Serbian architecture, post socialist modernism, and brutalist aesthetic have a deep cultural meaning and angsty symbolism for former Yugoslavs who grew up under the ‘third way’ Balkan Dictator Josip Broz Tito, and his post socialist successors. For a young Belgrade-born Nina Lazic and Nemanja Vuksan, even this might be a bygone period, modernist concrete architecture has more than just utopian/socialist flair. It is deeply built in their visual aesthetic, that through a long-time friendship and creative collab, evolved into a unique design vision and outstanding concrete jewelry collection called MORF. Launched in the middle of ‘covid’ pandemic and global panic, MORF'S dazzling geometric rings, earrings, pendants and chokers caught the eye of our editors, who were eager to explore what’s behind their sublime brutalist aesthetic and jittery Balkan vibe.

This Belgrade-London duo grew up in the same neighborhood in Belgrade and studied Industrial Design together, years before they started their brand. It’s quite funny that the moment that pushed them to start collab, was the moment they were the furthest away from each other – Nina moved to London to join her partner in 2016, while Nemanja was still working on his projects in Belgrade:

I guess it was a matter of what happens when you take yourself out of your comfort zone – it hits you that it's time to realize what you’d really like to do. It was like 'now or never' – and right there, MORF was born, a collaborative project, long-contemplated and materialized through contemporary fashion. Jewelry was not something we contemplated we’d do, to be honest. It just turned out to be the best medium to combine all our areas of interest – product design, architecture, storytelling and fashion. We are not jewelers by profession, but industrial designers, and that is exactly how we approached jewelry making - through the prism of industrial design and contemporary sculpture. Had we started with a background in fashion, MORF would certainly not look like this. It would probably be a little boring.

You drive your inspiration from post socialist modernism and a fascinating brutalist architecture in socialist Yugoslavia. Spomeniks play a huge role in forming your distinct alien-like aesthetic. Seems more than just aesthetic for you?

Ever since we were little, we were surrounded by modernist concrete architecture that was an integral part of our childhood. In our imagination, these spaces have transported us to different worlds and often even the future. Today, we have a deeper understanding of these spaces, their concepts, meanings, ideas and how the culture of Yugoslavia shaped them – which, in turn, shaped us. We have a really strong emotional connection with this kind of concrete environment. It was therefore easy for us to materialize this emotion through designs.

Who are the artists / architects you admire and influenced your work?

There are many fantastic artists and architects that influenced our designs. Miodrag Živković for example - the creator of a large number of our favorite monuments of the People's Liberation War in Yugoslavia, including possibly the most well-known of them: Sutjeska Memorial in Bosnia. Its elaborate geometric shapes are a design reference that we often turn to when sketching. Also, Svetlana Kana Radević, the architect behind many modernist buildings of Yugoslavia. Her spacecraft-shaped Hotel Zlatibor in Užice transports us into the future every time we see it. It just never stops being impressive.

You use concrete for your designs and each piece is handcrafted. Walk us through your creative process and production.

All of our jewelry is produced in our workshop by a manual process that takes approximately 20 days. Concrete is quite a demanding material, firstly because it shows with honesty any error, mishap and imperfection, so it requires a lot of dedication and focus. We developed our own formula for concrete that allowed us to make small and durable objects from it. Needless to say, we had to get to grips with a great deal of chemistry to really understand what’s possible to do. We insisted on uncompromisingly presenting the design we envisaged, which means that each piece tests the limit of what real concrete can do. It’s made by casting into silicone moulds; it’s then cured and then finished manually, and finally assembled into jewelry.

MORF was launched this year, and then the pandemic started. That must be so frustrating?

Oh, the pandemic was like a lightning strike after launching a project that took years to develop. We couldn’t imagine this would happen, not even in our wildest nightmares. I guess this was good in the respect that we had to learn how to pivot much quicker and it was a crash course in business development. Crises certainly power creativity and receptiveness to unconventional opportunities, this one is no different.

How did you spend your time during the quarantine?

We used this time for doing a lot of research and brainstorming, usually surrounded by a lot of alcohol and food. We connected with people (online), whether that being our family, friends or other like-minded people from the fashion world. We also learned how to cook elaborate meals.

For a long time, Yugoslavia was a melting pot for eastern and western aesthetic and cool fashion. What is the fashion scene there now and who are the artists and brands you like?

The scene is not very large, but it’s buzzing with creative talent. Nevena Ivanović of Neo Design is one of our favorite designers; Busilava Kekovic is great as well..and Teodora Mitrovska, a fantastic Macedonian-born designer, who is turning Yugoslav identity into decomposed creations inspired by the working class and aesthetic of work wear or uniforms...

What’s cool in Belgrade now? Is there a creative underground community and what are some of your go to places for fun?

Belgrade is such a fantastic city. The underground scene is rich and diverse. We love spending time in DIM BAR, a former beer factory turned alternative culture hub with many bars and clubs, that gathers Belgrade’s creative community. Club DRUGSTORE is another place, an alternative nightclub situated in a former slaughterhouse that hosts the best names of the underground techno scene.



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