VICTOIRE DE CASTELLANE, the creator of Dior Joaillerie’s mini works of art, explains to VINCENZO LA TORRE how she has injected a healthy dose of fun into fine jewellery.
UNLIKE THE FAST-PACED world of fashion, in which new collections are churned out on an almost bimonthly basis to please ever-hungrier consumers, the rarefied field of high jewellery operates at a significantly lower speed. Given the rarity of the stones employed by the top jewellery houses of Place Vendôme and the high level of workmanship devoted to the creation of each piece, collections are developed years in advance and are not subject to passing fads or the whims of fickle customers.
Victoire de Castellane, the creative director of Dior Joaillerie, started to conjure up the Archi Dior collection, which was unveiled in full during Paris’s Biennale des Antiquaires in September, before Raf Simons’ arrival at Dior. Yet the pieces perfectly complement the new aesthetic that the house of Dior has embraced since his appointment.
Although Archi Dior references the work of Monsieur Christian Dior himself, with each jewel inspired by couture creations from the career of the founder of the house, its architectural and voluminous shapes also echo Simons’ pared-down silhouettes and architectural vision.
Take a white-gold, diamond and emerald ring that recreates the drapery of a dress from his first collection, Corolle, unveiled in 1947, or a pair of earrings in yellow and pink gold with diamonds, fancy yellow diamonds, spessartine garnets and pink sapphires that evoke the folds of fabric of a gown from the 1949 Trompe l’Oeil collection. They both pay homage to Christian Dior’s years as the prominent French couturier while also embodying the essence of the current creative director of the house.
The name of the range, Archi Dior, is also a reference to Christian Dior because while reading about his life, de Castellane discovered that before setting out to become a couturier he wanted to be an architect.
“I always play with the archives of Dior, his identity,” de Castellane says during a preview of the collection in the Dior atelier on Avenue Montaigne. ”But this time I wanted to change from the flowers and the roses that I made before and introduce a new styling statement with something more classical. Couture is a very classical theme in jewellery, but I wanted to show that couture is not only a ribbon or something with a bow. I think it was very interesting to play with the construction, and when I saw all of the architectural details from all of the Dior dresses I thought there was really an interesting theme, to start from the fabric and to create it with gold or something hard.”
In 1998, the gamine and super-chic Parisienne faced the daunting task of establishing an haute joaillerie department at Dior, which until then had never been a player in the field. Without any jewellery archives to play with, de Castellane let her creativity go wild from day one, coming up with visionary pieces that back then were not the bread and butter of the somewhat old-fashioned world of fine jewellery. Whether recreating the almost menacing features of carnivorous plants with moveable jewellery concoctions that opened to reveal ladybugs inside their mouths or building iridescent sea creatures and jellyfish in stone and precious metals, de Castellane has never played it safe. Whereas at many jewellery maisons you always know what to expect, with massive diamonds or the usual coloured stones reigning supreme, at Dior Joaillerie you never know what each collection will bring. Unusual themes and twists have become de Castellane’s forte.
Before her arrival on the scene, haute joaillerie was rather stuffy and staid, relegated to the world of ladies who lunch or the overexposed red carpet. “I think that when I started, jewellery was absolutely boring,” de Castellane says. “People didn’t take risks. There was only one thing: diamonds, the four precious stones, four colours. They were not free. People were making it in a traditional way. Not fun. Also, because I think when you don’t have a designer, it’s complicated. It’s marketing people who are creating and the clients can tell.”
Focus groups and marketing strategies are clearly not de Castellane’s modus operandi. The designer, who also creates sculptural jewellery under her own name for art collectors, relishes the complete freedom she has at Dior: “For me, creating jewellery is so natural. I’m not asking myself too many questions. I’m very free to create. Making jewellery is like playing. I’m like five years old when I’m creating. I never over-think. Everything is my fantasy. I have a lot of books of jewellery in my library, but I never open them. And I love unexpected things. I think you have to surprise. I hate to be bored by things.”
Boring is definitely not a word you’d associate with de Castellane’s work – or the current status of fine jewellery, for that matter. Just look at all the jewellery lines founded by young designers who just a decade ago probably would not have considered trying their hand at the craft. It was de Castellane who made fine jewellery fun and fashionable, without ever neglecting the high level of craftsmanship and quality inherent in haute joaillerie. “Back then jewellery was not worn with a sense of fashion. High jewellery was lost. It was really like nature morte [still life]. There was not this spontaneity. And now a lot of girls want to make jewellery. That’s great because before I was feeling kind of alone [laughs], although it’s difficult now because everybody is using the stones, so it’s hard to find them.”
De Castellane’s creations stand apart not only for her bold designs but also for her brave use of colours. Even when incorporating diamonds in her works, she tends to choose pink or yellow ones. “I love stones because they’re like gifts of nature,” she says. “They’re little treasures that nature gives you. I can’t take my eyes off jewellery in fascinating colours when I see somebody wearing it. I love colours in life because colours are real life. I like to make them fight with each other, and that’s why I always use a lot of different stones. The idea of finding special colours that you don’t usually find is really exciting and unexpected.”
Unbridled creativity, however, has its constraints, especially when it comes to jewellery, where technical requirements play a vital role. Evoking the softness of pleated chiffon and draped organdie or the strict silhouette of Dior’s signature bar jacket with precious metals, gems and diamonds is no small feat, as Archi Dior shows.
Although Christian Dior, failed architect and unforgettable couturier, was first and foremost a dressmaker, he certainly would have marvelled at the flights of fancy of de Castellane, who’s always respectful in her celebration of his spirit but never forgets that whether they’re wearing a haute couture confection or a one-of-a-kind sautoir, girls just want to have fun.