Dior’s Victoire de Castellane Finds Fantasy and Humanity in Her Jewels

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When you look at a piece of Dior Haute Joaillerie, you can almost hear it speaking to you as well. According to jewelry designer Victoire de Castellane, that’s because it’s her language. “I hope people can look and understand my jewelry without my having to explain it,” she tells CR. Of course, the designer is happy to oblige to explain more than what meets the eye.

“Time stops here,” the French-aristocrat-turned-designer explains from her vacation home in Île de Ré, which she affectionately refers to as the “Greece of France” for its white beaches and houses. (If this were the Hamptons, it would be Shelter Island.) “You ride bikes to the beach and marchè.”

If time had indeed stopped still for de Castellane, she might very well be designing jewelry for Chanel. The lively personality with signature Penelope Tree blonde tresses began her career alongside Karl Lagerfeld at 22 years old as a studio assistant and grew to oversee the costume jewelry for the entire French fashion house. She was already well acquainted with Lagerfeld through her uncle, Gilles DuFour, one of the designer’s principal assistants at that time, who had brought her as a teenager to experience the heyday of ’70s Parisian nightclubs. From there, he honed her signature style and reputation for dressing up in playful feminine get-ups, often complete with rabbit-ear headbands.

Femininity plays a role in her work, but the designer is also known for her love of nature in her designs. The roots go back to Paris, where Monsieur Dior’s archives provide a good portion of her inspiration. When the designer was appointed in 1998 to lead the launch of Dior Fine Jewelry, which debuted in 1999, she looked specifically to Dior’s garden, hence the lily of the valley, rose, and bee as recurring motifs. His couture designs, which include ribbon, lace, and draping, have also helped shape collections through the years. For this year’s Dior Dior Dior collection, for instance, she looked at lace primarily, a theme she has explored in previous collections. This time though, she approached the front side as opposed to the back.

“I asked the craftsmen to recreate an archival Dior lace as the base of the piece for the stone work, creating in metal the same light, airy, and transparent manner,” she explains. Cut diamonds resembling sequins were embroidered onto “fabric.” Her Rose de Vents line of everyday wearable jewelry—the kind that women purchase as readily as they do ready-to-wear, according to de Castellane—was inspired by a weathervane motif on a mosaic floor at the late designer’s home in Granville, a commune in Normandy, France. “He was the first designer to travel the world with his collection so it reminded me of inspiration from one’s travels,“ she says.

But Dior is just half of the inspiration for her whimsical designs. The other is de Castellane’s paternal grandmother, Silvia Rodriguez de Rivas, Countess de Castilleja de Guzman. “She was fascinating to look at—especially her gestures; she changed jewelry several times a day,“ she says. „Always beautiful but classical.” It’s easy to imagine how a five-year-old de Castellane could be captivated by the jewelry that looked so big in her tiny hands.

“I loved the color of the stones. She had a lot of emeralds and I imagined they taste like mint,” de Castellane recalls, remembering the jade pieces gifted to her grandmother by her best friend Barbara Hutton. “I love to make the colors of the stones fight together. I love the assemblage of them all together. It’s like a party when the mix of people make it a success.”

Her favorite stones are opals, especially Peruvian blue: “Opals are like a rainbow in a stone or how the sea looks from the plane when you can see all the shades.“

If de Castellane’s work seems reminiscent of a previous collection, it’s completely intentional. „Each collection is like a chain, it brings the next, keeping the flow connected,“ she says. De Castellane’s tenure has lasted through four different creative directors for Dior’s women’s collections and even though their influence were absorbed into de Castellane’s designs, the two remain pretty separate entities. Timing alone is a hindrance; it takes up to two years to realize a fine jewelry collection, whereas ready-to-wear and even couture are turned around in a matter of months.

This means that next year’s 2019 collection for the 20th anniversary of Dior Haute Joaillerie is already in production and de Castellane is already thinking about the following year. „It’s going to be a new era and this collection will be in a new place as the world is changing so much,“ she says.

De Castellane serves as her own taskmaster to keep her designs innovative: „I always ask myself what can I do new? I don’t like to be bored so I like to transform and change. Even if the story doesn’t change it can be done in a different way.“

Jewelry-making itself has entered a new era as of late with 3-D printing, but for de Castellane, it’s all about the hand touches, such as the sketching and drawing involved. „I like jewelry because it is made by jewelers with love in their hands and we need to keep the humanity and real feeling,“ she says. „It’s important.“

De Castellane has spent 20 years in the business, and she says she’s noticed the passage of time through the changes in the business―first, as a female jewelry designer in the late ‘90s (a rarity at the time), and, second, how the concept of creative storytelling has evolved. Fine jewelry wasn’t as integrated into fashion as it is now.

These days, de Castellane’s grandmother is never that far from mind. Her father gave her some of his mother’s jewelry: a ’50s Van Cleef & Arpels bracelet and some pearl and turquoise rings. It helps to keep those childhood memories alive in her heart. “I love jewelry for its aspect of transmission. I think of my grandmother when I wear it, and it gives her a certain eternity imagining when and how she was when she wore it,“ she says. „When I was young, I wanted to live surrounded by jewelry. It’s a big part of me.”

Fortunately for us, de Castellane’s dreams came true.

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