The idea of storytelling is one that has long been part of the luxury brand lexicon. What draws you to a particular House or Maison is not just the products themselves. It’s about the founders, the journey, the artisans and craftsmen toiling behind-the-scenes to make the magic happen. And, of course, the inspiration behind the fantasies. Drawing on a selection of references that speak to the codes of the House, brands are constantly looking for new inspiration that can add to their language, heritage and history. Inspiration can come from anywhere and everywhere, from top-secret archives to literature classics.
In the annals of fashion, Monsieur Yves Saint Laurent established the youthful spirit of his eponymous maison by capturing the zeitgeist of the times, which his successors upheld while giving every collection their own spin. Phoebe Philo modernised the female wardrobe by introducing her cool and minimalist British sensibilities to the French label Céline. Parisian high jewellery brand Chaumet draws inspiration from its history, the relationship with Napoleon and Empress Joséphine; its archives, drawings and museum-worthy pieces; plus of course, art and nature. By looking back to the past, these brands are creating new narratives and paving the way for the future.
Take the four main themes in the newly minted La Nature de Chaumet high jewellery collection: The laurel, the oak, the lily and wheat are where the enchantment begins, starting from the symbolism behind each individual motif. Combined with Claire Dévé-Rakoff, Chaumet’s Creative Director, personal interpretation of the choice of stones used, La Nature de Chaumet illustrates the new era of storytelling at Chaumet. A day after the unveiling of the collection, held inside Musée Bourdelle in Paris, amidst works by the prolific French sculptor Antoine Bourdelle and a pagan tableau to reflect the mythological references, Jean-Marc Mansvelt, CEO, and Anne-Line Roccati, Image and Communication Director, discuss with BAZAAR the significance of the collection and explain how it is the start of a new chapter for the House.
Windy Aulia (WA): Chaumet has 235 years of rich history. How do you select what stories to tell?
Jean-Marc Mansvelt (JMM): Firstly, we never reproduce any creations. So the richness of what we produce today is a product of what we create today, even though, of course, we get inspiration from the past. It’s usually quite obvious what works and what doesn’t, but it’s never the choice of one person. It’s a group decision. We are blessed to have a great Creative Director like Claire, who is highly productive. But, to decide on a theme or story, that is a decision that we do together; more importantly, because we, collectively, feel it. In the case of La Nature de Chaumet, I shouldn’t describe it as easy, but it was a natural decision.
WA: It’s easy to link the theme to Empress Joséphine’s love for beautiful gardens, but I feel there’s more to it. There’s an artful approach within the La Nature de Chaumet collection. Can you explain that?
JMM: This is one of the most important things to understand in order to understand Chaumet. There’s art in the heart of Chaumet. When you look at the 55,000 finished drawings in our patrimony, you will clearly see the harmony, or tension, between different elements. There are stories in between the stories. Sometimes you see a few similar drawings, but there’s a difference of one or two millimetres in its composition. It really is akin to a painting. Chaumet jewellery is usually made of different things in the same object. That’s why the original drawings are very important, regardless of the jewellery technique. That starts right after, which is the second magical stage, and you need the right technique to make these drawings into reality.
Anne-Line Roccati (ALR): But we are not museum- or history-specific. The challenge we face is to contextualise [these stories] into the modern world and to speak to the people of today. We are not only telling and selling the love story between Napoleon and Joséphine.
JMM: Storytelling is a funny word, because sometimes it is associated with “inventing” a story, whereas in the case of Chaumet, and it is one of our privileges; we simply don’t need to invent. And the purpose of Chaumet is not to become the number-one. The purpose of Chaumet is to tell a story of what Chaumet is, where it comes from, where it is going and to tell it to the right kind of people. This has been going on since the past. There’s always been a certain kind of exclusivity and distinction within the brand.
WA: How would you describe the modernity of La Nature de Chaumet then?
JMM: Back to the collection, and this is what we like about it—each of the four themes that Claire tackled provides different kinds of layers. The variations also inform the audience to read the story from different angles, in different relations to Chaumet’s history or modernity. Some pieces are clearly more connected to what has been the tradition at Chaumet, while others are examples of the natural evolution of Chaumet. Some are really pushing the limits; in the choice of the stones, the harmony of colours or designs and things.
WA: This collection does feel richer in its multitude of layers, which runs differently from last year’s Lumiere d’Or with its abstract interpretation of water channelled through Monet’s paintings at Musée de l’Orangerie. La Nature de Chaumet ignites different kinds of emotion because of the interesting tableau at Musée Bourdelle, the paganistic reference to nature and the complexity of the designs. There is simply more than meets the eye.
JMM: Have you seen our Musée Ephémère exhibition yet? This is another example of sending the Chaumet message in our modern approach. The idea of the exhibition is to open up and make our history public, which is highly unusual for a jewellery house, as usually archival pieces are protected in the safe, which is a pity. This idea of openly sharing history, to me, is interesting.
WA: Is this something Chaumet will continue to do?
JMM: Yes, though in a different aspect. It’s also important not to do it too much.
WA: To find the harmony and the balance.
JMM: Exactly! It’s interesting to hear what people think of this, because what we try to do is to explore the question of love, sentiments and so forth. We have been offering this in many angles, options and directions, so that anyone can take away something and the story will have its second life. We don’t want to impose anything. We don’t say that this is the house and that’s the only way for you to interpret it. This openness can also be seen as a very Chaumet approach. It’s quite joyful! At the end of the day, jewellery is about life, joy, sun and fun. A piece of jewellery can change your life, so it has to be light and fun. This experience is very personal. Such is the richness of Chaumet. You cannot summarise Chaumet into one thing, one technique, story, character, period or even colour. This is what we are trying to say through our collections. It has multiple layers and suggestions. And each is unique.
WA: Are you aware that whatever changes you make at Chaumet today will be a part of the legacy in the next 235 years to come?
JMM: Yes, and I hope we make the right choices. Yet it is very important to never make the mistake of thinking about it that way too much. We are here for only a few years in a story that’s going to last for centuries and centuries. We are one little fragment in Chaumet’s history. What we can do is to strive to reach that balance between showing respect to what has been done before with what we consider as our legacy. This is very important. We are here for Chaumet.
By Windy Aulia