It seemed like a match made in luxury heaven: For the first time, Caroline Scheufele, co-president and artistic director of Chopard, decided to join forces with Beijing-born couturier Guo Pei in a four-hand collaboration to present their ideal vision of high jewellery and haute couture. Guo is best known for making Rihanna’s 2015 Met Gala outfit, a glorious yellow gown trimmed with fur and hand-embroidered with silver floral patterns, which took some 50,000 man-hours to complete.
“Through a joint runway show with Guo Pei, an innovative and promising form of feminine solidarity is expressed: Women are never as strong as when they combine their talents,” says Scheufele. The stunning collaboration was unveiled when Guo presented her Autumn/Winter 2017 couture collection for the fourth time in Paris. Accompanying her rich and elaborate outfits were pieces from Chopard’s Asian-inspired Silk Road Collection.
Scheufele and Guo’s common pursuit of beauty, excellence, considered design and painstaking craftsmanship led them to this partnership. It all began during their fateful first meeting at Guo’s solo fashion exhibition at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris in 2015, where both struck up a conversation around the customisation demands of a mutual Chinese client. It turned out that Scheufele was tasked to create jewellery to match a wedding gown that Guo had designed. Recognising in one another the insatiable quest for perfection, an immediate friendship was born. They subsequently met during Guo’s trips to Paris or Switzerland.
“Although I’m Asian and she’s European, and we have different perspectives, we appreciate each other’s aesthetic and sense of beauty,” says Guo. “When we decided to create this collection, it was not from a superficial commercial point of view; we wanted to create something beautiful together. I thought that we could have a conversation via our creations, as a sincere mutual appreciation and recognition of each other’s work.”
For Scheufele, who has dressed celebrities at the Cannes Film Festival (Chopard is an official partner) for the last 20 years, it was all about finding the right partner to work with. Although she has previously worked with Elie Saab, Ralph & Russo and other major fashion names on various projects, this partnership with Guo is the most intimate yet.
“I’ve often felt that there is a misunderstanding between the dress and the jewellery, and that really gave me the idea of working with Guo Pei because her gowns are incredible — she works with the best materials and buys all her lace in Switzerland. I think this collaboration opens up new horizons for us; this is why I called it ‘Silk Road’, because of the exchange between East and West, just like in the old days,” shares Scheufele.
The two women decided that their first joint presentation would be held during the Paris Couture Week in July, as Guo was the first Chinese designer to become a guest member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in 2016 and Chopard has been a jewellery member of the Fédération Française de la Couture since 2015. Following Guo’s runway show last season, where her models wore jewels from Chopard’s existing collection, both women began to seriously consider a truly exceptional partnership, during which jewellery and apparel engaged in dialogue.
Last March, Guo visited the Chopard workshops in Geneva, which has been developing its fine jewellery division (with over 60 staff) for approximately 15 years. It was here that Scheufele and Guo exchanged ideas on their collaboration. The creative process went smoothly and rapidly; once they had finalised the theme, the designs came naturally. Just three months later, after working relentlessly to meet the deadline, the pieces were delivered by their respective ateliers. The tight timeline proved to be a major challenge, as Chopard was also working simultaneously on its Cannes Film Festival collection.
Reputed for her dramatic, sculptural and fantastical style inspired by the traditional Chinese imperial court, Guo produced 43 looks crafted in just 30 days in her Beijing-based Rose Studio atelier. Showing off intricate craftsmanship through her skilled beading and signature modern take on centuries-old Chinese embroidery techniques, her collection paid homage to the golden age of haute couture of the 1940s and 1950s. “During the golden age of couture, women looked more sophisticated; couturiers and jewellery designers worked closely together to create perfect looks…Jewellery and couture are women’s best friends, but we’ve hardly seen any good combination at the latest fashion shows.”
Returning to an era marked by elegance and the pure beauty of the craft, Guo opted for classic lines, complex constructions and layering through puffy shapes, opulent bustiers and voluminous skirts. To enhance the feminine silhouette, she chose to work with delicate fabrics such as organza silk, duchess satin, silk satin and lace, as well as new textiles like nano silk organza and metallic-trimmed organza. Her preference for shiny, iridescent fabrics in green, blue, gold and silver, corresponded to Scheufele’s use of lightweight titanium in her jewellery designs.
Chopard has pioneered the use of titanium in high jewellery because of its lightweight properties, as well as its ability to take on up to 50 different shades. “Titanium is one of few metals that allows you to obtain exactly the colour of a stone, and you can make really big pieces of jewellery with no weight. We use titanium so that a woman feels comfortable wearing big earrings and doesn’t need to take them off during a dinner. It’s a hard metal to work with — only three or four of the best in our atelier can work it — but now we have arrived at perfection,” says Scheufele.
Comprising 26 one-of-a-kind pieces, the Silk Road Collection is influenced by Scheufele’s romantic vision of Asia. Like a jewellery “wardrobe”, the bold and exuberant line is all about cleverly mastered volumes and flowing lines and lightness, with references to Asia through its colour combinations and touches of opulence. As both Scheufele and Guo are inspired by nature, floral motifs are depicted through gem-setting — such as the subtle fold of a gown or a sculpted secret watch with a pink mother-of-pearl and chalcedony dial topped by a black opal cover that’s set with emeralds, turquoise and jade, and held together by a bracelet of tanzanite beads.
Schefuele has also projected her love for emeralds onto the collection — with the unlikeliest chromatic combinations. Emeralds rub shoulders with Paraiba tourmalines against a white gold and titanium necklace set with 105cts of pear-shaped emeralds, brilliant-cut Paraiba tourmalines and brilliant-cut diamonds, which took 940 work-hours to make. In a romantic marriage of Western and Eastern cultures, a stunning pair of earrings in white gold and titanium is set with two jadeites carved in China, emeralds and sapphires. Elsewhere, a playful lacework Peter Pan-collar diamond necklace features a 36-ct pear-shaped Colombian emerald that can be detached and worn on a simple silk band.
Chopard has also chosen this collection to premiere its use of red aluminium. The metal features in a choker comprising six strands of amethyst beads and a 6.5-ct spessartite garnet, along with Paraiba tourmalines, pink sapphires, tsavorites and diamonds. It represents Chopard’s commitment to introduce innovative materials into high jewellery.
Scheufele discloses, “It’s a new way of imagining high jewellery, which doesn’t only mean diamonds and gold. Tradition and history are important but we also have to take new roads. This is the first time we’re using aluminium because the only colour we can’t achieve in titanium is red. We are also experimenting with new shades.”
Scheufele’s passion for animals is further revealed in a four-strand sautoir in white gold and titanium, which comprises over 300 South Sea pearls that took five years to source. Requiring 566 work hours to produce, it is set with black opals, jade, carnelian and jasper, and features two sculpted onyx birds flittering next to flowers crafted with pink sapphires and diamonds.
It is rare for two creatives to come together seamlessly, and even more so when each is at the top of her game, as Guo and Scheufele have shown by bringing their two houses together in an extraordinary display of creative design and in-house expertise.
Guo concludes: “Beauty needs to be harmonious. It’s not about overtaking or overlaying; it’s instead an attitude of communicating and appreciating each other. Thus, at the very beginning of this cooperation, we wanted to choose and accept one another, not simply by matching jewellery with cloth or the other way around. It is about the selection and recognition of two artists, as well as our attitudes and aesthetics.”
First published in Prestige Singapore’s October 2017 issue.