As Victoire de Castellane walks through the majlis room of the One&Only The Palm, it’s hard not to notice her. Despite having just landed from Paris at 7 a.m. (with another flight to catch that same evening, no less), the Creative Director of Fine Jewelry at Dior and designer of her eponymous label is full of energy and enthusiasm. She is in Dubai for the day to debut her latest haute joaillerie collection at Harvey Nichols – Dubai and Bloomingdale’s-Dubai, but has thankfully managed to squeeze in an exclusive interview with Savoir Flair. With her humble disposition, one would never guess that she hails from a French aristocratic family that traces its roots as far back as the year 1000, with a family tree that includes princes, bishops, and decorated generals.
As she sits down across from me, beaming from ear to ear, I can’t wait to ask her what she’s learned from her 14 years at Chanel, what Karl Lagerfeld is really like, and why being feminine is essential with age.
Can you tell us a bit about what it was like working so closely with Karl Lagerfeld?
Well, it was very exciting. I was very happy to be working at Chanel, which began when I was 20 years old. It was really an exciting time as it was my start in fashion and I learned a lot about the industry. Before Chanel, I helped my uncle [Gilles Dufour, one of Lagerfeld’s principal assistants at Fendi and then at Chanel] who was working with Karl, and so I met Karl when I was younger. I had an internship when I was just 19 to help a friend at the press. She asked for my help for the first couture show of Chanel – which was really the beginning of Chanel. Of course, I said yes! And then I met Karl again and he said to my uncle, “Why doesn’t Victoire stay at the studio with us?” So that’s how it started.
It was almost like a happy accident.
What was the most fascinating, and perhaps unexpected, thing that you learned from him while you were at Chanel?
Well, what can I say? He is very talented and he has a lot of energy. I learned so much on how to create and how to play with the identities of a fashion house.
Was moving from costume jewelry to high jewelry a natural transition for you?
Yes. Ever since I was five years old, I was fascinated by real jewelry, because I was surrounded by women who were always wearing it. My grandmother was always matching her clothes with her jewelry; she was really like a Hollywood actress. Jewelry was always a world that I wanted to jump into – an imaginary world of real jewelry. What I’ve learned about fashion is that we have to be in perpetual movement, this kind of dynamic energy. I love to create. I have this energy for creation and jewelry. The difference [between costume and high jewelry] is only the materials.
In your journey as a jewelry designer, who have been the biggest style influences in your life? What have you learned from them?
As I am a creative person, I absorb a lot of information. When I was much younger, I was captivated by Hollywood actresses and singers. I take a lot in from different styles of women, and I am obsessed by the feminine universe. I think that it is so exciting to observe women – their clothes, their jewelry, their style. I catch a lot, and at the end it fills me. I don’t have a particular woman or a person in my head; I have a lot of different women in my mind. They can be younger, older, feminine, masculine – all different. I think what is important is to find your own style in relation to your body and your proportion. For me, it is much more important to find your own style than to follow trends.
Do you believe in trends?
Ever since I was 14 years old, I’ve loved fashion. At that time, there were no ‘trends’. There were no brands. Fashion was really something you could create yourself, by just going to the flee market to find vintage clothes. I think that trends are necessary for big masses of people who need to follow. But I don’t like to follow. What is a trend to me? It means that, tomorrow, it’s finished. So I prefer to buy something that I like. If I like fringe, for example, I will buy it, but I won’t wear it until the trend is over. I love to do this. When I buy clothes I always say to myself, “Do you think that you are going to wear it in ten years?”
So do you have things from ten or 20 years ago that you still wear?
Yes, especially lot of Alaïa. I also have different shaped dresses that I love, but of course I can’t keep everything. The worst are the shoes; they are taking up so much space!
How many shoes do you have?
Oh, I don’t know and I don’t want to know!
You currently head up the fine-jewelry department at Dior, while also running your own high-jewelry brand. How do you separate the two?
They are two different spirits. What I make for Dior is something really more in the identity of Dior. What I make for myself is something very intimate, much more personal of course. My brand plays a bit more with a lacquer and colors. It’s something that I have inside of me.
Your most recent collection for Dior was the ‘Rose des Vents’ collection, which really is all about the brand’s heritage.
Yes, this is exactly what I mean.
So how would you describe the aesthetic of your own brand?
Well, it’s something much more feminine. I love to play with different stories like nature, a woman’s universe, special stories – not fairytales, but the stories that you hear when you are a child. They can be a little frightening, but always with a happy ending.
Can you share your first jewelry memory with us?
When I was 5, I saw Cleopatra with Elizabeth Taylor and was so taken by her jewelry. I asked my father if, for Christmas, I could have a snake bracelet like Cleopatra’s, and he gave me a jewelry box filled with all the clichés of jewelry. There was a big diamond ring, a pearl necklace, and a beautiful snake bracelet in gold ‘metal’ – all in plastic, of course! The snake had green eyes, which were supposed to be emeralds.
[Victoire shows me a beautiful snake necklace, with a stunning emerald stone surrounded by diamonds.]
For me, I am now at a point where I ask myself, “What do you want now?” This is how I create. “What do you want to do that you haven’t done? What do you want to create that you don’t have?” So that’s how the necklace in this collection came about.
What do you want to create that you don’t have now?
I have to think about that! But I have a few ideas…
Can you tell us about the most sentimental piece of jewelry you own and the story behind it?
I have a few pieces of antique jewelry that my husband bought for me. I love them. I also have some of my grandmother’s pieces; when I am wearing them, I say that I am wearing my grandmother. I think, “Well, I saw this on her hand, and now I am seeing this on my hand, so I have eternity with her.” That’s why I love jewelry so much; they are little treasures. And I always say to myself that with jewelry you can leave a country and go to another. For me, jewelry is living on after me; it’s going to live on after me because it is like eternity. And I say to myself that my daughter is going to wear it and think of me.
How would you describe your personal jewelry style?
Free, happy, and alive! I feel that jewelry is meant to protect women.
What are your jewelry habits? Are there any pieces that you wear everyday?
I have my ‘oui’ ring [points to her wedding ring]. As I love to walk on the street [in Paris], I don’t wear a lot of jewelry, because I am a little scared. I have some bracelets that I love; I was completely obsessed with rings, but I now prefer bracelets. Since I now wear reading glasses, it’s very complicated to pair them with earrings, so I’m planning to have a laser operation just so I can wear my earrings again! I’m so sad not to be able to wear my long earrings. I think they are so sexy.
What’s your take on Middle Eastern women’s jewelry style?
I think that women in the Middle East are very comfortable with the idea of jewelry. There is a big culture of jewelry here. They see jewelry as something like makeup; something to make them more beautiful. I love this way of being happy with your femininity. It’s important to keep your femininity in today’s word. As you get older, femininity is very important. My grandmother told me this. When she was 90, she still had her long hair that she would wear in a chignon and would always paint her nails. It’s important to be feminine.
Do you find that certain things appeal to customers differently from market to market?
Normally my clients are women who are strong and who know what they want, who are not afraid to wear strong pieces. They always buy with love and are not shy.
Can you tell us about the never-before-seen pieces that you are unveiling in Dubai?
For my brand, I love to start with the idea of what is happening to jewelry when it is not being worn. I think it’s too sad that it doesn’t have its own little house. That is why I made precious objects for each piece, so you can display the jewelry. If you don’t want to wear it, you can still enjoy it. I also have men buying my jewelry, so since they can’t wear the jewelry they can still enjoy it on display.
Do you display your own jewelry at home?
High jewelry designs really are pieces of art; it’s a shame to hide them in boxes.