Open the drawers in Andreas Eberharter’s studio and you’ll find a shiny cache of eye patches, masks and even jewellery cast from fish teeth. We may be in the heart of Vienna’s third district but it feels as if we’ve stumbled upon a pirate’s treasure chest. Surely, there’s enough hardware in here to outfit Blackbeard, Cleopatra and the entire guest list of a Venetian ball combined. These are not pieces for the faint of heart. If the toothy pendant (cast from a parrotfish jaw found in the Egyptian desert) is any indication, these are accessories with bite.
Since launching his label AND_i (a play on his first name) in 2001, Vienna-based designer-sculptor-goldsmith Andreas Eberharter has achieved worldwide success. While the last pharaoh may have missed out, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé and Adriana Lima have caught on, sporting his pieces on-screen and in photo shoots. His first big break was having his designs walk the runway in Thierry Mugler’s fall/winter 2009 menswear show. The French fashion house was looking for extravagant yet elegant accessories and Eberharter’s creations fit the bill. It wasn’t long before his iconic silver eye patch and horny headband appeared in Lady Gaga’s music video for Paparazzi by way of stylist Nicola Formichetti.
Despite his success, Eberharter has remained refreshingly humble. Working out of his studio near Vienna’s Belvedere Museum, he still lives for the thrill of experimenting with materials (his favourite is aluminum for its lightweight quality) and techniques. Queen Bey and Milla Jovovich may be fans, but Eberharter’s two main muses are closer to home: his wife and his 10-month-old son. The blue-eyed pair greets us with a smile, just before Eberharter offers us some homemade Elderflower water – the preferred form of hydration during hot Viennese summers. Once we’ve quenched our thirst, we dive into the trove. Trying on his masks rouses fearless new identities: a superhero, the phantom of the opera or a character out of a Quentin Tarantino film.
“Most of the women who wear this tell me that it gives them more self-confidence,” says Eberharter while holding a flashy pink and red aluminum necklace. “This is the part that I really love. It’s not just jewellery for decoration; it gives people strength.”
A world traveller, Eberharter has sourced inspiration from all corners of the globe. His designs are futuristic yet often incorporate tribal or shamanic elements. Mexico, a destination with a rich history of mask-making traditions, has influenced him the most. His resulting conceptions are warrior-esque and edgy, with some pieces resembling the face shields worn by knights and others looking like they belong in Hannibal Lector’s closet.
“I try to make my wearable pieces as sophisticated as possible. Even if they’re small, I aim to make them special. Everything that leaves my hands has to make me happy. I’m my toughest critic because I have very high artistic standards for myself,” he says.
Growing up in the quiet mountains of Tirol, Austria, Eberharter became fascinated with the idea of making tangible jewellery out of drawings. After training to be a goldsmith and later studying sculpture, he began his career as an assistant to renowned artists Anna Heindl, Manfred Wakolbinger and Eva Schlegel.
“I quickly realized that there are just a handful of really good galleries worldwide, and I wanted more. I’m a bit of a crossover artist and found a bigger audience in the fashion scene,” he says.
His first fashion show in Vienna was held at the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts (MAK). At the time, the local industry was getting a substantial push through sponsorship opportunities, allowing for new artists and designers to produce. With a presence in showrooms in Paris, New York and Los Angeles, Eberharter reached a global clientele.
“These cities have a powerful pace, but I couldn’t be there all the time. I like to work in peace and quiet. Around Vienna, there are so many places you can totally be yourself, relax and get inspired. I’m a huge fan of the Donau-Auen National Park. You’re in the wild within 30 minutes by car or train,” he says.
It’s during these reflective moments – in nature or, oftentimes, in the shower – that Eberharter unravels stories in his mind and conceptualizes new designs. Most recently, he’s extended his reach beyond the world of metal by dabbling in denim for men. Next season, he’ll be launching a womenswear range and plans to also extend his line of belts.
“I think Jim Morrison would have loved my horny belt,” says Eberharter with a smile. It’s easy to agree. In a modern-day goldsmith’s atelier, any rock ‘n’ roll icon could find a piece of strength. Whether in the form of a mask, a belt or a necklace with bite, a touch of individuality can light your fire. ■
*As seen in Volume Two: The Vienna Issue