Her Family Is Famous For Diamonds, But Gaia Repossi Is More Inspired By A Feather Through The Nose
In recent years, the jewelry house of Repossi—founded in 1925 and nearing its 90th birthday—has won over a whole new generation of fans. Credit goes to Gaia Repossi, the 26-year-old artistic director, who took over her father’s post in 2007 and quickly introduced her own style as well as collaborations with friends like Joseph Altuzarra and Alexander Wang. (Her pieces made Style.com’s Top 10 Jewels list for Spring and Fall 2012.) All this despite protests that she’d never enter the family trade. “I was very intellectual, in my little own world,” Repossi said on a recent visit to New York to toast her ongoing partnership with Barneys. “I rejected completely the jewelry world.” But after studying painting, anthropology, and archaeology, Repossi edged into the business by the side door, as it were—she initially wanted to focus on its image and marketing—and wound up giving it a timely overhaul. “I wanted to bring it closer to what jewelry is nowadays to me,” she says, “and maybe also what jewelry was missing.” She spoke to Style.com about her work, her studies, and her art. For the record, she still paints.
Tell me a little bit about your background, and how you came to work for the family business.
It’s a little bit unexpected, even if it seems expected. When you grow up you can have two reactions: You can be very keen on what your parents are doing, or you want to look for something else. I was absolutely not willing to continue to work as my dad did [at Repossi]; I strictly wanted to do something different. I was painting as a teenager and I was aiming to really focus on that as my career. I started studying painting and I finished doing archeology, because I wanted to go more in the past, in the civilizations and the history of art. In the meantime, while I was in Paris studying, I saw a few things I didn’t like in my dad’s image of the company that I wanted to touch. Slowly it came out, the idea to launch a collection. And it worked, without even thinking about it. Unconsciously all my studies and my own imaginary world started applying to jewelry.
It’s like, you go to India and see the nomads with garlands of silver things that they consider cheap, but they are extremely elegant. Nowadays, women don’t know how to wear the jewelry anymore, but when you go in India, there’s people barefoot but they are extremely elegant with all their jewelry. There are some codes, there’s an aesthetic that inspires me and has me working, a lot more than this [European] lady with her beautiful diamonds, even if she is elegant. It’s more that those silhouettes are striking. In Africa too—in Congo with their combs, and in Amazonia with their feathers in their nose.
Your anthropology courses proved to be good training.
Exactly. I was studying anthropology—ethnic similarities in between the civilizations. Even in those classes, jewelry became very important. Sculpture, too. When I go to shows, they have patterns, it’s the same. [But you also need] the family and the background that knows how it do it in a very refined way, because there’s no point to making a sculpture [for jewelry]—it has to be wearable and refined, not a heavy object you don’t know what to do with.
What didn’t appeal to you about the image that the house had when you began?
I mean, it had its own—it was the one for its own time. You know, if you look back at the eighties and the seventies, Repossi was one of the major small brands, and I still like that we’re small today. It was still one of the brands that was most looked at, at the time, but obviously time passes. In our contemporary world, the market is taking over, and jewelry is not a necessity anymore. It turned into…sort of an investment: like, I have money so I’ll buy a diamond and [put] it in my safe. Which is good on the one hand, but on the other, it kills all the creativity. When you are in a big group and the CEO says, “No, we don’t want to take risks on certain products,” it slowly degrades; it’s like couture dying. It’s pretty endangered. Studying what I studied you have this feeling. You know, in France they’re very obsessed with the preservation of the cultural background, and jewelry is a part of it. It’s considered an art craft, accessories; arts déco, they call it in general. It’s part of the human civilization. That’s why I use also past references. They’re unconscious echoes to the mind. People, they see a new object, but it recalls a little of the past.
You talk about jewelry as an investment. Is it important for you to stratify—to have pieces that are less expensive to bring in people who might not be buying jewelry otherwise?
Yes. But I see it more in the sense that I like the material for its beauty, whatever it is. Whether it’s wood, marble—just like for an artist, there’s no [inherent] value to it, really. But then my background and my family in jewelry always has focused on the diamond and what its value is, and there’s this tradition [of] quality that is obviously unconsciously always coming up. If something is wrong, or if the stone is not of good quality enough, I don’t tend to like it—unless, you know, the mistake has its own beauty. But it’s not a price range; it’s beyond that. We try not to do lower than silver for the house, but then I love to work on collaborations with plastic or glass or anything—but we wouldn’t sell it in the store on Place Vendôme, I’m sure.
I know you’ve done several collaborations. You mentioned you’re working with Vanessa Traina on something; you’ve worked with Alexander Wang as well.
Yes, this is actually more the big price range that you mention.
How do you find it is to collaborate? Is it quite different from working on your own?
You know, Alexander is a designer, 100 percent. He has his own collections, so it was for his show and we had to work adapted to his show—with my own vision, but adapted exactly to his silhouettes. Whereas Vanessa is someone who is more inspiring, that does research, that has her own moods. She doesn’t have her own collections, so she’s a different [type of] guest who can enter the house.
Were you always interested in and aware of style?
No, it’s painting; I’ve always painted. No, I like to dress because I have to, but I wouldn’t do any clothing.
I didn’t necessarily mean would you design clothing, but has it always been something that is important to you? You made our Top 10 Best Dressed list this season, you know.
I think it’s mostly unconsciously my mother’s [way of dressing] recalled. I think now that I’m older I dress exactly like she did…
Tell me about her.
She’s always worn little masculine references—blazers and black pants, tuxedo and cigarette pants, and white shirts. She has probably like 100 white shirts. The most simple, never over-the-top. She always told me never to overdress because it’s not going to work. Then also my father, because I look like him a little bit. Sometimes when I wear a tie and a ponytail I feel a little like my dad.
Was your mother involved in the house as well?
She was a muse of my father, for sure. If you look at the ads we did, there’s a picture of Malgosia where we dressed her very eighties (below). That we called the tribute picture in honor of the pieces of the eighties; she could recall my mom a little bit.
Do you have an archive of the original jewelry from the seventies and the eighties?
Yes, the tribute collection.
Do those influence your designs, or do you prefer to start fresh?
I’m sure they do because it’s the same ateliers, it’s the same house, and not such a long time has passed in between. But I have more my own patterns and my own world for sure. But, then, I was raised by my father’s ideas…
Are there artisans in the ateliers who’ve been working straight through the whole time from the seventies until now?
Actually, the chef d’atelier has been working with my father from the beginning.
And how have they responded to the new collections?
They’re very happy; they’re very excited. For all these people that work in the art craft and work with their hands, the kind of jobs that are dying, for them it’s the hope that it’s continuing. They actually see that as a sign that there is a future.