Merrel Westhoff’s jewellery with raw elegance

Words Oisin Fogarty Graveson  Photography Jennifer Kunes  


She’s a model. Her dark eyes remind of Angelina Jolie. And she likes to play around with a blowtorch. Together with piercing artist J. Colby Smith, Rotterdam based Merrel Westhoff is redefining the aesthetics of piercing, introducing a new elegance into the discourse.

Merrel’s homegrown jewellery label Monocrafft has built up a cult status among a rapidly growing group of women. Inspired by ancient patterns, architecture and the play of light, she recently launched a men’s line: Hidden Canyons. The lookbook shows the male creative in his natural habitat, dripping with silver. So of course we were intrigued.

Is Monocrafft for every man?
Monocrafft Soldiers” – that’s how I like to describe my pieces as I see them as something of a modern talisman. Different people transform their soldiers with their own style. So yes, every guy can wear Monocrafft, yet men who purchase my jewellery often have a lot in common with the Monocrafft women. They don’t really go with the fashion flow, they know what they like and are comfortable in their being. The Monocrafft man is both raw and elegant, a free spirit with a mysterious touch.

You’re a model. Glamour is your playground, yet you call your workshop your little paradise. Why?
I worked full time as a model for almost 10 years. During that period I learned a lot, met incredible people, went to beautiful places and became a pro at social skills. I loved to see a designer working their magic, following their process as they created their world. But the parties, the dinners, they didn’t really bother me and I wasn’t in need of the latest designer clothes.

I did love the freedom and excitement which came with being a model. But now, being my own boss in a creative job where I can plan the whole strategy myself (with the help of my team of course) feels like the ultimate freedom. That’s why I call my workshop my little paradise. Being focussed on such tiny objects as jewellery for hours is meditative for me. My “Brain traffic” slows down for a while and creates space for fresh energy.


(Model: James Chuter at Models 1)

You regularly collaborate with piercing artist J. Colby Smith. How did you meet?
I met Colby through Instagram, I saw his work and fell in love with the minimalistic gold pieces he made. I contacted him by mail and soon after that we met in New York. We clicked instantly. Although piercing jewellery is different from non-piercing jewellery technically speaking, in the end we both want to create a beautiful story.
While my pieces can be a statement, his pieces are more solid and sit in the background. They work great together. When customers come into his studio ‘JCS108’  in New York or L.A. to get pierced, most of the time they want to leave with a totally new story. That’s where Monocrafft comes in.

Where does your approach to jewellery meet his approach? How has his approach informed your work?
As we both run small businesses, we can help each other. Design-wise we don’t really work together: we are already in the same flow, our pieces don’t clash. Colby’s new studio in L.A. is freaking amazing, like a bunker! It perfectly fits with my soldiers. [Laughs] He said when it was finished that he didn’t know if the L.A. scene was going to dig this industrial style. But I love it and know L.A. will be with me on this.

“Wherever I went, my mother would follow me. She just packed her bags and joined my adventure”

What is, to you, the most important piece you’ve ever created?
As I design all my pieces for myself first and foremost, all of my designs are worth a lot to me. But the X-Ring was my first ever design, which makes it even more special. Monocrafft started because of my never ending passion for jewellery. I still love to find special treasures while travelling.
We just got back from a road trip in California, where we found a super cute vintage store in a small town. I bought some beautiful earrings and a necklace which had been handmade by Native Americans.

Is there one lesson that a parent taught you which stuck with you?
My parents always tell me to follow my gut, they will support me in every decision I ever make. I quit my first full time job to become a model, moved to New York, then quit modeling to start as a stylist in a corporate company and, four years later, quit that job to kick off Monocrafft. Wherever I went, my mother would follow me. She even stayed in the apartments where I lived with my fellow models in New York and Milan.

Instead of worrying, she just packed her bags and joined my adventure. She thinks that the worst thing in life is to regret something you didn’t do. She would say, “you will always have your room upstairs, sweetheart, for when shit is going down.” I think that’s why I feel strong enough and have the guts to do the things I do.


Is music a big thing for you while you work? Or do you work in silence?
The inspiration for my new collection was inspired by a track by the Arctic Monkeys. So yeah… Music definitely inspires me throughout my work. I go from Mount Kimbie to Pearl Jam, from Fink to The Smiths, Fever Ray to Ibeyi. I like to travel alone so I can sit and stare out of the window listening to my music. It’s in those moments that the creative bubbles pop up.

Can we expect a set of cufflinks by Monocrafft? Or is the connection to skin crucial for your jewellery?
Not at all… There’s enough space for things next to jewellery, but in the end cufflinks are a kind of jewellery, right? So this is definitely an option.


Do you like things rough rather than ‘girly’?
I always preferred guy’s stuff over girl’s stuff. But I like to feel sexy as well. So style-wise: a little dress with military boots, or sexy pumps with a leather biker jacket. In my designs you will always find this contradiction. Rough materials against delicate chains, a hammered band with a soft sand blasted finish.

If you were a guy what would you do first?
I would run into a public toilet to pee in a row with the other guys. So cosy!

(Top photo: Dinie van der Kooij (Mother), Merrel Westhoff, Cees van der Kooij (“Bonus dad”))