French-African top designer Michael Kra was also asked for help in this context. He did not hesitate for a minute, and so it came about that one of the most renowned jewelry creators produced the ‘Pearls of the Kalahari’ in cooperation with San women from Botswana and Namibia. Kra’s brilliant inspirations and the traditional crafts skills of the San are united fabulously in the opulent jewelry with thnic gems. Kra’s jewelry is based on the traditional designs of the San, or Bushmen communities, who have lived for thousands of years as hunter-gatherers in southern Africa’s and Kalahari. A small group of specially trained San women make the necklaces, bracelets and belts by hand from material either found in the bush like ostrich eggs, leather, animal hair and porcupine spikes or made locally, like glass or clay beads.

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Tiara and necklace of glass tortoise-shell beads and multicolored semi-precious stones. Christophe Lepetit has captured its beauty at the famous fashion show in the residence of the Sultan of Agadez (Niger), Pre-FIMA, 1998. Model: Khadija Sy

Some feature complex bead work while others are made entirely of pale scraps of ostrich eggs. All pieces are wound around the neck, waist or wrist to avoid fasteners. The following fact is proof that the production of the ‘Pearls of the Kalahari’ jewelry represents an excellent example of global cooperation: whereas the Haute Couture versions of the collection were received with resounding applause on the catwalks in Paris and Africa, revenue from the préta-porter lines will be donated to the San communities themselves.

Necklace ensemble of tubular glass beads in different shades of blue inspired by the Masai tribe of Kenya. Mickael Kra, spring/summer collection 1998/99. Model: Mariama (Miss Niger 1996). Make-up: Nadine O. Bouchet

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Bracelet sauvage, terra cotta beads and beads made of facetted crystals. 1994

The artist’s monograph

The recently published title ‘Jewellery between Paris Glamour and African Tradition’ presents the work by Mickael Kra. The designer, who was born in France and grew up on the Ivory Coast, is numbered among the most influential, international jewelry creators. And this is true, even if the 46-year-old is not a qualified jewelry designer, but instead studied architecture and interior design. Following an eye-catching launch in New York, he broke into the Parisian fashion scene at the start of the nineties. He soon advanced to become an in-demand designer for famous fashion creators with his collections and Africa-inspired themes. Renowned authors guide the reader expertly through his oeuvre and paint a picture of a jewelry designer who understands like no other to contrast the sensual qualities of his broad range of materials with the beauty of human skin – an overview of unusual creations full of luxury, an exotic touch and erotic flair from the last two decades. Within this context, the likeable designers last project forms only a small, but no less important, part of the book.

Head jewelry of ostrich eggshell beads mounted on waxed leather. Photo-graphed at the Pablo Picasso studio, Paris 2005. Model: Princess Esther Kamatari. Styling: Mickael Kra

Three questions for Mickael Kra, son of an Ivorian father and a French mother:

Art + Design: How did the cooperation with the San bush women come about?

Mickael Kra: I was hired as a consultant to find solutions for the traditional African craft I conducted the first workshop with the craftswomen in Ghanzi (Botswana). And I can only say: it really changed my life! These women bring life to my design!

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Mickael Kra: I was hired as a consultant to find solutions for the traditional African craft I conducted the first workshop with the craftswomen in Ghanzi (Botswana). And I can only say: it really changed my life! These women bring life to my design!

Mickael Kra wearing a necklace made from semi-precious stones (white agate, yellow jade and carnelian) with leather lanyard and copper and ostrich eggshell beads. 2006

Art + Design: You have designed jewelry for international fashion creators such as Louis Feraud, Pierre Balmain or Rene Mancini. In what way is the work with the African women different to your other work?

Mickael Kra: It is quite simply fantastic to see how incredibly motivated the people are there. Drawing on materials they find in their environment and with techniques they grew up with, they produce the most beautiful jewelry in conditions that truly are not easy. We have joined forces in an attempt to preserve the jewelry traditions of the Kalahari region. Additionally, my position gives me the opportunity to promote the culture and tradition of the continent on the show stages of this world.

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Mickael Kra: It is quite simply fantastic to see how incredibly motivated the people are there. Drawing on materials they find in their environment and with techniques they grew up with, they produce the most beautiful jewelry in conditions that truly are not easy. We have joined forces in an attempt to preserve the jewelry traditions of the Kalahari region. Additionally, my position gives me the opportunity to promote the culture and tradition of the continent on the show stages of this world.

Mickael Kra

Art + Design: What are you working on yourself at the moment and what plans do you have for the near future?

 

Mickael Kra: At the moment, I am working a lot with materials such as clay beads and rose quartz – this creates jewelry in dreamlike red, rose and brown combinations. I am also planning to open my own production studio in the Senegalese capital of Dakar. As I said: the people there are so much more motivated in their work than European craftsmen. I am certain that everyone will benefit from this.

Eric Enyenque (“The Muse”) wearing a haute couture loincloth of glass, crystal and metallic beads. With a lasso bracelet of gold filigree and a Tuareg hammer pendant. 1998. Model: Eric Enyenque

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“Zulu Fashion”. A series of scarf necklaces of multicolour glass beads. Niamey (Niger), 2003. Model: Anthea

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