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In conversation with Mia Vilcins, winner of Pewter Live’s 2022 Student Competition

  • Written byJ Igiri
  • Published date 06 July 2022
Mia Vilcins | For the Caged Bird Sings of Freedom | Pewter Live 2022

Mia Vilcins, second year BA (Hons) Fashion Jewellery student at London College of Fashion, won First Prize at Pewter Live – an annual competition that is organised by the Worshipful Company of Pewterers.

Mia's work often has a storytelling aspect, a connection to nature, and takes inspiration from history. She creates in a variety of materials including silver, recycled plastics, and most recently pewter. Mia’s winning entry is on show at the Victoria and Albert Museum, situated in the Whitley Silver Galleries until 31 July.

headshot photo of Mia Vilcins
Mia Vilcins | Pewter Live 2022
I like to consider the wearer’s experience of wearing the piece, how they can interact with the jewellery.

Congratulations on winning First Prize in the Student category of Pewter Live! Can you describe your entries and the themes behind your design choices?

Thank you very much!

The theme set this year for Pewter Live was Freedom. The designs needed to use Pewter as their main material, a silver-coloured metal alloy with a relatively low melting point, which works well for a casting technique.

I had two entries finalised in the competition.

Entry One – Free Willy

Mia Vilcins | Free Willy | Pewter Live 2022

The first, 'Free Willy' bracelet is inspired by the 1993 movie ‘Free Willy’, where an Orca Whale in captivity is freed with the help of young boy.

The piece invites you to play with it, as the whale moves around the bangle. A hit of fun nostalgia of a childhood film, but one also with a deeper message of freedom for animals.

Entry Two – For the Caged Bird Sings of Freedom

Mia Vilcins | For the Caged Bird Sings of Freedom | Pewter Live 2022

For the second piece I chose to design something meaningful, elegant, commercial, and interchangeable. 'For the Caged Bird Sings of Freedom' earrings are inspired by the writing of Maya Angelou. The wearer can choose to keep the bird caged or set it free, depending on how they feel on their own journey from oppression to freedom, with changeable elements of a bird, cage, and wings in flight.

Mia Vilcins | For the Caged Bird Sings of Freedom | Pewter Live 2022

It was this design that pleased the competition judges and awarded me first place student for Pewter Live 2022.

What were your sources of inspiration?

With the 'Free Willy' bracelet, I wanted to create a jewellery piece that recalls when we first become aware of the plight of animals in captivity, and how we humans affect the planet for all living things.

Mia Vilcins | Free Willy | Pewter Live 2022

My childhood copy of the film on VHS was my muse, with the video case becoming a bespoke box for the jewellery.

'For the Caged Bird Sings of Freedom' earrings are inspired by the writing of Maya Angelou, as a person who used all of her hardships to create something powerful and beautiful in her writing and her activism.

Mia Vilcins | For the Caged Bird Sings of Freedom | Pewter Live 2022

The idea of hope for the future is a key message that I felt from her work. I transferred this into a wearable item that can be adapted for how the wearer feels.

What does this prize mean to you, and why is it an important achievement?

I'm a mature student, and I had to pluck up the courage to come back to education, fearing maybe I was too late in life to become a successful jewellery designer. Winning in this competition has shown me it was the right choice...

...it is never too late to learn and develop your skills, and make a design impact.

My earrings and other pieces from the competition are now on display at the V&A Museum as part of a display celebrating Pewter. To be chosen for this opportunity in an institution that is looked to across the world as a source of design and decorative arts is living a dream, I never thought would be a reality. I feel acknowledged for my creativity and hard work.

What are some of your values as a jewellery designer?
Designing adornment that people connect with is key for me, to tell a story people can relate to, resulting in pieces that they will want to hold on to, a tonic to 'fast fashion' and throwaway items.

Materials are important, both in how they feel in connection to the body – being tangible items you want to touch, and also progressing my use of sustainable materials and production methods.

I'm fascinated by history, and many of my creations reflect on the past, as I feel that tells us who we are as people and can inform what we do next.

In what ways has this experience impacted your creative journey?

It has made more open to try new materials and techniques, taking me out of my comfort zone, as I worked with Pewter only for the first time this year.

I used various workshops to create this piece, including 3D printing the whale part in the Digital Learning Lab, laser cutting masters and creating moulds at Golden Lane campus, and casting the pewter at Mare Street campus. It was a lot of trial and error (and support from my kind technicians and lecturers!) but I now have experience in many ways of working.

It has also given me some confidence in what I create, so I may be braver in my future designs, not being scared and limiting myself.

How does social responsibility factor into your work?

In creating pieces that have longevity, so that we can minimise waste. In working in ways that are less harmful, like reuse of materials. In drawing attention to issues that need focus, like endangered creatures. In crediting our inspirations, acknowledging the creatives that did the groundwork that sparked our new ideas. And in looking at fashion design as for more than just the elite few, how we can engage with more of society with design.

My most recent project has been to design virtual jewellery that can be worn in an Instagram filter, raising awareness of the plight of bees and their loss of habitat.

Mia Vilcins | Pewter Live 2022

Some great aspects of pewter are that it can be easily melted back down to create something new, plus it has a lower price point than materials like silver, so is more accessible.

I'd encourage students to enter Pewter Live 2023!