Size is no object for Victoire de Castellane, the groundbreaking jewelry creator who has brought a bright flash of the improbable to the glitzy house of Dior.
Big, bright jewelry gets a pedigree with the high-end accoutrements designed by audacious creator Victoire de Castellane.
Since she alighted at the fabled couture house of Christian Dior in 1998 as the first artistic director of its then-new fine jewelry line, Victoire de Castellane has pulled no punches. Her unapologetic way with a jewel, which has expressed itself through colorful riots of juicy gem mixes that create jewels of improbable size and provocation, has sent shockwaves through the jewelry world. De Castellane's style injects the rarified world of fine jewelry – a world that had, before her arrival, become quite stale and unexciting – with a sense of color and disproportion, reenergizing it with the whimsical creativity that has for so long made costume jewelry design so visually exciting. This is no accident, since De Castellane had spent the previous 14 years as the right hand of Karl Lagerfeld, re-appropriating the Chanel legacy of costume jewelry to work with Lagerfeld's irreverent take on the house.
At Dior, De Castellane – a wide-faced, high-cheekboned, pale-skinned beauty whose aristocratic family lineage is among the oldest in France – has produced jewelry where size has been no object; in fact, quite regularly, certain collections, spilling over with jeweled depictions of fruit, flowers and insects, have had very few pieces of "traditional" size. Case in point, the recent Belladone Island, a collection of one-offs appropriately shown during haute couture week in Paris and which sold out immediately. Based on the flora of an imaginary tropical island, the giant cannibalistic blooms drip with briolettes and colorful enamels, their jarring color combinations briefly distracting from the technical genius behind a construction that allows petals to pull back, pieces to transform, and hidden pearls of inventive daring to see the light of day.
As a woman, has it proved hard to succeed in a profession like fine jewelry, and at a house like Dior, both arenas that have long been associated with men?
It hasn't been hard. Men are more on the production side. Being a woman is extremely positive in being a fine jewelry creator, because I say to myself every morning, "What don't I have that I would love to wear?" Moreover, since 1999, I have the feeling that now women buy fine jewelry for themselves – they don't wait until a man offers them something. And women understand what I create.
You're a woman designing jewelry for women. How does your point of view – and the resulting jewelry – differ from that of your male counterparts?
I love the feminine shapes in my creations; colors, audacity. Sometimes men don't want to take risks, offering a diamond piece. Now, because they know a woman is designing, they dare to offer different jewels.
What's the difference between a Parisian woman and a Middle Eastern woman when it comes to choosing jewelry?
Nowadays, and I saw it perfectly with my last high jewelry collection, called Belladone Island, there is no real difference. Every type of woman buys our collection, and I am very touched by that. One is from France, another one from Hong Kong, another one American, other ones from the Middle East, Japan, and so on. The main difference is the fact that they have more occasions to wear high-end pieces, and maybe they buy more pieces with the four classical precious central stones.
Are there certain guidelines a woman – any woman – should follow when buying and wearing jewelry?
Follow your style and your taste and don't follow trends. After that, it's hard to say. A certain type of gold will be better on a certain skin. Don't be afraid of volumes, no matter if they are tiny or huge. Wear what matches your style and wear it when you want. Don't wear things only for special events, it's too sad. Last thing: it's better to wear one huge ring than plenty of jewels.
The late Duchess of Windsor said a woman should look in the mirror and take off one thing before leaving the house. Do you believe that less is more?
It depends on the style of the person. Look at Helena Rubinstein, she could wear "hundreds" of jewels at the same time and it was very chic.
What inspires you as a jewelry designer?
Everything: the street, women wearing jewels, fairytales, movies, exhibitions, a certain stone... Oh, and of course, opals!
Your sense of color, whimsy and proportion has completely revolutionized the way women look at and buy jewelry, and created countless imitators. How did you arrive at this particular jewelry style?
I kept the view I had on jewels when I was a child and I looked at my grandmother's ones. They seemed huge... so I kept the same disproportion.
Your last one-off collection, Belladone Island – a highly colorful and ambitiously crafted one – sold out completely. How does it feel to know that people are clamoring to buy your work as collector's pieces?
I am very touched by this, of course. I hope they will be kind to them!
How important to your creative outlook and sense of style has being a Parisian been?
Paris is such an amazing city that of course being a Parisian creator, you have to be "à la hauteur."
You could be described as the leader of the pack of stylish Parisiennes. What rules does one follow to become one?
Never total looks. Follow your intuitions and dare.
Describe your own personal style.
Very feminine. I love colors, high heels, skirts; I have the same haircut as when I was a little child.
What's your favorite restaurant and/or bar in Paris, and why?
La Galerie du Plaza. It is chic, five minutes' walk from the office, the food is tasty, and the gallery hasn't changed.
What's your favorite cultural thing to do in Paris?
Going to exhibitions at the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais.
What are some of your favorite places to shop?
Le Bon Marché, because of the good mix.
What does fashionable mean to you?
For me, it's not about a trend, because one day that becomes old-fashioned, but about the woman who is in fashion.