From Kodagu to New York and Paris: The jewellery designer who featured in fashion week

For Poonam Thimmaiah, jewellery designing began as a means to cope with personal tragedy and turned into a passion project and finally a full-time career.
Poonam Thimmaiah
Poonam Thimmaiah
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Following the devastating tragedy of losing her baby, Kodagu’s Poonam Thimmaiah, now a New Yorker, embarked on a personal journey of change, which led her to pursue her keen interest in jewellery designing and sustainable art. Poonam, who started her own brand of jewellery – Maalicious – had her work featured in the New York and Paris fashion weeks this year, just a year after she established the company. Her journey of overcoming tragedy to embracing art and making it big is an inspirational one.

In 2017, Poonam, who was working at JP Morgan in New York, had a miscarriage. Her journey into jewellery designing started as an escape from the tragedy. She returned to India to be with her family in Mysuru during this difficult time and it was here that she decided to pursue her passion.

NY Fashion week. Maalicious earrings in collaboration with Lola Elan clothing and Ochini Milinery headpiece.

When Poonam visited her Alma Mater, JC Engineering College in Mysuru, she learned of a jewelry designing course for the children with physical disabilities. Poonam, who has always made her own jewelry in the past, worked with these kids on her first collection. Together, they made earrings using sustainable materials like clay, wood and thread. “That’s when I discovered that this is what I should be doing. Along with these students, I learned a lot about the art of jewelry designing,” Poonam says.

Poonam Thimmaiah at her outlet in New York

She taught the group of 10 children in the programme how to sculpt, draw and paint. In the process, she says, she rediscovered the talent she had for designing jewellery. A few months later, Poonam went back to New York and quit her job. She decided to start designing jewellery and felt sure that she wanted to bring back the touch of handicraft to her work.

It was later in 2017 that Poonam contacted an acquaintance, Sruthi Mascarenas, a sculptor working with clay in Goa, and commissioned her to make the earrings that she had designed. Poonam says that she wanted every piece of jewellery she designed to tell a story – one of historical relevance to India. In her first piece, she envisioned a clay plate with a painting of Queen Victoria meeting her namesake – a young woman from Kodagu.

Celebrity endorsement: Divya khosla Kumar in Drokpa earrings, made by artisan Soniya.

“The piece is called Victoria Repeated. It’s a picture of Victoria from Kodagu meeting Queen Victoria and both of them are wearing a lot of jewellery. These earrings were made of clay and hand-painted. It was featured in Flying Solo’s (a fashion retail space in New York) collection in the Paris Fashion Week,” Poonam adds.

In 2019, Poonam established Maalicious officially and in the year running up to it, she decided to commission her work to women in the business of making handicrafts in India. She contracts her metal and stone work to a group of 25 women in Jaipur. Anything to do with tassels, she commissions it to an artist in Mumbai, and jewellery made of polymer clay is commissioned to an artist in Chennai.

Amrita Shergill earrings. Amrita Sher-Gil, the most famous Indian painter. Today, she is known as India’s Frida Kahlo. The earrings are made by Shruti Mascarehnas.

“With Maalicious, I want to rejuvenate traditional art and workmanship with Indian charm and a touch of urban flair. I have earrings that have Amrita Sher-Gil on it. A lot of people know about Frida Kahlo and not many in other countries are aware that we have someone of our own – Amrita Sher-Gil. I also wanted to use sustainable materials like clay, wood, silk and thread. We’ve started customising our earrings so anyone can get any picture they want painted on their earrings,” Poonam says.

Malicious began retailing with Flying Solo’s retail unit in New York and became an instant hit. With celebrity stylists visiting the store, her pieces began selling out. In 2020, Poonam carried out various social media campaigns. “We did a lot of virtual pop-ups and this summer was really good. We had a lot of celebrity endorsements on social media. Actor Divya Khosla Kumar wore our jewellery, Raadi Shetty, American influencer who is big here, endorsed our jewellery. We had a lot of Instagram influencers endorse us,” she says.

This year, Flying Solo selected Poonam’s jewellery designs to be featured for their show in the New York and Paris fashion weeks. Fourteen of her pieces were featured in the New York Fashion Week and eight in the Paris Fashion Week. Flying Solo had curated its show by collaborating with 63 designers from 14 countries. Poonam says her work was chosen as each of her designed pieces are made by hand and use sustainable materials.

“I felt like I’ve created something, where I was spoken of as a designer. People at the fashion week asked me what my inspiration was. It went from a passion project when I was pregnant and became something big during the fashion week. It's really nice to have the appreciation. It gives me confidence,” Poonam says. 

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