Alighieri’s Rosh Mahtani on how travel has shaped her
Each item Rosh Mahtani designs for her jewellery brand Alighieri is inspired by a journey. Here, she shares the journeys and the stories that have made her
There’s a scene towards the end of Joachim Trier’s film The Worst Person in the World where a guy is reflecting on his life; the places he’s been, and connections made along the way. Culture was passed along through objects, he says: “They were interesting because we could live among them. We could pick them up. Hold them in our hands. Compare them.”
For Rosh Mahtani, designer and founder of jewellery brand Alighieri, this sentiment has remained close to her heart since childhood. Relics lost and found, anywhere in the world, share a universal language: love. In all its miraculous incarnations. Because when we talk about places, we’re really talking about people, the poetic justice of beginnings and endings and those bittersweet spaces in between. As the sun sets on the first proper spring day in London, bathing in the final frame of light outside her Hatton Garden studio, Mahtani shares the journeys that have transformed her and the exquisite, at times surreally complicated, beauty of roads less travelled.
How has travel shaped you?
It’s been a central theme in my life since I was little. I grew up in Africa, Zambia, before moving back to London when I was eight. That idea of moving and experiencing two very different cultures from a very young age was always quite formative. French and Italian were always big passions of mine, so after university I spent a year living in Paris and then six months living in Florence; walking around, listening to people speak, watching their interactions. Growing up, I was always a little bit of a nomad, feeling like I didn’t know what home was. Trying to explore different cultures was a way to find myself.
What place do you identify with most?
Florence has always been so special to me. It’s where I felt really alive and fell in love for the first time when I was 19. I used to sit on the Santa Trìnita bridge, being reckless and silly, watching the sunrise. The whole world just felt ablaze with possibility. It was also here that I learned real heartbreak for that first time, feeling the city during my profound sadness too. When I first started Alighieri, four years later, I went back. I love the idea of going back to the same places and recognising the growth in yourself and that pang of what used to be as well.
How did Florence comfort you during such a loss?
One night I had my bag stolen. In the morning I went to this church in Santo Spirito and there’s a painting by Pontormo where Christ is falling into Mary’s arms. I’m not religious but I love art. You have to put money in the machine to get the light to turn on and I didn’t have anything, and somebody gave me 10 cents to put in. I just remember looking at this painting – which has been there for 600 years – and thinking everything will be OK. Every place has echoes of the past and the people that were there before you. There’s something quite magical about that.
What does a journey mean to you?
Escaping oneself to re-find oneself. The ending is always a beginning. It’s the closing of a loop.
Which country most inspires you?
I love Italy but it’s also been fun to explore new lands. I went to Los Angeles in February, and it was completely different to anything I’d known. The energy, shop fronts, neon, tarot cards and fortune tellers; I really loved it. I miss it. I think I was different when I was there – more open. You’re allowed to talk about your feelings and energy there. It’s quite liberating.
Where would you most like to go back to?
Byron Bay because it’s been such a no-no the last two years. I was there in 2013 – the Florence love story made its way to Australia. It was a long on/off situation, he was half Italian, half Australian, so there was a lot of following and chasing. It would be lovely to go back to really reclaim that space for myself. The pull for me is the ocean and the vast expanses. Anything that, ultimately, reminds me of my childhood in Africa. The vast plains of nothingness where you can drive for hours without seeing another person.
How has travel inspired your work?
Going to new places is always what inspires the new collection. Wherever I am I go to flea markets and find old artefacts that have been passed down through generations. Jewellery is all about unity and finding that really sparks me. I was in Venice once by myself, it was freezing and misty and I got lost so many times. I was wandering through a market and saw this really broken up coin with a lion on it and I thought, ‘That’s the lion from Dante’s Divine Comedy’ in my mind. It turned into the North Star of what Alighieri is. I carry it with me when I need courage.
Why do you love solo travelling so much?
I used to have a tradition that every birthday, in January, I would do a solo trip, just me and my camera, to reset. When you travel by yourself you can wonder and be in your own universe. I remember when I went to Naples for my 29th, I was at a bar and the waiter was confused why I was by myself. I was like, ‘This is the best thing ever!’ I think everyone should do a solo trip at least once a year.
What does the future of travel look like to you?
Enjoying the little things. The moments. Especially in the fashion industry, we used to complain about the amount of travel. I think the pandemic has made people less jaded and appreciate how lucky we were and are. And I think we didn’t really consider this before, but holding a British passport meant you had free access to anywhere in the world and Covid suddenly meant you couldn’t see so much of it. We forget there are many countries with certain passports where you don’t have access. It’s such a privilege. It’s a big deal when it’s taken away from us, but there will be people who will never be able to have that. It puts things into context.
Who would be your fantasy travel companion?
My dad. It’s fantasy because I’m really conscious that my dad grew up in a difficult environment in Zambia and didn’t get on a plane until he was 21, when he could afford his first plane ticket to come to London to visit his elder brother. It was a luxury. He always says to me, ‘You’ve seen more of the world than I ever will’ and maybe it’s that feeling of sharing it with him. Everywhere I go it’s like he’s there with me. My dad was diagnosed with a degenerative illness ten years ago and early on in his illness we went to India: his last big adventure and first big adventure we had been on as a family when I was 17. It felt sacred.
alighieri.com. Photography by Liz Seabrook