London’s finest tooth adornments are being made in Clerkenwell
By Oliver Bennett
In the jewellery business, the High Street retail end is suffering. But there’s a few growth areas including that of grills. Jewellery for the teeth, grills can be fitted to beautify and also to cover up imperfections, giving a smile that is, literally, dazzling, Deriving from 1980s US hip-hop and R&B culture, and now part of the look favoured by grime and drill stars, they’re moving from being an underground niche to a wider audience.
Icey Illko in Clerkenwell, run by Hussein along with Julius and Joel who grew up close to London’s jewellery centre, Hatton Garden is now one of London’s foremost creator of grills.
“Grills are a modem-day passion,” says Hussein from Icey Illko’s studio in Clerkenwell Close. “They can be made out of any type of material: platinum silver, gold – I’ve got diamonds on my teeth right now.”
Hussein, who is 20, started making grills when he was 16. He did a BTEC in engineering and then went into this, his “passion” industry. As Hussein explains, you need accuracy but you don’t need to have dentistry training, “There’s a thin line between dentistry and making grills,” he says. “But you must remember it’s a fashion product.”
Comfort is key, so when the customer comes in the team is able to make a cast that is then treated and fired in a kiln. “We look at each person and whether they have a brace, any imperfections, chips, anything like that, and do our best to cover them up,” says Hussein. After that they apply wax to the cast and create the grill itself.
Grills can be taken on and off – Hussein demonstrates with his own and indeed, taking them out is highly recommended for eating and sleeping. “But they’re comfortable enough to wear for a whole day,” he says. “I wear mine for about seven hours a time.”
It’s a growing trend. There have been celebrities in Icey Illko but the team can’t discuss them, and the company is now gaining international reach: they’ve done pop-ups in Amsterdam, Sweden and shortly, Paris. “Sweden was amazing,” says Hussein. “It was a big turnout. I was surprised myself.”
Grills take about two to three weeks and prices depend on which metal you choose. The customer’s time takes an hour or two at the studio, including the mould. They then go back to pick their grills and get fitted.
“There might then be a wearing-in period, because new customers feel an object in their mouth and the brain tells them it’s not meant to be there,” says Hussein. But most people become accustomed to them pretty quickly.
And while grills are mostly a youthful accessory, as the fashion grows, that might change. “It’s across wider culture and society now,” says Hussein. “In the UK, we’re now at the place where America was, say, seven years ago. Grills could be in many different places in the next five to 10 years.” A storefront would “bring a lot of eyes” and remains a possibility, while artefacts like Taschen’s just-published book Ice Cold: A Hip-Hop Jewelry History by Vikki Tobak are helping to create interest in the wider fashion. world. They won’t suit everyone, but grills are a going concern.