“Jewellery always comes first, outfit second,” laughs Cathrine Børter, founder and designer of Oslo-based Pearl Octopuss.y. This comes as no surprise, Børter is covered in fragments of bling. Talking over Zoom, she wears her now sell-out gold and detachable crystal hoop earrings, a gigantic crystal and pearl twisted brooch that looks like it's slowly climbing up the lapel of her blazer and two large freshwater pearls as cufflinks. It’s as if she’s emerged from an incredibly chic and fashionable rock pool.
“I love things that are versatile,” Børter says looking down at her large squiggly brooch, “and I've always wanted to be unique. It makes me happy when I wear something not everyone else has.” This is something that is easily achieved when wearing one of Børter’s designs. Each earring, brooch, necklace and bracelet is made by hand, either by Børter or at her atelier, with freshwater pearls and crystals sourced by Børter herself, meaning each piece is unique.
"SoME PeOpLE BuY New sHOES, I bUY BeADs"
Despite only launching in 2018, Børter has managed to create a cult status around her jewellery, thanks in part to her limited stock and pre-order system. Pearl Octopuss.y is only carried by a few retailers worldwide and there are waiting lists for certain pieces. When asked as to why she wouldn’t scale up quicker due to popularity, Børter is firm in her business trajectory: “ I feel like these products should not be everywhere, and they should not be oversold, I want each item to feel special.”
But when did this sparkling journey all begin? On maternity leave of course, seven years ago while working as a senior designer for a womenswear label. Feeling constricted and bored at home, Børter did what she does best: used her hands. “I missed my work and my job as a fashion designer, and jewellery seemed natural, and it didn't take as much time to create as, let’s say, a jacket. But I needed to feel the creation in my hands, so jewellery was just stumbled upon really, and after I started, I couldn't stop.”
"YoUR BrOoCH Is YOUr OUtFiT OvER YoUR SuIT, YoUR bROoCH Is YOuR MEssAGe"
The magic moment, however, was the discovery of aluminium wire, with which Børter became utterly obsessed. “I threaded some of the beads I had started using on the wire and I thought it was so cool. So, I started to make some shapes with it and it suddenly felt like the brand's DNA was coming together in front of me, it was a ‘this is what I've been looking for’ moment, a goosebumps situation – it all just fell into place.” The wire allowed Børter to bend, twist and mutate each piece around her own body or items of clothing, and she has been making necklaces, brooches and bracelets like this ever since.
If Børter’s magpie nature was not clear enough already, when speaking about sourcing her pearls and crystals, her eyes light up. “Some people buy new shoes, I buy beads,” she says with the utmost sincerity. Børter’s happiest moments are when she is sourcing crystals in Paris, filling up suitcases to bring home. “I can also scroll on Pinterest and Instagram and huge wholesale online shops for hours and hours, that's my hobby,” she says. “And then, when I find something that I like, I buy it, and I always buy in bulk.” This tactic proved to be highly sensible during the pandemic. While many jewellery brands suddenly received an influx of online orders, their suppliers struggled to keep up with the demand. Børter, however, was able to keep creating at almost the same capacity despite having only a small team.
For Børter, there are no boundaries when it comes to both her inspirations and styling jewellery. “Jewellery can be put on anything from a bag to a blazer’s cuff, the customer can wear it however they want,” she tells me. Jewellery can also be worn by anyone, for Børter believes her designs have a unisex appeal (although soon she will release a new menswear capsule collection) and many of her shining designs are actually inspired by menswear. “My tie necklaces, the looser ones, are a reference to men’s ties, but they’re of course done in a very feminine and dressed-up way. It then feels more casual than a normal necklace because of its loose feel.” Right now, Børter is in love with bolo ties and wallet chains. “My brooches remind me of old pocket watches too,” she says. “Masculine elements play a big part in my designs and it’s about making them massive enough. This is not ‘cute’ fine jewellery. Your brooch is your outfit over your suit, your brooch is your message.”
The age range of her customers is something that also delights and surprises Børter: “What I've seen in my customers is that my pieces can really be worn by anyone. Without generalising, it can be my mum who is 70 to young girls and party girls in their short dresses, or worn by a celebrity dressing up for the Oscars. It’s such a wide variety of clients… jewellery is so transformative, people wear it and they carry it in so many different ways, it just looks different sometimes on others, so much so that it doesn't even look like the same brand.”
Before we say goodbye, I have one last thing to ask: what of the relatively cheeky name? After all, it's not often someone writes ‘pussy’ into their branding. “That’s a funny story,” says Børter with a smile. Like the organic forms she creates, it also came about naturally. After posting a few of her earlier pearl designs on Instagram the name presented itself within a hashtag left by one commentator, #pearloctopussy. “People reacted to it,” explains Børter, “and after that, people just called the brand Pearl Octopuss.y without me saying anything. It started to live its own life, and by the time I was ready to leave my old job and commit full-time to jewellery, the brand was already set for me.” If only it was so easy for the rest of us.