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Meet Century Xie, the Shanghai-born Designer Who Makes “Jewelry That Makes Women Feel Stronger”


Century XiTonight marks the official cocktail to honor the winner of the first-ever Edgard Hamon award for costume jewelry. As reported in March, Jing “Century” Xie is taking home the €15,000 prize. In the hours before the event, the 30-year-old Shanghai-born designer sat down to talk accessories, passion, and what can happen when you drop everything to follow a dream.

It’s been quite a ride this season: In three months you’ve gone from freelancing to winning a major jewelry prize to designing women’s footwear for a fast-fashion giant. How does it all feel?
It feels like a long way from where I started! My first job at 21 was helping choose colors and materials for car interiors at Peugeot and Citroën in Paris. After a year I went back to Shanghai and cofounded a company and did graphic design for five years. But something was missing, and I love an adventure. So in 2008 I gave it all up and went to Studio Berçot, and then attended the Institut Français de la Mode.

How did your family react?
My father asked, “How many fashion designers really become famous?” and advised me to stick with a “decent” job. But I’ve always loved fashion and I wanted to be in Paris. I gave up everything in Shanghai and came here with just enough money to get through Studio Berçot. I had no idea what I would do after that.

When did your track become clear?
By my second year, I was really into jewelry and bags, using coated gold paper to work on pleats and make prototypes. That’s when I knew it wouldn’t be clothes, but shoes, bags, and jewelry. I worked on projects like a bag for Paco Rabanne, Dior sunglasses, and shoes for Erdem. As a sideline I did calligraphy for brands like Julien David and Yazbukey.

How do you define your style?
I like things that are rigid, abstract, and contemporary. Actually, my style is quite androgynous. The Edgard Hamon jury laughed [when I walked in] because they were expecting an English guy, not a Chinese girl. For a second there, I thought I had dressed funny!

Century Xi

What was the inspiration for your winning entry?
Richard Rogers’ Lloyd’s building in London. People associate him more with the Pompidou Center, but Lloyd’s has a similar idea about tubes. Everything exists to be functional. So my idea is to interchange all the shapes for different pieces, whether it’s a necklace or a ring. There’s no crystal or anything fancy, there’s just the geometry and the combinations. What holds it all together is a screw, which frankly is the ugliest part, but I don’t hide it. It’s the identity of the collection, and to me that’s very honest. I want to make jewelry that makes women feel stronger. It’s not necessarily very feminine, though, so I know perfectly well it won’t be for everyone.

Were you inspired by other jewelry designers?
I made it a point not to look at anything else. But Elie Top is my favorite jewelry designer—I like everything he does. The proportion of Lanvin jewelry is always big and solid. No matter what you’re wearing, it makes you strong.

Where do you look for design inspiration in general?
Ultimately, I am just a workaholic: I can be at a restaurant and thinking about a bag and something will strike me about the line of a chopstick and the suppleness of noodles. Later, people ask about inspirations—I have to backtrack to find an answer because it was really just something in my mind that came together because of what I ate for dinner one night!

What happens next?
I’ll invest in production. But I love shoes and I want to draw them every day, so right now I am keeping my career and my jewelry separate. I’ve recently moved to the south of Spain, so I’m still adjusting. Someday I will return to Paris, but right now I can walk to the beach in three minutes, which isn’t bad!

Century Xie’s prizewinning eight-piece jewelry collection will be sold at Le Bon Marché starting in September. Prices range from about $240 for a ring to about $1,370 for a large necklace.

Photos: Courtesy Photos