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Victoire De Castellane’s Hallucinogenic Jewels Are Really “Little Women”


Tonight marks the opening of the first exhibition from Victoire de Castellane (left), the moonlighting debut of the Paris-based jeweler (who daylights, if you will, as the founding designer of Dior Haute Joaillerie). Her precious jewels-cum-decorative objects, Fleurs d’Excès (the “Flowers of Excess,” which have all the psychotropic vividness of Baudelaire’s famous Fleurs du Mal and are in fact inspired by altered states), will be on show at the new Gagosian Gallery Project Space in Paris through March 22nd. Here, de Castellane speaks to about luxury, lunacy, and the unexpected place you’ll find an LED light.

How did this project come about?
I have long wanted to do precious objects that can be worn, or not. The idea was to propose bijoux that you can place somewhere and they take on a life of their own. For me it’s a way of reworking the notion of a precious object, which to me had disappeared somewhat. I wanted to push a little further, to create something outside of traditional jewelry and express myself in a more intimate and extravagant way than I usually do. It’s the first time that I have signed things under my own name, each one is unique and I never once considered showing them anywhere else than in a gallery. They live better there.

What were your inspirations?
I started with women, because I have a really strong interest in women in general and the feminine universe is my first source of inspiration. These flower jewels are women, in fact—things happen to them, they each have their story and they live their lives on a stand, in full view, and I sculpted them in a certain way so that they would convey that sensation. It’s a little like the film Lola Montes by Max Ophüls, the 1955 romantic drama about a former courtesan who is part of a circus, whose life is retold through various tableaux. So I wanted to dramatize each of these pieces by making them tell a little story. Each “woman” has a story, a little scene that figures in her design.

What was your first piece?
One of the first was Heroina Romanticam Dolorosa, which is a poppy in a velvet dress worked in very matte red lacquer, like lipstick pigment. Extasium Ethero Coitus is another, two little flowers in lacquered silver, diamonds and white gold that nestle together slightly sexually—in a bed of Nephrite jade. It was like a little lab for creating curious little plants. And there are lots of details I had never explored before: For every one, the atelier refined new techniques for colors, textures and finishes. One piece, the Quo Cainus Magic Disco, has an LED inside it.

Has your vision of luxury changed in the past few years?
The crisis never changed my idea of luxury. For me, luxury that is rare, unique and of quality. The artisanal aspect, the meticulous handiwork, the sophisticated technique, the time invested, the quality, the materials are what I consider luxury. There are lots of things that are called “luxury” but aren’t. But that’s a whole other debate. Unfortunately, luxury is expensive by definition. For me, if it’s accessible to everyone, it’s no longer luxury.

Do you have a favorite piece?
It’s hard to say—it’s a little like family: sometimes you have favorites, but you don’t say so. I forbade myself to play favorites.

Does it make you sad to see your pieces dispersed?

Of course, but I try to force myself not to become too attached. I accept that one day my children will leave home. I’ve gone through the [psychological] process: these jewels are going to leave.

Photos: Courtesy of Victoire de Castellane