Down-to-earth is one of the best ways to describe Fiona Kotur Marin. Despite being the designer of some of the world's most sought after haute couture handbags and accessories, she is unassuming and easy going when we chat in the library at Upper House. It's that balanced and earthy attitude that Fiona wants to convey in her latest creative collaboration with Swarovski: unusually choosing to work with walnut, Wood Crystallised is a stunning coalition between wood and stone. Fiona tells us about the inspiration for the collection, working with Swarovski and some of her favourite Christmas traditions.
How did the collaboration with Swarovski come about?
I met Nadia Swarovski when I was in LA, visiting one of my showrooms. We were talking about another project, and she commented on a wooden bracelet I was wearing. We started talking about jewellery and bracelets and crystals, and the conversation flowed very organically from there. It's a huge honour to be part of the collaboration with these other designers and so interesting to see how each person has been inspired by the crystals.
Why did you choose to work with wood?
I like the way that it breathes, moves and grows, I love the warmth of wood, and I really liked the idea of combining that with hard, lucid crystals. I wanted to see how these two materials would interact. Walnut has a really beautiful grain and colour: it's got such a warm tone and it's hard which you need when you're working with it. I love the texture and depth, so once I'd chosen walnut the Swarovski team worked on finding it sustainably. We had discussed our priorities before, and it was really important to me and to them that we sourced this material responsibly.
What were the challenges of working with wood?
I've worked with wood before in my own collection of bags, so I know how tricky it can be. The biggest challenge is that wood moves. It expands and contracts with humidity. Part of its beauty is that it is natural and living and breathing, but then you also have the problem that it's not just an inanimate object — it has its own agenda sometimes. The whole collection started with the cuffs, and that big chunk of wood is not as easy to control as the smaller beads, either. We had to work within the parameters, anchor it with a metal lining, work on a way to set the stones. There were a lot of very technical aspects that I think you don't expect from wood.
How do you think the collection evokes a sense of nature?
Human touch is very important, and it makes you connect in a sensory way with whatever you are wearing. I think there is something very soothing about wood: it's not just about nature. Wood has a story, it lived, it has a history, and I think that connects you to everything. The crystals are also a part of that same story too; they're a very different element but it's still natural. It's like the lightning and the rain coming together. I like the idea of these two opposing elements combined coherently. We're all made up of these elements, and I think that connecting it all together is important.
Do you have a favourite piece in the collection?
I really do. I hate to choose among the kids but... I love the cuffs. I love seeing that much wood, it's very sculptural. I also think accessories — handbags, shoes, hats, jewellery — are a way to make a really strong personal statement. Look at Iris Apfel, she would load them up to her elbows. I personally wear a lot of cuffs, I think they are a great way to feel confident — they become like my worry beads, and I suppose that links back to nature because it does ground you. They're very calming.
Do you have any plans for the New Year?
Well, the Swarovski collection will be available from February, so we'll be focussing on that. Kotur will also be launching the World of Kotur as a separate website in January. We've always had newsletters, focusing on the inspiration behind collections or the women we find inspiring. The first is actually Nadia Swarovski: she'll be our January focus on the new dedicated site.
What are some of your family Christmas traditions?
We always wear funny hats on Christmas day: I've been doing it since I was a child. My mother used to make the hats, these huge, elaborate ones that you'd expect to find backstage at the opera. I'm not sure what they'll look like this year, though, we're holidaying in warmer climates. When I was younger, we were always allowed to open one present on Christmas eve. I'm sure my parents only did it so we wouldn't be up at 5 a.m . on Christmas morning. It's a tradition we've carried on, I do it for my kids now: they love it. They have to figure it out, weigh it up, decide which to open. It's all the anticipation of Christmas.
What are your favourite things to do in Hong Kong at Christmas?
We always ride on the Star Ferry, back and forth across the harbour, to see the lights. One of our favourite events is the tree lighting at The Country Club, we always love to see that. My youngest children are still in primary, so I also really enjoy seeing the programme there and the concert they put on every year.
How has Christmas changed since you got married and had kids?
The most important thing is being with family, so in a way, nothing has changed at all. I moved to Hong Kong when my eldest children were very young, so the most obvious difference is that every Christmas that I can remember as a family with my children, we've been travelling — someone is always on a plane, whether it's us flying out to meet family, or them flying to meet us. So our Christmases are all very different now: none of them look the same, but we are still celebrating with the same people. We'll be in Florida this year, getting a lot of sunshine.
Can you tell us any funny Christmas stories.?
Before I was married, my Christmases were pretty much the same every year. We had this big traditional house in the country, a red brick tavern up in Massachusetts, and we'd be there in the snow every year. I do remember, though, one year we drove through snow blizzards to get there only to discover that we'd left everything sitting in the hallway in the house in the city. My poor dad had to drive the three hours back south to collect everything. He made it back in the end, and we had a great Christmas together, but that was pretty memorable.