Jewelry Designer Samuel Francois Draws Inspiration from the Macabre

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As a child, Samuel Francois found himself captivated by the leaves in nature and fastened his own crowns by stringing them all together. „It’s an element I’ve always loved,“ he tells CR. „I’m a country boy, but even more so, I’m a forest boy. I loved to collect leaves, mold them, and then rework them.“

Leaves eventually became a reoccurring theme in his debut jewelry collection, along with skulls and eye motifs. Francois made his mark in fashion first as a designer and eventually as an editor and advertiser, but creating accessories was always part of his history. Since his first internship with French designer Martine Sitbon during the ’90s, Francois began exploring different design techniques, including wax casting and experimenting with jewels. After working with the likes of Kate Moss and Gisele B√ľndchen, he created his first couture fashion line, called Avalon Vega, which he debuted nearly a decade ago during Paris Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2008. Francois co-designed the floral chokers and dangling earrings that the models wore down the runway, a natural aesthetic he’s expanded on in the subsequent years.

His newest line, replete with intricate bronze skulls and gilded leaves, was actually two years in the making and drew inspiration from regions around the world. While the skeletons themselves were aesthetically reminiscent of indigenous Mexican sugar skulls for the Day of the Dead, Francois says the similarities weren’t intentional. He was actually first inspired by the ancient history of Naples, where the idea of purgatory first originated and people worshipped skulls in ossuaries (Roman Catholic burial chests). He also took cues from a chapter about Naples in Le Necrophile by French writer Gabrielle Wittkop, in which the protagonist descends into the catacombs in Naples to explore melancholy in the loneliest depths. Although death and the macabre were eerily present in the majority of his jewelry, Francois also wanted to experiment with bright colors.

„Naples has a strong sense of color and kitschiness which is quite joyful and makes creation more of a pleasant thing,“ he says. „I have macabre taste indeed, but I love to inject a dose of humor. Even if the skulls look Mexican in my work, it wasn’t actually the inspiration, but why not also have a zest of Dia les los Muertos?“

There was also a major link between Francois‘ work and Italian drama films Fellini Satyricon and Pasolini’s Medea, based on the sorceress Medea from ancient Greek mythology. It’s easy to see how the golden brass necklaces and ornate Barbarian garb worn by opera singer Maria Callas, who stars as Medea in the film, led to Francois‘ own armor-like plated necklaces and gilded metalwork. In fact, the designer says the majority of his jewelry took cues from classical antiquity, Greece, and Italy. That, and „a bit of magic,“ he adds.

From his latest offerings, Francois is most proud of a layered necklace decorated with dangling bindweed, which makes a lot of noise when worn. „The sound reminds me of arriving in Capri or in the suburbs of Naples on a train,“ he says. „And looks a bit like a barbarian princess.“

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