With this second article about a jewelery designer, there is a distinction to be made between artisan, who conceives and makes, and the designer, whose involvement may be pencils and not files. But there are palettes of color to consider, when you make high fashion jewels, that free the hand in ways production jewelry can’t obtain.
Victoire de Castellane was a costume jewelry designer for ten years at one big house, and now runs the fine jewelry side of another house. This was announced with a solo show in an art gallery, the Gagosian Paris. By sidestepping opulence slightly, the designer is able to show through by bending the rules of form.
In her work the use of color sets it apart, there is a dimensionality of thinking, consideration for multiple view angles. And her approach is a break from the sweeping grid fields of paved stones that seem to have ruled jewels since Cartier. When and where the tiny brilliants are placed, they are in strips, single file dashes of color. The designer admires and locks in on the color value of the stones, setting them in pass-through mounts and clusters, while no bare metal sees the surface without being treated in jewel toned enamel and lacquer on gold. And no metal is unworked – the surfaces are florid. No plane, right angle or facet asserts itself, everywhere is curve and undulation.
Every surface prioritizes color over substance. Stones are used to react to the enamel. Stones are gathered in smooth cabochon clusters there, and variegated with strips of colored brilliants. The range of techniques is admirable, more so is the leaving of formalities in the dust, completely reworked to have something visual to offer.
With a touch that is either sarcastic or ironic, the live created by de Castellane for her Dior line ‘Reines et Rois’ in 2010 made a curious statement. The ‘Kings’ are skull pendants elaborately festooned with diamonds, while the ‘Queens’ are similar rings. Presumably, the King is to be worn like a badge on one’s chest, while Queen is wrappedThe skulls are carved of semiprecious stones, with names matching the stones, such as Reine d’ Opalie, Reine de Chrysoprasie, or Roi de Jaspe. While ex-votos are not a new phenomenon in jewelry, these pieces are clearly for the amusement of the wearer, and perhaps in the vein of artist Damien Hirst, who produced a diamond-encrusted platinum skull at a cost of nearly £10 million, this is the designer’s way of producing objects that mock death as a way of coming to terms with it.
Reines et Roi 1
One reviewer caught on to the curiosity of the line… in plastic or even silver these rings would be ordinary street kitsch, but the elaboration makes a statement about what we might regard as ‘elevated taste’, which is to observe that there seems to be no distinction within the classes between kitsch and ‘luxury’ at this point. The unfortunately anonymous reviewer (perhaps a marketer of the design house) was poignant to note that ‘the line’s success indicates a strong morbid desire that has developed today, one that makes people clearly prefer skulls over hearts or symbols of love’. Indeed mystery reviewer, the movement away from symbols of love and sentiment is a phenomenon across the arts and culture in general that arrived with modernism, and historically can be traced back to the onset of the crazy wars that shattered in the ‘New Arts’ ascendancy in the early 20th century. It would appear that the door to morbidity is the only symbolic door that seems to have been left open in this post-modern, sentiment cleansed world. That this is deeply embedded in our culture is well illustrated by luxury goods that bear no real distinction from the playthings of adolescents save their price.
At the same time, perhaps these might be regarded as simply high-end kitsch, and not an indicator of elite tastes. The pavé diamonds are not terribly costly, and the skulls require so much material it is not a surprise that they are low quality and muddy in color. It may be better to view this line as kitsch with a nice label, as most of luxury goods have become. With the material factor out of the way, we can look with fresh eyes at the work of the designer, which shines through. The care and fluidity of her crowns, feathers and collars are clearly graceful, and each is instantly distinguishable from each other.
Here, in a time when we have an essentially inverted culture – when luxury goods are cheap mass-productions and well-crafted artisan goods as valueless without a luxury label, or if you prefer, a time when skulls are preferred love tokens, it is always refreshing to see the touch of an engaged designer, even if they are nearly anonymous within a production house.