Brimming with stuffed animals, vintage snapshots and pastel-hued pencils; Victoire de Castellane's creative den has the same whimsical 'pop' that you find in every one of her jewelry designs.

From the moment she touched down as the first artistic director of fine jewelry at Dior in 1998, Victoire Castellane set out to weave her unique, whimsical style into the fabric of the venerable fashion house. Fourteen years under Karl Lagerfeld's creative tutelage at Chanel, mixed with her personal flair for fantasy, eccentricity and fun, was all it took to catapult the new Dior fine jewelry division into the front-seat of luxury with her daring shapes, experimental volumes and candy-colored palette. Along with John Galliano and Hedi Slimane, Victoire de Castellane is a cornerstone of Dior's winning triumvirate team.

The only front-stage female designer on the Place Vendôme, she has revolutionized the face of luxury with her capricious, lip-smacking designs. Appealing to the irreverent kid at heart, it comes as no surprise then that her new bejeweled delicacies play 'dress up' for the public. For the presentation of her latest collection of fine jewelry, sparkling 'top models' with tabloid names like 'Diorette' and 'Byzance', saunter down a miniature runway. "Since my creations have always been the incarnations of real or imagined personalities, I thought it would be fun to see the way they move on the podium," she explains. Here Dior's jewelry diva takes us on a glittery backstage tour of her red-carpet runway.

You brought a delicious sumptuousness and playfulness to jewelry design in a way that was completely uncommon at the time. Where did this aesthetic come from?

There were definitely designers before me that incorporated whimsy into their work, but when I started the market was incredibly formal and conventional. Frankly there was a profound un-sexiness and severity to most designs. I used to go scouring around vintage shops to relocate the whimsical style of the past. I took pieces apart to experiment with the colors and volumes and create new stories with my findings. From the very beginning, each of my designs has always been inspired by a story as opposed to a stone. I think that's where the playfulness and fantasy derives its energy.

How do you explain the current craze for jewelry designs, does it have to do with the fact that more and more women are buying their own jewels?

Definitely. Women have more purchase power than ever before and are treating themselves to designs that express this kind of liberty. They are offering themselves presents, without waiting for the men to do it, and this has created an explosion within the business.


What kind of designs do you find most appeal to women these days?
Women are attracted to designs that have a certain romance, poetry and humor. This has greatly encouraged me to continue to express myself in the way that I do, while remaining true to the absolute freedom and sincerity of my own creative expression.


What about with fine jewelry, are their as many women as men buying pieces?
Men purchase the majority of fine jewelry, but more and more women are spending between $100,000 and $300,000 on gifts for themselves.


What about the custom clientele?
Surprisingly, many men are interested in customized designs as well: unique pieces, mostly rings. It is very rare that I actually meet one of my customized clients. I am given the most essential details regarding their tastes and preferences, which in a way gives me greater liberty — I can apply my fantasies to the designs in ways that I couldn't if I had met the person face to face. Yet there are other times when the exchange is more developed and I do meet the person, which is a wonderful process as well.

Which pieces are you absolutely head over heels for?
I try not to fall too much in love with them, because they leave you. It's better to think of them as children that you nurture and love, but then who leave the home to lead their own adventures in life. That said, there are several designs that I am very much attached too, such as the 'Incroyables' – the big chunky rings with 80 carat pastel-colored diamonds that look like delicious hard candies, each one with its own decor and story. Side by side, they look like a rainbow in a candy box. All you need is one and your outfit is set. I'm also like a crazy beast when it comes to opals; I'm obsessed with them, they have a life of their own. I'm also particularly charmed by the 'Mimioui' fine chains with precious stones that are inspired by the delicate first jewels of childhood.


Which 'characters' from your miniature jewelry catwalk show mean the most to you personally?
'Diorette', she's inspired by Snow White and is the little sister of 'Incroyable'. Everyone will be going crazy for her when she comes out next May. She's like a timeless bouquet of flowers; each petal and leaf is hand-painted with a different stone, just like a little porcelain doll. The design is my interpretation of what an eternal bouquet would resemble. I don't like real bouquets, because their beauty is fleeting, but Diorette's beauty is meant to last forever.