'If there was one thing I could change... it would be being able to say goodbye' - jewellery designer Chloe Townsend of the death of her mother
Published 14/03/2016 | 02:30
Jewellery designer Chloe Townsend tells us about how precious memories of her mother have inspired her and how she dealt with the end of her eight-year relationship last year
Lorna Townsend died in October, 1994, of a brain haemorrhage. There were no goodbyes. Her daughter Chloe was only six years of age. "If there was one thing I could change about it all, how it happened," Chloe says now, "it would be being able to say goodbye."
There is an eternity of a pause.
"But you know, there are people who have lost their parents who had cancer for years and they got to say goodbye, but they had to watch them in pain and suffering. So I don't know really what is better," muses Chloe, before recalling that Lorna's sudden receding from view was explained to her in terms of her mother being taken to Heaven by God. She didn't fathom why her mother was no longer there "at the beginning. And then it kind of became clear when she didn't come back. That was when I knew she wasn't coming back," says Chloe 22 years later.
"I was very young, but I would see from it that I have gained some really wonderful relationships that I wouldn't necessarily have. I have people who all came around me - my Aunt Jane and my Uncle Brian," she says.
Chloe adds that she became "extremely close" to Dylan, her brother three years her senior. "I think I have gained a relationship with my brother that I would have not necessarily have had."
Everyone was presumably very protective of her because Chloe was at such a young and sensitive age?
"I think so, yeah, because I was always the baby."
But you were old enough to know that your mother would never be around for you again, I say.
"Yeah. But I remember her very clearly. I have very strong memories of her."
Asked what her mother was like, Chloe's eyes light up: "You know what? Laughter is the only thing I can use to describe how I remember her. She was always laughing, always smiling," says Chloe who has inherited that quality, "and had this wonderful energy."
"It is the one thing that people always tell me about her with their memories. They always tell me that she used to light up the room. That's the expression they used about her always. You just always felt good and happy when you were around her," says Chloe of Lorna, who was 45 when she died. Apropos of this spirit, Chloe's oldest brother, the film actor Stuart told People magazine in an interview in 2004: "She was 45 going on 25."
Chloe is now 28, while her big brothers, producer Dylan, is 31, and the aforementioned movie star bro Stuart, is 43. Their father is the professional golfer, Peter Townsend. They all spent Christmas in Los Angeles together which, says Chloe, "was great. Because we don't get to spend that much time together because we all live in different countries" - her dad Peter in Sweden with his wife Sofia; Dylan "between LA and Dublin"; and Stuart between LA and Costa Rica- "when we do see each other it is really precious time, real time spent together. No one is working; no one has their mind on other things. It is time to connect."
The creative connection for Chloe is her hand-crafted semi-precious jewellery, Willow and Clo. In terms of the influence of her late mother on Chloe Townsend's jewellery range, she says that she used to think husbands were for putting on necklaces.
She can remember when she was a child watching her dad Peter, before he and Lorna would go out for dinner, "putting on my mother's necklace on her neck. That was the last thing before they went out," she says.
"I used to watch my mother getting ready and doing her make-up. I used to always remember the little ceremony of putting her necklace on before she went out. It is kind of a ritual. It is the beautiful thing about jewellery: it is not just a piece that you wear because it is fashionable, because it is stylish - it becomes a part of you and a part of your story. You know, who gave it to you? Or why you have it?"
That, for Chloe, was the big draw to jewellery. The reason she got into jewellery over any other type of accessories was "because of my mum and because of the memories I have of the jewellery I have of hers."
"Each of my pieces has a story and inspiration connected with it, be it a secret engraving or a design element inspired by a special moment," she says. Willow and Clo jewellery, she explains, is hand-made using the lost wax method: the pieces are made in sterling silver and then plated using 22ct yellow or rose gold. "All my gemstones are hand selected and cut specifically for my pieces."
She officially launched Willow in October of 2012, but Chloe has, in fact, been making jewellery for 10 years. In 2006, she studied to be a goldsmith in the Accademia delle Arti Orafe in Rome. Her next stop was London where she studied rendering design in the Gemological Institute of America. Chloe then worked as a buyer for four years for Loulerie on Chatham Street. "I was still working in jewellery and went to New York on a buying trip," Chloe says referring to May, 2012.
It was here that she met one of her idols in jewellery Alexis Bittar. He told Chloe what it was like to be a designer. "And I just fell in love with it."
And what is it like to be a designer?
"Not like he said!" Chloe laughs. "He was like - 'Oh, I get to go on these creative, gorgeous trips all the time!' He was 15, maybe 20 years into it at that stage. So I thought it was going to be all glamour straight away. And actually running your business it is really, really hard work."
"It is hard but when you love it," she explains, "it does feel different. The long hours don't seem like long hours when it is for yourself. And sometimes you nearly have to pull yourself back from doing the hours, but the creativity is so exciting. . . "
"It's funny," smiles Chloe, "my mother was very creative. So I like to think a part of my design would have come from a talent that she had. She used to design clothing. I have all her design books. They are really beautiful. I have cut some of them up and put them in frames."
I say to Chloe that I met her mother once upon a golden time - in La Stampa restaurant in Dublin with its proprietor Louis Murray . . .
"Louis would have been my dad's best friend," she smiles. "Actually, it was a great childhood for me with all of them around, having great fun," says Chloe who spent her early years in Hillside, a magnificent mid-19th century house on an acre in Howth, Co Dublin. "Howth is a beautiful place to grow up in."
Her father was a professional golfer of some note (the British PGA Closed Championship in 1968, the Swiss Open in 1971), "who was away on tour a lot which was great for us when we were kids because we got to go to wonderful places."
