Pronounced "ee-you", the Copenhagen-based jewelry label IUO, composed of painter Trine Struwe and sculptor Julie Falk, offers a refreshing take on modern jewelry through its playful selection of minimal, sculptural earrings.
In the wake of their first major sale to British fashion boutique Browns, the duo sat down to discuss the origin of the brand, IUO’s aesthetic philosophy, and tip us to their favorite coffee shop in Copenhagen.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Tell me a little about your backgrounds.
(Julie) Me and Trine are both artists. I work mainly with sculpture and Trine works with painting and photography. We met each other in Sweden at Malmö Art Academy, which we both attended, and where we studied our Bachelor of Arts. We were actually in different years but a professor set us up because he believed we had a lot of things in common. And... he was right! (laughter). So it was a match, in a way.
(Trine) And then we’ve done exhibitions together; we both do fine art. After we finished the B.A. program, we shared a studio in Copenhagen.
IUO earrings on beach towel (Credit: Jenny Sundby)
Did you start working on the brand right away at the studio? How did that come about?
(Trine) It was more like, this fun, kind of “side project” we wanted to do.
(Julie) Yeah basically, we made them for ourselves in the beginning and then things just started to move.
(Trine) We wore them ourselves, and then our friends started wearing them; we put them on Instagram, and then this shop ordered 200 pairs and then it just... took off. It was kind of, by chance almost.
I saw that you got featured on Vogue last Winter. How did that happen?
(Julie) One day we got an email from Brooke, a journalist at Vogue.
(Trine) I think it was around Spring?
(Julie) At that time, we were starting to collaborate with different stores in Copenhagen. It was around the same time as the Copenhagen Fashion Week so I guess there was a lot of attention on the city and new things happening.
(Trine) From there, it kind of just started moving on its own.
(Julie) It was growing very organically, almost by itself.
(Trine) Which was really nice, because both me and Julie, we’re artists so we’re not like… we don’t really know how to sell things I guess. It’s not our main interest.
What’s behind the name?
(Julie) We wanted to create something that was based on the earrings themselves. So, the name is based off of the shapes of the material we use: you can see a lot of them reflected in the word, and the word is reflected in the earrings, shape-wise.
You mean the letters that make up the words?
(Julie) Yes, exactly.
(Trine) Not like we’re trying to spell the letters of the alphabet (laughter); they are formal elements of the design.
What was the first piece you created?
(Julie) I remember this Autumn, we were wearing the Jade earring, the Lemon Jade, right?
(Trine) Yeah, we have a style that has a sort of small, bright yellow stone at the bottom.
What’s the philosophy behind the brand?
(Trine) I don’t know if we have a philosophy per say but I work with painting, mainly, and Julie works with sculpture, and we’re interested in merging the sensibilities that we have towards texture, color and form. Does that make sense?
You make pretty heavy use of leaves, shells and other natural materials as part of your visuals, can you comment on that aesthetic direction?
(Julie) It reflects also what Trine has said, I guess: we are generally very interested in the interplay between materials, textures and shapes.
Neptune Quadrate by IUO (Credit: Rosalina Kruse Serup)
Do you think that aesthetic is characteristic of Danish or Nordic design, or is that just your own touch?
(Trine) I think maybe there is something about, in Scandinavian and Nordic design, that you look at the material and then work with the properties that this specific material has.
(Julie) Yes: there is a big belief in inherent qualities of a material which I guess is very much a common thing in Scandinavian design.
So you work from the bottom up in a way: you see the material and then you see what you can do with it.
(Both) Yeah, exactly.
(Julie) That’s also why we use gem stones, because they have a lot of interesting qualities to them, in that sense.
Are you speaking strictly aesthetically, or do you mean even beyond that, maybe in a spiritual sense?
(Trine) I think it’s definitely a part of working with gemstones, that there are these specific beliefs surrounding the qualities of the material.
(Julie) The stones have their own stories. It’s very interesting.
(Trine) We like to play around these narratives, around the spiritual.
Model wearing Sky Jade (by WoodWood)
What would you say drives your creativity?
(Trine) Maybe the collaboration part? You spend so much time alone in your own studio —at least for me in my Fine Arts practice— that it’s a nice break to have to work closely with someone else.
(Julie) Yes, I think there is a big drive in working this way and it is very intuitive now because we’ve been working a lot together, so we also believe in each other’s aesthetic completely. I’d really like to expand that and see how far it can go.
(Trine) Also, we really want to collaborate with people. A big part of starting IUO was collaborating with our friends who are photographers or graphic designers: our friends modelled it in the beginning, and we have a friend who studied to become a photographer, so he took the photos.
Everybody brings their own energy to the process.
(Julie) Exactly. There is a very beautiful specific energy. And the collaboration itself can be a source of energy.
(Trine) It is very rewarding to let other people in and have them add whatever energy they want into it.
(Julie) And it makes the process very... fluent, in a way.
Would you say that you complete each other?
(Julie) I would say that we are very much in sync.
(Trine) Yes, I think we are quite aligned.
But do you always agree with each other? How do you blend both of your aesthetics?
(Trine) I think in the end we always kind of agree.
(Julie) But it’s also nice to discuss around, and try to understand each other’s idea. We will often have an interesting conversation, what we like to call “IUO discourse” (laughter).
(Trine) Also aesthetics is something that’s quite difficult to create a language around. Or argue.
I would think it's probably a good process: it strengthens your aesthetic in a way to have to argue it with someone else.
...Because you have to almost justify it to yourself: “Why do I like this?”
(Julie) Exactly. So that’s also why we are getting better and better, right? (laughter)
And today we were speaking of the acetate and gemstones all day so… (laughter)
Why did you become artists?
(Trine) Maybe it’s a way to kind of combine critical thinking and... also work materially and physically, with your body? I’m not sure.
(Julie) I think it’s also the possibility of working in a field where you are not constrained by political ideologies and religious doctrines. Rather you are able to meditate on what it means to be present in a world that doesn’t create or offer solutions. It’s like an alternative map for me.
Who are some of the people you most admire?
(Julie) I would create a cyborg, with different people’s qualities. Making something almost supernatural. Because people have different qualities. I mean, that’s also what me and Trine are trying to do I guess. The whole thing about working together in that way: you really can add something to each other’s work.
What would you like to do that you currently can’t?
(Julie) Play the harp. (Laughter)
IUO Pink Marbled Anchor earrings with seashells
Favorite place to go to brunch or coffee in Copenhagen?
(Julie) One of our best friends is making very good coffee at a cafe where we actually went this morning. "Mas-jule". He makes the best espresso in town.
(Trine) He’s an artist too! (laughter)
How do you spell that?
(Julie) M as in Moon, A as in Ape, D as in Dance, S as in Sun. New word. J as in Jewellery, U as in U… Urine, E as in Elephant, L as in Leo... Leopard (laughter). Mads Juel!
Do you ever plan on expanding beyond jewellery or is that your primary focus?
(Julie) It’s our primary focus. Right now besides earrings, we are looking a bit into necklaces (laughter). But it’s open. I mean, we like to work limitless, I guess.
(Trine) We just want to see where it goes. It already took us quite far, in a little over a year!
What does the future look like for IUO?
(Trine) It’s bright and shiny.
(Julie) And it’s very exciting.
IUO's latest collection is available on Browns Fashion and via Mkt.