Victoire de Castellane doesn't like classic. The creative director of Christian Dior's fine-jewelry line likes asymmetry, bright colors, snakes and flowers, and tries to forget she is using precious stones, such as diamonds, rubies and sapphires, so she can work "as if I were five years old," she says. "Jewels are like characters to me. I was a sad child, and with them I would travel to a different, marvelous world."
Since 2007, de Castellane, 52, has been creating a personal collection of objects that can be worn as jewelry or admired as sculptures on pedestals that fully blend in with the pieces. Some of the creations are on view at the Gagosian Gallery, where they are priced from $150,000 to $600,000.
Loot spoke with de Castellane, who lives and works in Paris, by phone in French. Here are edited excerpts of our conversation.
Loot: What was the idea behind the pieces at Gagosian?
De Castellane: What happens when jewelry isn't worn -- that's what interested me. It's a way of reaching out to men as well. They like to buy jewels and just look at them if they don't wear them.
But your inspiration comes from the feminine universe.
Yes, that's very important to me. I'm obsessed by the idea that a piece of jewelry will protect a woman, or carry on her gestures, or live on her like a treasure. It's like an extension of her.
What attracts you to jewelry?
What I love about it is that it's something that's going to stay after you, and it's filled with symbolism. People forget that jewelry can mean passion, love, death, theft. When you wear a piece that once belonged to your grandparents, it's a way of carrying their life on you. And this notion of intimacy and eternity at the same time is very important to me.
What's the process behind your creation?
It's like flashes when I have an idea. The piece is already defined in my head. I see the stones, the volume, how the woman is going to wear it. And I write it down on a Post-it. Then I usually create a wax model and work directly with the atelier [studio]. It's an exchange between them and me. I show them exactly what I want until the end.
How did you enter the jewelry world?
I've liked jewelry since I was five years old. I used to always break what people would give me, because I liked to create things myself. I melted what I had in gold, such as medals and other things. I then got to Chanel and started creating costume jewelry. But in parallel to my work, I kept on looking for stones from antiquaries or second-hand stores, and I would make some rings for myself, and people would ask where I'd found them, say that they were beautiful. I've always loved to work with real materials, because I believe that gold and precious metals are what make jewelry eternal. They're materials that don't get damaged -- unless you drop them from the 12th floor! So in 1998 I got to Dior to create their fine-jewelry line.
How did you begin working for Chanel?
I started going out at a very young age in Paris thanks to my uncle Gilles Dufour, who would take me to the Palace parties. At the time he was the assistant of Karl Lagerfeld. So I met Karl, who got me into Chanel to supervise the creation of costume jewelry for 14 years.
You've been in the fashion world for three decades. How has it changed?
Very much. First because fashion houses are now owned by luxury groups and very few still belong to the founding families. And also, fashion is now a huge business, with many more collections and many more designers.
What advice would you give now to someone starting out in the jewelry world?
If you're passionate about it, you should pursue it. But it's an expensive, time-consuming job that gets more and more crowded. So I think that you really need to have a particular personal style and not to be influenced by what's already out there. If you can't transform that, it might not be worth it.
Some of your pieces are reminiscent of Jeff Koons, John Chamberlain, Niki de Saint Phalle. Are there any particular artists that inspire your work?
For me the greatest jeweler was [Rene] Lalique. I find absolutely extraordinary the love that this man had for women. There's an incredible femininity that comes out of his creation, and this mixture of woman and nature is all that I love.
You once said that your jewelry could be interpreted as a reaction to the boredom of the bourgeois milieu.
When I came to this world, jewelers would make pieces that had no creativity, and there was a fear of taking risks and being inventive. I always thought that it's not because something is precious that it has to be boring or extremely classic. Jewelry has to make you dream, like a story without an end.
"Precious Objects" runs through April 26 at the Gagosian Gallery, 980 Madison Ave. Information: +1-212-744-2313; http://www.gagosian.com.