Selma Štrkljević Mravak could never seem to stay away from art. She worked as an art history and Italian language professor for several years, but while Selma was working on her thesis, she started making jewelry and launched her Croatian jewelry brand, Little Wonder, in 2010.
But long before, the call to create pulsed in her genes: her father was into art and her grandmother was “a pioneer of knitting,” she says. Selma finds inspiration for her collections in everything from the Mediterranean to playgrounds. “I see jewelry as little sculptures, which have to be beautiful but practical and wearable at the same time,” she says.
We interviewed Selma about her simple yet nostalgic pieces, her urge to create and commitment to sustainability. And she dishes on the best things to do in Split, Croatia, too.
How did your childhood influence your career path?
I was born in 1984 in Split, a vibrant Mediterranean city on the Croatian coast. From early childhood, I was surrounded by art, fashion design and a constant desire of my family to create.
During my studies, I always felt that the theory and my creative side were in constant struggle. In fact, I always wanted to do something with my own hands.
So, I began to create jewelry. I now live in a small town near Split in our family house where our studio is situated.
Selma, tell us about the start of your brand, Little Wonder, in 2010.
Little Wonder was never a mere project; it came to life out of pure need and love of doing something creative with my own hands. I started making jewelry during my studies in our rented student apartment in Zagreb where I made the first pieces, and that’s how the story goes.
I like to call it “from Hrelić (a famous flea market in Zagreb) to Vogue” because back then I used a lot of vintage leather, linen and various materials found at flea markets or given to me by family and friends to make the first Little Wonder pieces. It was a very sustainable practice before even knowing about that term.
That’s so cool! What sustainable practices has Little Wonder adopted over the years?
I always recycle all of my scrap metal, sterling silver, brass and gold and use it to create the new pieces.
I make bars or sheets of metal and then use them to make new pieces of jewelry.
I’m very much aware of all the problems that the fashion industry is causing today, and I think that every little step counts.
Little Wonder is a part of Krug, a designer store with three other brands — one of them being your sister’s. Can you tell us more about this brick-and-mortar in Split, Croatia?
We founded Krug in 2013 because we primarily wanted a place in Split where we can present the collections of our brands Chicks on Chic, Dott. and Little Wonder. Back then, there were four of us: Emina Štrkljević and Margita Videtić, designers of the Chicks on Chic brand; Katarina Bilan, who is behind the brand Dott.; and me. The story started quite spontaneously and without any big planning.
We came across a beautiful space inside the Diocletian Palace in Split and decided to give it a try. We designed and arranged everything ourselves with the help of friends and family. From then until today, Krug continues to be led by me and my sister, and we have been successfully running our creative oasis in the old town of Split.
Emina has her own clothing brand Chicks on Chic, which has a really interesting story from the beginning because they started by redesigning vintage pieces, and they were among the first ones here in Croatia to reuse vintage pieces and give them a more modern vibe.
What is your favorite piece of jewelry that you’ve designed?
Lots of my pieces are inspired by some very cherished memories from my childhood, and certain pieces are homage to very important people in my life, so it’s very hard to choose just one piece.
Some of my favorite pieces are the Serendipity ring, which I’ve designed and made for my friend as an engagement ring, and Twisted earrings because I think that they embody the LW flair, which I would say is “classical with a twist and a bit over the top.”
Selma, what’s the design process of your handmade jewelry?
All Little Wonder collections are produced completely in my studio in Croatia. Every piece is handcrafted by me and my husband. The process of creating jewelry varies from piece to piece. Sometimes I do sketches and then try to make the piece.
Sometimes I’m driven by material that is in front of me, and I play with forms and proportions and just start to make it spontaneously without sketches.
I must say that I enjoy this process, which is very stimulating, and you never know how it will work out in the end.
Sometimes you need a break, I’m sure. So, how do you like to relax when you’re not creating jewelry?
We play some pinball, or we go to our garden where we grow organic vegetables, olive oil and wine. We are truly blessed with everything the Mediterranean has to offer, and we are mostly inspired by our surroundings.
What’s your favorite dessert of all time?
Peaches from our garden.
What has been the most rewarding moment in your career?
To be honest, I don’t know how to choose the most rewarding one, but it was for sure the publication in British Vogue or the exhibition in New York. Back then, I had worked on my brand for four years, and this exhibition and a few other very important events in my career gave me more confidence and made me realize that I’m doing something right. I’m looking forward to an upcoming exhibition in Milan in 2022 at Milan Jewelry Week.
We’re itching to plan a trip to Croatia. What are the best things to do there?
Stay at Hotel Bellevue: it’s the only one from the old times, and it has a certain charm. I like to do my meetings there.
It’s so difficult to choose a favorite restaurant because we have a lot of exquisite restaurants, but maybe Artičok and Bokamorra for the pizza. Is it funny to name your own store as your favorite one? We have some cool stores in Split like Forgas. If you come to Split, go to Marjan Forest Park and get lost in Varoš, one of the oldest parts of Split where fishermen and farmers used to live. It is known for small stone houses and narrow streets, which are witness to the life of the people of that time.
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