In her latest book A Room of Her Own, author and photographer Robyn Lea captures the hearts and homes of twenty extraordinary women around the globe. Whether they be artists, designers, makers or curators, these women have a common ground when it comes to new ways of thinking, and of course, daring to lead creative lives.
In this extract, we put the spotlight on two of our Melbourne-based favourites from the book: jewellery designer Fiorina Golotta and photographer Francesca Golotta. Read on for their chapter and find out how you can win a copy of the book and a pair of Fiorina Jewellery’s coveted logo earrings.
Ensconced in her bedroom in suburban Melbourne, threading shark’s teeth and shells onto string to make herself a necklace, seven-year-old Fiorina Golotta embarked on a small creative project that marked the beginning of her life’s work. Two years later, while accompanying her father, Tony, on a trip to his native Italy, the fate of her subsequent creative career was effectively sealed. The European history, architecture, art and jewellery she saw there made a profound impression, and the wildly contrasting aesthetic she found at Bangkok airport en route – ‘Everything was shiny: mirrored beads, gold flowers and jewellery … it was phenomenal’ – was equally intoxicating. By her tenth birthday she was fully accessorised in her own jewellery designs.
Not long after, Fiorina’s younger sister Francesca had her own creative epiphany. On his forty-fifth birthday, Tony was given a coffee-table book, Italia Mia, featuring photographs by 1950s ﬁlm-star-turned-photographer Gina Lollobrigida. Francesca pored over its pages of Italian street scenes and interiors and, encouraged by Fiorina, was soon experimenting with photography.
As Fiorina grew older, her creative work became inextricably linked to her sense of self. The handcrafted jewellery and talismans she made were not just objects of beauty and self-expression, but also tools of resistance. Tony, raised in poverty in conservative postwar southern Italy, wanted his children to pursue academic paths and corporate careers. So he saw his elder daughter’s creative impulses as an expression of rebellion. Fiorina agreed. ‘To be creative was a point of rebellion, an escape, an expression and a statement,’ she explains. ‘Jewellery made me feel uplifted, and it gave me an identity and an immediate shield.’ It also exposed her to other ethnicities and cultures beyond the scope of her traditional upbringing, such as Native American groups, whose wisdom and protection she sought.
Fiorina left home at eighteen, a decision her parents did not welcome. Armed with freedom and independence for the ﬁrst time, she discovered a different side of Melbourne, though was soon ready to move further aﬁeld. After throwing herself into a world of diverse ideologies and the underground music scene in New York City for a year, she returned to Australia and settled in the village of Kuranda in far-northern Queensland. There, she lost herself in a cathartic period of experimentation and self-development. Her new routine included working in an African bead shop, which offered her an informal education in tribal jewellery. ‘African beads are not just decorative – they have a deeper cultural value. They are also religious, and some of them contain prayers,’ she explains.
With a new sense of conﬁdence in her creative needs and direction, fostered by several years of travel and exploration, she returned to Melbourne to study jewellery-making and started sharing a workshop in Little Collins Street. It was around this time that the sisters’ parents divorced. ‘It led us all to new paths,’ says Francesca, ‘and forged instant freedom. It meant we were no longer as engaged in the deep-rooted traditions of the Italian community.’
In 2003, when their father was terminally ill with cancer, Fiorina and her work were featured in a prominent magazine. A family friend visiting the bedridden Tony presented him with a laminated copy of the story. It was a deﬁning moment of public recognition of Fiorina’s work that made him incredibly proud. Similarly, the night before the hanging of Francesca and their brother Maurice’s joint exhibition in 2002, they felt their father’s enthusiasm. Francesca remembers: ‘We were decorating these little icon frames we had made and nailing coins onto them that Fiorina had given us. Dad was going through chemotherapy at the time and feeling very unwell, and suddenly he came alive and insisted on showing us how we should do it.’ As the exhibition opened, another chapter was coming to an end. There was not only new-found peace between Tony and his daughters but a celebration of all they had created.
In 2008, Fiorina and Francesca triumphantly opened Fiorina Jewellery on High Street Armadale. Its ornate golden doors open to an interior dotted with velvet chairs and antique mirrors, interspersed with polished cabinets displaying a magical array of handmade pieces. The walls feature Maurice’s artwork and Francesca’s photography. The workshop upstairs is the heart of the atelier, where all the jewellery is made. Tiny drawers are ﬁlled with a kaleidoscope of coloured gems and stones, and the collage-style decor includes evidence of Fiorina’s travels, inﬂuences and interests.
Francesca’s ability to be both the creative sounding board and the practical voice in the business continues to guide her sister, and Fiorina believes the differences between them are as important as their similarities. ‘We’re different people, and that’s probably why it works,’ she explains. ‘Franca is a true Renaissance woman, she’s romantic. I’m very ﬁery in comparison, and I learn from my mistakes afterwards. My aesthetic is more tribal and rustic, hers is more elegant and reﬁned.’
These days, working with speciﬁc stones and materials continues to feed Fiorina’s sense of wellbeing. ‘The stones have power,’ she says. ‘It’s about ﬁnding something that elevates you, something that helps you get through the day, the month, the year, the decade.’ She ﬁnds the properties of stones potent: ‘They give me the clarity needed to have the right thoughts, which lead to the right actions.’
Colour is also a signiﬁcant driver in her life and work: ‘I am attracted to certain colours for speciﬁc reasons. It’s something I instinctively draw upon.’ Turquoise is one example. ‘Since my teens, I have been drawn to the traditional culture of people from those Native American nations that wear their hair long and employ turquoise jewellery, feathers and breastplates in their traditional dress, which gives them power and protection.’ Similarly, the jewellery of the ancient Etruscan, Greek, Byzantine and Moghul cultures and traditional Art Deco aesthetics fascinate Fiorina. Her spiritual life is fed by these ancient cultures as well as Buddhism, mysticism and Rastafarianism. ‘An appreciation of alternative ideologies has allowed me to embrace different ways of life, giving me creative freedom and providing a path forward.’
Looking back, Fiorina is philosophical about her upbringing: ‘I believe you come into your family for a reason. My reason was about empowering and protecting people through what I do – through my jewellery.’ Along with her proliﬁc creative output, her rebellious tendencies also prepared her well for tackling the sometimes ruthless world of business.
Together, the sisters have created much more than a jewellery store. It is a focal point for like-minded women, a place they can go to feel inspired, adorned and understood. It has also provided Fiorina with an anchor: ‘I think rebellion has been a curse and a blessing in the same breath. It steered the ship for a long time. The joy of creating and the response from my community, family and friends are now the primary driving forces in my life.’
This is an extract from A Room of Her Own, available now. Text and photography by Robyn Lea, design by Ashlea O’Neill.
Win a fabulous A Room of Her Own prize pack!
To get into the Spring spirit, we’re giving away a copy of Robyn Lea’s beautiful interiors book ‘A Room of Her Own’ as well as a pair of logo earrings from beloved Melbourne jewellery store (headed by two of the inspirational women featured in the book), Fiorina Jewellery.
Simply click here to enter the competition and agree to sign up to our e-newsletter for your chance to go into the draw to win this prize pack.
Competition closes Wednesday 15 September. Open to AU and NZ residents only.
August 27, 2021