“My jewels are propositions,” jewelry designer-turned-artist Victoire de Castellane said in the press release for her upcoming exhibit, Precious Objects. “From the outset, this involves making an object that constructs itself out of many different things, and that sometimes ends up surpassing even what I had imagined for it. It is no longer primarily an accessory; it becomes something larger. It speaks about concept and form as opposed to objective value. It becomes sculpture.”
De Castellane’s jewelry-as-sculpture work is on display for the first time in New York City. On view at the Gagosian Gallery, Precious Objects, highlights the designer’s pieces that are inspired by “the synthetic wonders of Technicolor, the Brothers Grimm and Walt Disney, Hollywood screen idols and manga characters, the trash and fizz of pop culture, and the darkest depths of the subconscious.”
The designer was born into a strong lineage of French aristocracy—her great-grand-uncle, Boni de Castellane, was a major player in the Belle Époque, and his wife, Anna Gould, was an American railroad heiress. But de Castellane’s design and style inspiration come from her uncle Gilles Dufour (one of Karl Lagerfeld’s assistants at both Fendi and Chanel) and her paternal grandmother, Sylvia Hennessy, who had an eye for luxurious accessories.
“An excess of wealth provided my ancestors with freedom,” de Castellane told W. “I just want an excess of freedom in which to create.” In 1998, Dior’s newly-launched division, Dior Joaillerie, tapped the young French socialite as head designer. It was then that de Castellane was awarded the freedom she had hoped for, and began adding her whimsicality and pizzazz to the otherwise stuffy world of haute jewelry.
“She follows the rules I like best in life: Don’t compare. Don’t compete. You look at her. You get the message,” Karl Lagerfeld once said of the designer, who in 2007 added “artist” to her resume, turning her elaborate fine jewelry—including rings, necklaces, and bracelets—into miniature sculptures of precious stones, like brilliant-cut diamonds, sapphires, rubies, opals, and emeralds. As a result, de Castellane’s flamboyant jewels are brought to life.
In 2011, de Castellane debuted her artistic creations at a show in Paris called Fleurs d’exces, which told “a story of women under the influence of hallucinatory drugs.” Pulling inspiration from the mechanical nightingale of Hans Christian Andersen’s children’s tales, Fabergé eggs, and the fabulous bestiaries of animals real and mythic, de Castellane produced ten pieces that explored a new relationship between jewelry and art. Earlier this year, the designer’s work went on display at London’s Gagosian Gallery in ANIMALVEGETABLEMINERAL, an exhibit that focused on natural elements and vegetation, and looked to places like the rocher de singes (Monkey Rock) at Paris’s Bois de Vincennes zoo for inspiration.
Her latest exhibit, Precious Objects, includes pieces from de Castellane’s previous collections, including Lunae Lumen Satine Mummy Blue, a necklace comprised of yellow and white gold, platinum, an emerald, diamonds, and colored lacquer atop a silver base, and a ring, Crystal Shocking Pink Baby, crafted from yellow gold, diamonds, and colored lacquer. Other highlights from the retrospective include a bedazzled set of earrings—the Vitam Industria Abstract Multi Candy—made of white gold, multi-colored sapphires, rubies, emeralds, and fine stones on geometric squares, and Cana Bisextem Now, a lacquered silver, yellow, and white gold bracelet with diamond, emerald, garnet, and cucumber jasper. The pieces are, as de Castellane described, “jewelry at rest, waiting to be worn.”
Victoire de Castellane, Precious Objects, will be on view at Gagosian Gallery, 980 Madison Avenue, until April 5, 2014.