‘Beautiful, modern and versatile’ are not words you would normally associate with cowboys. But the bolo ties, handmade by Sydney-based Kate Caicedo of Smith & Poet, give dusty Western fashion a rebellious, androgynous modern edge.
Kate Caicedo is the metalsmith and creator behind the Sydney-based brand Smith & Poet. She made the decision, whilst road-tripping through Monument Valley in the US, to base her new metalsmithing business around redesigning the classic, skinny, skinny neckties traditionally sported by badass cowboys.
Bolo ties, as they are also known, might seem an unusual choice for a young Australian designer to launch a business, but for Kate, they presented the perfect opportunity to challenge both the genre and her skills.
As a child of an engraver, Kate grew up around engraving tools, shellac, ring sizers, and rolling mills. But it was while soaking up the ancient metalsmithing techniques and craftsmanship on travels through the American southwest, Mexico, Colombia and Egypt that her own passion was forged. When she returned from her travels with husband, child and silversmithing courses from London and Mallorca in tow, she realised she had to back herself and birth her creative idea. “You get to a point where you realise that no one's going to actually ask ‘Would you like me to give you three hours a day for you to do this?’”
“I really enjoy the process of trying to translate the creativity of a person into a piece that will be as unique as they are”
She was drawn to the bolo ties for a few reasons. “They have always been a Western cowboy thing, and I like that sense of adventure [that they represent]. I also love the desert — there's almost nothing there, but if you look closely there are so many things going on. I wanted to have that effect on people; I want them to look at the bolo ties and go, ‘That's really strange, I've never seen that before.’, and then look a bit closer. I want them to come with me and let's just play.”
Focusing on the bolo ties, for now, allows Kate both the safety and freedom to explore the form. “You have to work within this framework, but then you can go as deep as you want. I plait the leather, and then I can go to town on that piece of metal. It’s really enticing.”
With her design process, Kate turns the typical image of the designer meticulously drawing up plans, or even making models, on its head. Instead, she explains, “I create the piece in my head first, in segments. I move them around, and if I can pull the pieces apart and put them back together [in my head], then I know I can make it. Only then, I draw it. Usually, I have just one sketch that I make measurements from. Then I buy the materials and I start forming it.”
It may have been a man’s world when the original bolo ties were worn, but Smith & Poet pieces are worn equally by both men and women. “I love lovely ladies in badass bolo ties because it's just so unexpected,” Kate says. “It doesn't matter how it's done, it's just that play between masculine and feminine. You can have all your buttons done up and still be sexy and strong.”
And in the modern market, where mass-production is the norm, Kate remains true to her handmade, small-batch business. “You can only do what your hands can do, and I want my hands involved in it,” she states firmly. “That’s what I enjoy doing. It’s about sitting down and being committed to the slowness of it and the journey.”
"Our lives are like this — handmade by design and much better when not rushed.”
After rolling out her first collection, LINEAR, Kate has been concentrating on requests for custom bolo ties. “I really enjoy the process of trying to translate the creativity of a person into a piece that will be as unique as they are,” she says. “I love meeting those adventurous souls who want to express themselves in an individualistic way, yet still appreciate quality and the feel of a handmade piece of jewellery and the connections that are created through art.” In addition, Kate has just finished making a set of rings and cuff bracelets to go with the LINEAR collection [including the Handcrafted Angulo Ring], as well as a new range of Alchemi pendants that represent the four elements used in metalsmithing, which she says, “remind us of the power of transformation and possibilities”. And smack in between collection and custom is a new limited edition collection of bolo ties exploring contrasts using layers, the colour of metals and textures, which she is getting started on now.
Smith & Poet is more than just a creative outlet for Kate and more than a business. It’s also a tangible expression of a life philosophy. “I relate metal work to life; it seems to have the same processes,” she muses. “Of knowing when to use fire, strength and force or a more slow, delicate touch and precise attention to detail. How to remain in a structured realm, yet still be an authentic expression. Our lives are like this — handmade by design and much better when not rushed.”