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De Beers’ First Model

LONDON -- On a recent humid day, in a photo studio in London's East End, model and beauty entrepreneur Iman was having her eye makeup done for the first De Beers LV ad campaign. As hair and makeup artists buzzed around her and caterers delivered...

LONDON — On a recent humid day, in a photo studio in London’s East End, model and beauty entrepreneur Iman was having her eye makeup done for the first De Beers LV ad campaign. As hair and makeup artists buzzed around her and caterers delivered bananas — her favorite — on a plate, Iman sat with her eyes shut and gushed about — what else? — diamonds.

But not just De Beers diamonds: She was talking about the early Art Deco bracelet and earrings husband David Bowie just gave her for their 10th wedding anniversary, the 18th-century Florentine rings she’s had for years and, of course, the $300 million Millennium Diamond she wore at the Cannes Film Festival last month.

“People asked me if it was heavy,” said Iman of the 203-carat, pear-shaped rock that De Beers purchased earlier this year. “Heavy? Please. If anything, I felt light, giddy. What a heady feeling! What a buzz!”

Iman is the face — and partly the inspiration — for the new brand, which, as reported, is a joint venture between LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton and the De Beers Group. She, along with models Erin O’Connor and Amy Wesson, star in the first ad campaign, which is being shot by Nick Knight and which will break in the November issues of major U.K. fashion and travel magazines. Alain Lorenzo, chief executive officer of the new company, declined to identify which titles will carry the ads because the buy has not yet been completed, but they are likely to include British Vogue, British In Style, British Elle, Conde Nast Traveller, Tatler and Harpers & Queen. Lorenzo declined to say what the advertising budget was for this first season, but said it would be “in line” with those of companies such as Tiffany & Co. and Cartier.

He said the ads will appear chiefly in U.K. publications because the first De Beers store will be in London. The ads will be sold as multipage spreads, he added.

“I was hesitant about taking on the project because I’m not a model anymore, and I didn’t want this to be interpreted as some kind of comeback,” said the Somalian-born Iman. “But the company is using me more as an icon. They liked the different facets of a woman’s life that I represent: I am a businesswoman, a mother and a wife — and the kind of customer who will be buying the line. Of course, another reason I said yes was because De Beers is an African company — we have our African roots in common.”

Iman is more than just the company’s face, though; she’s also been an inspiration to design director Reema Pachachi. Before designing the collection, Pachachi rifled through Iman’s closet and her jewelry box to see what the model had collected over the years. Indeed, one of the pieces Iman wears in the campaign — a dark purple leather choker with 15 diamond studs — is inspired by a piece from her African jewelry collection. “It manages to be whimsical and tribal at the same time,” said Iman of the choker.

Knight’s approach is also a study in contrasts. “The photos are a mix of the Fifties and Seventies: They’re both refined and wild,” the photographer said. “In some of the photographs, the hair is structured — like an African sculpture — but then it becomes loose like Japanese calligraphy. There’s this mix of savagery and grace which makes sense. What is a diamond, after all, but compacted carbon — a savage geological thing — but consider what it looks like when it’s worn.”

Pachachi has so far been tight-lipped about the designs, but she lifted the veil on some of them during the shoot. Her philosophy is that diamond jewelry needs to be more youthful and approachable.

“Until now, high-end diamond jewelry has been, in a way, stuck in the Fifties,” said Pachachi. “The idea is to redefine what the classics are and start creating the classics of the future. It’s about making diamond jewelry to go with the way we wear clothes today and to create diamonds that are not just occasion wear.”

Pachachi showed off a flower chain necklace — with flowers that twist and shift — made from 1,600 diamonds and another one, made from 2,400 diamonds, that looks like a sparkling cluster of bubbles. There’s also an eight-carat marquis-cut diamond ring — which costs just under $1 million and easily covers half a finger — and a smaller, more discreet one that weighs in at 1.5 carats.

Pachachi is quick to add that the 7,700-square-foot De Beers store, due to open on the corner of Old Bond Street and Picadilly by the end of this year, will also carry more affordable diamond jewelry priced below the $1,500 mark.

Indeed, both Pachachi and Iman are on a campaign to demystify diamonds.

“They need to be taken out of their `Christmas shopping’ context,” said Iman. “I like the idea that young girls today buy their own jewelry. It’s so passe and old to wait around for a man to do it. Today, jewelry is about what women want. It’s no longer a trophy that’s bestowed upon them.””