Peter Townsend is English. "So we did actually live in England for a few years. I went to school there as well," Chloe continues, adding that she lived there from the age of 12 until she was 15 with "Dylan and my youngest brother Hugo. He had just been born." [Hugo was born in 1999].
"So we all moved over to England with my step-mom [Sofia] as well. I wasn't a mad fan of England," she half-laughs. "So I came back as soon as I could and finished off school here. I think myself and Dylan's relationship got much closer when I was over there, because we had each other in a new country and new surroundings."
How did she feel about seeing her dad with another woman?
"I suppose," Chloe smiles, "I was so young that . . . it was a shock, yeah . . . I never really processed it at that stage and, then, she kind of became part of the family. I think I was so young then that I loved female energy around me. I became really close with a lot of my mum's really good friends. They rallied around me. They are all still there for me, and that is because of my mum. So I have always had these wonderfully strong female influences around me, even though my mother wasn't there any more."
Chloe needed those strong female influences more than ever of late. A year and a half ago she broke up with her fiancé and boyfriend of eight years, Alex O'Brien.
I ask her is she OK.
"Yes. I wasn't when it happened, of course. I look back at it as in, 'I wouldn't change a thing and I learned a whole lot.' We grew up together. He was one of the reasons I moved to Rome and did jewellery over going to London and doing fashion design. Actually, in quite a large way, he has a big part to play in why I chose to do Willow."
Could she see herself getting back with him? "No. We're on different paths, different people. I will always have a huge fondness for him, of course. He's more like family than anything else at this stage. But he is not my man."
It could have been worse if Chloe had got married and it hadn't worked out. "I know," she laughs. "A lot of people said that at the time of the heartbreak and I was like [laughing] - That doesn't help me at all. But now it is better. I have to say what it has taught me is: anyone can be strong if they get pushed to have to do something. You can always rally around yourself. There are always people there to help you."
She makes no pretence whatsoever that her heart wasn't broken.
"I felt the full force of it for sure. But I feel at this stage of my life I have grown a huge amount from it. I have learned lessons in the last year that I would never have learned."
What she has learned includes knowing that she is capable of looking after herself and that she doesn't need anyone else.
"I had the strength also to do the store," she says referring to Willow in the Powerscourt Townhouse Centre, which opened its doors last month, "and I did go travelling and I did the self-exploration and I did my yoga, and lots of other wonderful things. I learned a lot about me. I don't think you take the time when you are in a relationship with somebody else - some people do - but I think when you are faced with just you, you have to. . ."
Did that emotional pain awaken buried feelings about your mother's death?
"No, if anything, having gone through what I went through with my mum helped me realise I would get through it. If anything, having gone through what I did with mum, it has kind of shown me that I can pick myself back up again. It is hard and it is not an easy thing and you have to go through it - and I know everyone says time is a healer, and it sounds like such a cliché when someone says it to you, but time is a healer in that way."
You can't heal a wound instantly, I say.
"You have to go through it and feel every part of it. And because I did that with mum I suppose I knew that there is always light at the end of the tunnel, even in your darkest moments when you feel that there isn't. You just have to believe that there is."
Chloe says she is trying to take her time to heal. Dylan, her brother, gave her a piece of advice that resonated with her: enjoy being single - "because once it's gone you don't get it back for a very long time. Enjoy being a little bit selfish in your decisions."
Spending time with herself both physically and spiritually gives Chloe Townsend an opportunity to find out who she is, So, who is she?
"I'd like to think I'm an incredibly loyal person. I'm quite hard-working. I'm quite soft. I have a very vulnerable side to me. I'd like to see my vulnerability as a strength. I feel that is one of my strongest things that I embrace my vulnerability."
Does that go back to her mother dying when she was six?
"Maybe. Maybe. Maybe I've never really . . . I was too young to know to hide behind the emotions, and to hide them. So I always showed it. So I wear my heart on my finger-tips. But I like being that way. I like being that way with my family, with my friends. I would been very picky with people I spend my time in my life with. They would be very precious to me, and I would be quite a loyal person in that way. I'm a wanderer as well. I get itchy feet if I have to stay around too long. I love to go and travel and I love to have adventures."
Is that why she broke up with Alex?
"It was one of the things, actually," Chloe smiles for the billionth time - her smile sparkling like one of her jewels - "that we weren't travelling as much as we had said we would."
"I think we both realised that a lot of the growing up we did together and maybe we were two different people than when we first fell in love," says Chloe, who met Alex when she was 19.
"I was very young and I was always so stubborn as in: 'I'll never change. We'll stand the test of time and be okay forever.' Unfortunately, we did just change. He changed and I did too.' I'm glad that we had the realisation before we went and got married and had kids."
Chloe says she doesn't ever want to be one of 'those women' in a marriage or a relationship who remains in that situation because she is "too afraid to be on my own, or too afraid of not finding something that's right."
Life isn't always like a Disney movie, I joke.
"I always laugh that Disney is responsible for many a broken heart!" Chloe Townsend laughs.
"When you grow up with Disney, you believe there's a Prince Charming. But I suppose from having gone through what I did I realise Prince Charming doesn't always . . . That's what I liked about Frozen: it was the sisters helping each other. That was the true love.
"So, yes, I have definitely had my heart broken and I think a lot of people can say the same thing. I think it is how you pick yourself back up. I wanted a store for a year and a half before I managed to make it happen and go through with it. That was a massive decision for me. I had to grow to be in the place where I could make that decision to open Willow."
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