Stephen Webster x Thames - an interview with Blondey McCoy
An Interview with Blondey McCoy
‘Growing up, I always thought jewellery was really beautiful. Then I thought it was really vulgar. Now I want it to be both’, says prodigious polymath Blondey McCoy of his debut Thames jewellery line with the iconic jeweller Stephen Webster. London is their town and Soho their stomping ground with the legendary Groucho member’s club—slap bang in the sleazy square mile—to thank for their joyous and jaunty jewellery collaboration, concocted late one night over an absinthe or three. ‘My dad introduced me to Stephen years ago,’ explains Blondey of the inspired hook up. ‘Then we were in the Groucho and things went from there…’. Stephen interjects, ‘Blondey told me about his brand Thames on a night out. It’s important to me that despite many years in the industry, that with the right collaboration, I’m still able to make a collection that feels completely relevant today.’ During their first work meeting it became obvious the dandy duo shared intergenerational links and influences, with the river Thames being a conduit between Blondey’s formative skateboarding years and Stephen’s Kent birthplace. But it is the bright lights of the city and the excess and glamour found therein which has served as home and inspiration to both creative juggernauts.
Stephen needs little introduction; he is the go-to goldsmith on speed dial to every celebrity, sport-star, supermodel and stadium filling rock’n’roller since his much-lauded inception on the design scene during the late 80s. The recently decorated MBE looks like the older brother of Captain Jack Sparrow and you can imagine them pirating and pillaging many a treasure chest in an attempt to find serpents, skulls, crossbones and crustaceans as inspirations for his fine jewellery ever since.
Blondey McCoy meanwhile is the modern-day man about town. His 20-year-old short history is already one of legend. Having skipped school aged 13 to become an internationally acclaimed skateboarder and poster boy for Supreme and Palace skateboards, Blondey has since graced many a style magazine cover, appeared in pop videos and modelled in fashion stories for Vogue. He is also creative director of his own clothing brand, Thames, and is a burgeoning artist, recently collaborating with another London landmark, Damien Hirst —an unexpected yet inspired meeting of creative London then and now.
Of Lebanese and British descent, Blondey’s Middle Eastern heritage looms large as an influence on his inimitable style. He reminisces about days visiting his family back home, where men wore lightweight casual clothing dictated by the scorching heat, but who embellished their person with ostentatious adornments, worn without bravado, pomp or circumstance. ‘I think of that side of my family as always glittering with lots of yellow gold,’ he explains. ‘My Grandfather wears two Cedar Tree rings on both hands, but it’s not about being a Del Boy geezer or an in your face hip hop star, in Lebanon it’s just really standard.’ He goes further, gesticulating to the sovereign style statement band decorating his wedding ring finger. ‘My first piece of jewellery was this Cedar Tree ring. My grandmother bought it for me when I turned 13 and I’ve collected and worn jewellery ever since.’ A direct reference to the Lebanese national flag, a Cedar Tree ring is often given as endowment to mark the transition from boy to man and has deep biblical prominence, with the Cedar Tree being a symbol for holiness, peace, protection and prosperity. The roots of the McCoy family tree run deep with his nana growing up as one of 12 children and his grandfather one of 7, their combined family jewellery box overflowed like Eldorado, the Lost City of Gold. His father meanwhile has a discreet sense of style, only wears a uniform of black and never, ever, wears jewellery. ‘My dad puts practicality and comfort before aesthetic and luxury, so, as his son, I tend to do the opposite.’
When asked of his first foray into fine jewellery, Stephen reveals a seemingly disparate link to Blondey in the form of George Michael. ‘The first piece of jewellery I wore was a gold cross earring,’ he laughs. ‘I would never have thought to introduce something worn by George or indeed a gold cross earring into the collection, but Blondey did and of course we have the Faith Earring.’ Taking the baton, Blondey elaborates. ‘I pierced my ear when I was a teenager, which was the simplest of “fuck yous” to the system…. My dad hit the roof, apparently for a Lebanese man, 20 huge gold rings is totally acceptable but an earring is out of the question.’ A direct reference to the iconic Faith record cover where the handsome George is photographed in profile, proudly wearing a dangling crucifix from his left lobe, the Faith Earring is 14ct yellow gold, set with a solitaire diamond. Even by today’s standards it is a bold menswear statement to make. But Blondey’s personal style has always pushed buttons and pricked attention. He often plays with stereotypes and flips clichés on their axes. ‘I bought this antique yellow citrine pinkie ring which I suppose is quite odd for a boy to wear; it’s like a nan’s ring. It’s French and from the 1820s. It’s so loud and I suppose a statement to skateboard in. The first thing I wanted to do with Stephen was recreate that.’ Stephen concurs, ‘We looked back at my archive and it became clear that drawing on my 40+ years’ experience as a jeweller, combined with Blondey’s vision, we could produce something really exciting.’ Ransacking Stephen’s illustrious archive, the boys were like brilliant burglars on a Hatton Garden heist, finding forgotten gems and many a diamond in the rough. They dusted off what once was forgotten and like Aladdin rubbing the Genie’s lamp, in their 15-piece collection, they truly made magic happen. ‘When I was a teenager, I was an apprentice to one of the oldest goldsmith companies in Hatton Garden: Saunders and Shepherd,’ Stephen recalls. ‘It was one of my jobs to make what seemed to be an endless supply of 9ct gold razor blades worn as pendants. Years later with my then boss Tony Shepherd, it became obvious he had no idea his company were at the time supplying upmarket hardware for recreational drug use! Of course, I knew the significance of the blades… so the Thames Razor Blades had to happen.’ The line features Razor Blade rings and pendants alongside Thames Link chunky chains as a nod to London and its Underground rail service, but we leave it to Stephen to discuss the mother fist, her five daughters and their marvellous spherical appendages. ‘My favourite piece is probably the T-Star Ring,’ confirms Stephen. ‘Many years ago, I made a ring featuring a custom star cut reverse intaglio citrine gem and engraved ROCK STAR around it. Stars like Ozzy and Morrissey bought them. The Thames T-Star is totally inspired by the Rock Star ring, but what I love is that it also draws on my skills as a jeweller as nothing about the gem or the ring are easy to make.’
Both parties are rightfully thrilled with the outcome, with the limited-edition range already receiving a waiting list. ‘My daughters have both ordered pieces from the collection and I’m so pleased that Blondey—in his own words—wants to wear every piece from the collection. It’s a collection for the young jewellery wearer, but everyone is welcome.’ So Blondey, if you had to choose one piece, which are you most proud of? ‘My favourite piece changes all the time, but right now it’s the For Love Nor Money ring, he confirms. For Love Nor Money sports a bad penny altered image of the British sterling and like when a gangster or sportsman flips a coin to settle a score, it has the rather marvellous option to spin when flicked. Blondey though, has other references. ‘Whenever I see it in motion, I hear the eerie intro to “Father Figure”. Shall we talk anymore about George Michael?’
Blondey wears a gold denture on his left incisor following a skate accident aged 15 when he face planted some concrete one freezing cold winter day and watched his tooth pop clean out, root and all, and bounce along in front of him. Often mistaken for hip hop or trap posturing, the gold tooth is worn purely for his unabashed love of the precious metal, taking him back again to familial reminiscing. ‘My bracelet was an 18th birthday present from my grandma. I love antique jewellery and I’ve worn it for years. Young people don’t buy designer jewellery because the designers don’t make it for them. I’ve always wanted to see “Thames” in gold and now thanks to Stephen’s expertise, I can.’
Interview by Ben Reardon