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August 2 2014

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Q&A: Lanvin’s Elie Top Is Launching High Jewelry, Was Bottle-Fed Chanel

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Elie TopElie Top, the fashion jewelry designer behind Lanvin’s remarkable baubles, announced today that he would launch a line of precious and semi-precious jewelry during the Couture shows in January. In an exclusive interview, Top spoke with Style.com about his lifelong influences, his friendships with Alber Elbaz and Loulou de la Falaise, and how he intends to handle high fashion as he ventures into the ever-expanding “haute jo” [high jewelry] category.

Finally! What convinced you to take the leap?
I’ve always had the idea of doing my own jewelry, but it was really about meeting the right people at the right time, ¬plus I’m not sure I was creatively mature enough before. And then there came a time to decide, and that’s when I met all the right people at the right time. They all complement each other. It was a good match. I’m really happy about it.

How do you envision your own brand?
I consider it sort of haute fantasy jewelry based on my experience in
costume jewelry. I want to take advantage of all the sophisticated techniques and possibilities high jewelry offers. For me, it’s a natural extension of my aesthetic and my taste for couture and costume jewelry, recast through the prism of high jewelry. I’m very French, so it will be a French brand, entirely. We’ll have a little salon where I can receive clients and design exclusive pieces. I’m obsessed with doing things myself from beginning to end. The point is to remain exclusive without being elitist.

Who do you look to from the past to define that style?
There are my basic-basics: I was practically bottle-fed on Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent, who are the foundation of fashion jewelry in the noblest sense. There are so many things I love: Art Deco, Despres, Fouquet; then Boivin and Belperron are always hovering in the background.

But a lot is about what I feel like now and the season, because I live in the world of fashion. It could be Belle Époque garlands one minute, or something very Baroque the next. And it’s not just jewelry—earlier this year I saw Einstein on the Beach in Paris and it was phenomenal, just extraordinary. But architecture, especially Art Deco, has always been important to me. I am always torn between that and things I loved as a child.

Which were?
Versailles, Vaux le Vicomte, Venice, Rome, and churches in general. From a young age I was crazy for Baroque. I would spend hours drawing my own meticulously detailed churches and castles that were a total mash-up of Italian Baroque and French classicism. My parents were kind of post-68 hippies—they had no idea what to do with that. Later I discovered the more radical, pure modern art of the inter-war period, which influenced me in terms of line and is much more mechanical, industrial, and constructed. So my aesthetic centers on two contradictory codes. It’s like a morganatic marriage between fantasy and nobility. At some point, much later, it dawned on me that I’m still doing what I was doing when I was 8 years old. Right now I’m calling it futuristico-Baroque. It’s an improbable fusion of two worlds.

What’s the storyline for your first collection?
There are many stories that compose the same story, about twenty pieces in all. I’m not obsessed by the value of the stone itself; for me, it’s more about design, conception, volumes, etc. If the stone is very important, that’s great, but I hope the value will be in the work itself. I’m totally not interested in doing just a diamond necklace. I love the
possibilities of mixing things up.

What did Alber Elbaz say about your decision?
He’s always been supportive; it’s a conversation we’d had for a long time. That was liberating, because he always told me I should be thinking about that, that it was important. I was just starting as an assistant when we met, when he joined Yves Saint Laurent. He’s the one who put me to work on accessories and jewelry fifteen years ago. I consider myself very lucky to have met him when I did. The same goes for Loulou.

What was your relationship with Loulou de la Falaise?
Love and admiration. She and Alber were the biggest influences in my life
between the ages of 20 and 30, and she was very intuitive. When it came to jewelry, among other things, she was so un-bourgeois; there was no snobbery, just a love of beauty. She didn’t overthink fashion, she just threw pieces together and it came out great. Precious things are not always what the world says they are. It can come in all sorts of shapes.

How will you juggle Lanvin and Top?
It’s easy for me, because its not the same story. What I do for Lanvin is for Alber—it’s guided by his collection, and it’s about the clothes and his world. But it’s costume jewelry, and it’s subject to the fashion calendar. High jewelry is based on other techniques, so I wind up doing something completely different. But I’m used to working a lot—I love it. Eventually I’d like to do other lifestyle objects, too. I’m only just getting started!

Photos: François Goizé

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