Be Nice to a Girl, Buy her a Ring

In collaboration with Droog Design

Year of production: 2008

About: As part of an initiative to do away with prostitution (and especially the human trafficking and exploitation associated with it) in Amsterdam’s historical centre, the city government launched a targeted campaign around 2007. Brothels and sex clubs were bought up with public funds and turned into studio spaces for young creative talents. This brought a community of designers, most of them active in the fashion world, to the red-light district. As they set up their businesses in these low-rent studios, the sex trade went on as before a few doors down. Amsterdam policymakers initiated Project 1012 (the postal code of the area) to set off a process of gentrification, building upon the history of the neighbourhood that once housed a cluster of small, artisanal businesses.

Between 2008 and 2010, Atelier Ted Noten was based in a former brothel there, in the company of a few other jewellery designers. Right away, Noten seized the opportunity to turn his fascination for the seamy underbelly of society into a project, which he called Red Light Design. With the slogan ‘Be nice to a girl, buy her a ring’, he attempted to bridge the gap between the artificial setting of the studio and the raw reality of the street. In the building front on Oudekerksplein – the heart of the red-light district – he set up a vending machine like those in old-fashioned fast-food automats. This machine, however, was filled not with greasy snack foods, but with all sorts of metal rings, dipped in fiery red lacquer. At the opening of Noten’s automat, he slid the first ring in the collection onto the finger of a special ‘working girl’: Carolien Gehrels, alderman of the Amsterdam City Council, responsible for the cultural sector.

The idea was that a john, on the way to the woman of his choice, could conveniently pick up a ring and present it to her as a gift. Four thousand rings were sold to passers-by – many to design fans. It’s unclear how many rings actually ended up in the prostitutes’ boudoirs.

The Red Light Design project was also represented at the Amsterdam Museum in the summer of 2010; all the participants contributed to the exhibition ‘The Hoerengracht’. For that event, Ted Noten made a special edition of his rings called City Muse and Her Jewellery. This work was purchased by the museum.

Photo credits: Atelier Ted Noten

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