Building Block

Building Block

Mari Ouchi

Photography by Elizabeth Herring

Mari Ouchi is one half of FAUX/Real, a jewelry design duo she started with Louis DiCicco while living in New York. Today, they continue to collaborate but are separated by the Atlantic; Mari now lives in Berlin.

But the distance hasn't dulled any sense of creative drive. For a decade, Mari and Louis have been bending the possibilities of material and function to create elegant and often plainly funny accessories. As fans and collaborators, we are continuously inspired by Mari's curious and humorous drive behind her design process.

From her studio in Berlin, Mari talks about how an ordinary conversation can inspire the story behind a collection of jewelry and why her favorite place, mentally and physically, is to be alone in the kitchen.

We have been such fans of your work since the start of Faux/Real in 2009! The materials you use in your jewelry are often unexpected such as rubber + marble and sometimes mixed with more traditional elements like pearls or glass beads. For you, what comes first—material or form? And how do you navigate from one to the other?

We use our jewelry/objects to tell a story. So mixing different materials is a very important element in our creative process to make a contrast within the piece which then helps to build a story we want to tell. For example Concrete/Rubber, Metal/Fabric are the main contrasts we often use because we love the contrast of Soft/Hard, Light/Heavy..then that will lead to Man/Woman, Night/Day, Happy/Sad...

As half of the design duo behind Faux/Real, what advice do you have for anyone embarking on a creative collaboration?

I think the most important thing is having an honest conversation, clear communication between the two. You need to trust each other to collaborate. To trust somebody you need to understand the person very well!

Your design references are often broad and humorous, with funky collections with titles like “I got my BA in home economics” and our personal favorite, “The Bathroom Paranoia”. Where do you find your inspiration during the design process?

A collection theme is often inspired from daily conversation between ourselves, friends, family. Some feeling in the air in our daily lives…we don't want to create a fantasy which nobody can relate to. We love to take an idea in which everybody can relate to, but with a little bit of a twist and humor added to create a surprising story. Like "The Bathroom Paranoia" was a great example. Everybody knows what a bathroom is and what you do there (lol) and don't need a jewelry brand to remind you of what one is! But at the same time the idea of privacy or secrecy in a small space is fascinating for us. Some feel "safe"—you can escape from something and you can be alone and relax. Some feel fear—somebody is watching you at the corner of the bathroom or when you are washing your hair in the shower somebody attacks you from behind...We wanted to reflect these feelings into our collection. Each of our pieces tell an element of the story so when you look at them one by one you will understand where the idea comes from.

How has your role as a mother impacted your artistic practice?

Being a mother is the greatest achievement I have had in my life. Of course I can't drop all of my responsibilities and create on a full-time schedule, which I used to do before. And I miss the endless studio time or reading/researching all night long. But limitations have made me focus more and have sharper, clearer ideas instead of having a million thoughts and ideas floating around in my head. Also, my daughter gives me so much joy that I never experienced. That feeling of joy is something very inspirational. So pure and warm. She is curious about everything, asking a million questions a day. She makes me learn more things in the world and be more curious. She questions things that I thought I knew. She has totally opened up my eyes!

You’re originally from Japan, and now live in Berlin after spending some time in New York. What’s the biggest difference between living in the US or Europe versus Japan?

Living between 3 different continents makes you think a lot about yourself—where I came from, who I am. I grew up in Japan where everybody is the same or needs to be the same, physically, mentally. We were not allowed to express our feelings or stand out in the crowd. It is all about team work and peaceful harmony. Then all of a sudden I needed to fit myself in the opposite world—New York. I learned a lot about how to express myself, how to be unique in order to stand out, how to attract curiosity from people. It was culturally shocking. From being the majority to the minority, I really needed to go through a lot to find my own identity and place in a big chaotic city like New York. Then moving to Berlin I felt a bit like going back to Japan…no...more like in the middle. In Europe I feel like people are more subtle when it comes to self-expression, I mean of course people express themselves openly, strongly, especially Germans, they are quite direct when it comes to their opinion. But they have less "show-off" attire when socializing compared to the New York scene. Nobody talks about their work or asks what I do right after you met somebody for the first time!!!!

Favorite place to occupy alone, by yourself?

The kitchen! I love being by myself in a quiet peaceful kitchen. Cooking is my meditation and I feel so relaxed and happy when I'm cooking in a kitchen by myself. Often a glass of wine in my hand, listening to my favorite songs. Or reading books while waiting for food to be cooked. Of course I love a kitchen hangout with friends and family, often my dinner parties end up there. But after the fun and chaos, even more so, being alone in the kitchen makes me feel so good.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Don't be scared. Just do it.

What's your favorite thing about being your age right now?

Not thinking about my age.

Mari owns a Short Basket in Vegetable Tanned leather.
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