Leave it to Victoire de Castellane, designer of Dior Joaillerie, to turn the macabre into the magnificent.
This story first appeared in the July 7, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“I liked this idea of discovering the tombs of kings and queens who had been laid to rest for an age, and in the end, what remains? Their jewelry,” mused de Castellane, whose latest fine jewelry collection — marking her 10th anniversary at the house — features 20 skulls adorned in resplendent, Baroque diamond finery.
The heads will be unveiled in a pitch black salon at the Dior headquarters here today, appearing and vanishing like ghosts.
Skulls have been a frequent leitmotif for de Castellane, starting with her La Fiancée du Vampire collection in 2001 that was celebrated with a ghoulish party at the Ritz Hotel timed to coincide with the opening of Dior’s Place Vendôme flagship.
For her latest interpretations, the designer tamed her gung-ho colorist heart and set herself a new challenge: a collection based on white diamonds. Three-dimensional skulls were carved from ornamental stones such as chrysolite (used in the Middle Ages for religious ornaments) and jade (once cherished by queens for its reputed healing virtues) and then dressed in dazzling collars and crowns in a variety of styles, from a laurel wreath or Elizabethan ruff to the ceremonial necklaces of the maharajas.
Diamonds in myriad cuts create fabriclike textures, applied to lacelike platinum weaves. Movement comes from articulated necklaces and free diamond beads edging collars like dewdrops. Based on royal couples, 10 king skulls come as pendants, while 10 queens adorn rings.
De Castellane is the first to admit that the opulent collection is uncharacteristically “serious.” Indeed, having carved out her niche as the Peter Pan of the Place Vendôme, the playful designer likes to summon her inner little girl when at the drawing board, conjuring jewels that remind her of her childhood. Think the small daisy and butterfly rings from the Diorette collection in 2006, or the teeny coral cherry earrings and rings in de Castellane’s 2000 Mini Milly line.
While she’s not keen on birthdays or anniversaries, the jeweler concedes that her milestone at Dior is a sweet achievement, considering the fact that her appointment in 1998 raised eyebrows on the Place Vendôme — with her unconventional approach to jewelry design and her star appeal. (She was a big personality on the Paris fashion scene, as a close collaborator of Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel for 14 years and designer of the house’s costume jewelry.)
For her Dior collections, which start with a story and not the stones, de Castellane likes to think outside of the classic jewelry box. Since gold exists in limited colors, for instance, the designer recently chose to lacquer the material in neon hues or shades normally found on Fifties automobiles. “If nature doesn’t bring it to me, I’ll move around it,” she said. “Looking back, those elements I brought to the jewelry sector that were considered shocking and provocative in the beginning are classics and basics for me. I don’t feel like a jeweler. I’m still the same girl making jewelry, only with precious materials.”
De Castellane described integrating the Dior signatures into her collections as an organic process. “Dior is the base. The rest is me,” she said. “I like the idea of using a code one season, putting it to sleep for awhile,” she noted, gesturing to her “Dior gray” office walls scattered with vibrant butterflies on pins.
Asked to list her career achievements, de Castellane singled out “the world’s smallest and biggest rings,” referring to the Mimioui chain ring in 2001 and the giant knuckle dusters from the Les Incroyables et Merveilleuses collection of 1999. The designer also likes to think that she’s brought a certain showmanship to jewelry, which is traditionally displayed on fuddy-duddy busts. Her concepts have ranged from placing jewels in cots like newborn babies to a virtual presentation on the Second Life Web site in 2007 for her psychedelic Belladone Island collection. The pieces sold out within a week of going online.
Similarly, certain pieces from the designer’s latest spooky collection already have sold. “I have a very serious relationship with this collection. It’s a love story,” said de Castellane. “And I always like to accompany the story to the end.”