The former 'bourgeois punk' on how she incorporated tie-dye in her latest collection
In the technicolor dreamworld of Victoire de Castellane’s imagination—which has long yielded inspiration for her high jewelry collections—there exist make-believe islands, fantastical carnivorous plants, and even fictitious conversations with Monsieur Christian Dior, to whom she handwrites letters from time to time. But only recently has her imagination proved clairvoyant: Her latest collection, Tie & Dior, two years in the making, was inspired by ideas of movement and freedom, a fitting antidote to a year of confinement, travel restrictions, and masks.
Castellane’s career is a testament to the depth of her dedication, with her first tenure at Chanel under the exacting eye of Karl Lagerfeld lasting 14 years. From there, she moved to Dior to establish the high jewelry collection, and celebrated her 20th anniversary as the brand’s artistic director last year.
Born into an haute bourgeois French family, Castellane’s lineage includes reigning princes, bishops, generals, noblemen, and one legendary Parisian dandy of the Belle Epoque. It’s little surprise that her works adorn the world’s glitterati as well as the interiors of the Gagosian, exalted as art pieces. To wit, her Tie & Dior collection, an expansion on the previously released Gem Dior and Dior et Moi lines, sees oval-, pear-, and marquise-cut stones paired together in rainbows of color—emerald pink sapphires, tsavorite garnets, rubies, and pistachio cultured pearls from Tahiti and Australia—punctuated by white diamonds to simulate a tie-dye pattern.
Here, she speaks to Document on the intimacy of her collections, her childhood rebellion, and seeking inspiration beyond the canvas.
Divya Bala: Do you often work with left-of-center references? For your Tie & Dior high jewelry collection, you were inspired by tie-dye, a practice often adopted by countercultures like the hippies and the grunge era.
Victoire de Castellane: I like to play with colors, and last year there was a lot of tie-dye in Dior collections. I referenced an old Raf Simons collection for Dior when he used this style, as well as that of Maria Grazia Chiuri, who used it last year; the white of the fabric in tie-dye was symbolized by diamonds, for example. But I’m not really inspired by external things. I’m inspired by creating from the heart.
Divya: I read that you have been inspired by the works of Mark Rothko and Sterling Ruby?
Victoire: They were on my mood board, but it was more [an internal brief] on the range of colors. But I was not inspired by artists. An artist says everything through their work and so, for me, I wouldn’t want to rework something that has already been done, [but] rather seek inspiration within it. I’m most inspired by my relationship with the world and the codes of Dior—finding something new in these codes that I’ve come to know so well. It’s a never-ending beginning. I also like to work with instinct and feelings. These inspire me more than contemporary art, for example.
Divya: In the early ’80s you used to go to nightclubs like Le Palace, Les Bains Douches. Do you still go?
Victoire: I don’t think I’m the right age for nightclubs! I think that my children would feel uncomfortable with this! Especially my daughter. My sons are better about it, they are 25 and 22, so they have fun with me, but I think my daughter would be so embarrassed. It’s very difficult to dance with young people you don’t know. You look so ridiculous, suddenly, when you’re not the same age!
Divya: I only ask because your designs speak to people of all ages and backgrounds.
Victoire: It’s true. Completely. Jewelry, for me, has no age; it’s timeless. Also, a lot of young girls wear jewelry from their grandmother or mother, and it’s something you’re used to seeing reappropriated, and that’s something I love with jewelry. The jewelry lasts longer than the man.
Divya: As in, the man may not last, but the jewelry he gave you does?
Victoire: This can be true also! [Laughs] But I meant, when we die, our jewels live on, like treasure.
Divya: Wasn’t your love of jewelry born from watching your grandmother [cognac heiress Sylvia Hennessy] change her jewelry several times a day to match each of her outfits? Did you inherit any of her pieces?
Victoire: I have pieces that she gave me, but they are not fantastic.
Divya: Poor Grandma!
Victoire: Oui! No, I’m joking, but my hands have worn more beautiful things! Her pieces are more classic than my taste. When I was younger, it was the stones that fascinated me, not the styles.
Divya: Did you ever have a rebellious period?
Victoire: Of course! As everybody does, I think. I cut my hair as a mullet, like Kim Wylde’s—it was a disaster. I was not so punk, it was more New Wave, like Debbie Harry. For me, punk is really something that is much more extreme than wearing a vinyl skirt. I was a bourgeois punk.
Divya: Karl Lagerfeld said that you followed the rules he liked best in life: ‘Don’t compare. Don’t compete.’ What does that mean to you?
Victoire: It means that you have to find your own personality, and that you don’t need to compare yourself with other people. You just have to be yourself and feel happy to be yourself. If you start to compare yourself with others, you put yourself in competition. And when you don’t, you’re more free.
Divya: Maybe that’s the secret to the longevity of your success?
Victoire: Maybe. Also, I’m not bored yet.
Divya: What kept you from being bored for this collection?
Victoire: The joy of living. There are no beginnings or ends in the pieces. All the designs are asymmetrical and are not finite. I like this idea of not knowing where we begin or end, it’s quite freeing, this idea of the vivid movement of life.
Divya: It’s interesting to explore the idea of movement at a moment when we are quite literally confined.
Victoire: Yes. [I began working on] the collection two years ago, but it’s interesting that it came out at this moment. But often my work is to see what might be in two years. In two years, will I continue to desire what I’m working on now?
Divya: You play with proportion and unexpected references quite a bit. For example, high jewelry and tie-dye are not two elements you would think would work together. Is it important for you to make creative decisions that are surprising?
Victoire: Yes, absolutely. It’s important to give something new in jewelry, even if there are a lot of people making a lot of new pieces. I can’t do something repetitive or static; I like to be free in my work. It’s very important, I imagine, for each creator, to feel the freedom to be inspired and make choices. I do enjoy playing with elements that aren’t supposed to be in the same family.
Divya: I always enjoy the secret details you hide in your collections. Do you do that to create a certain intimacy?
Victoire: Yes, I think the people who are wearing those pieces are the only ones who know what is inside, and they are moved by those details because they provide even more intimacy to their jewels. For me, it has always been very important to work in a way that puts importance on the inside of the piece as much as on the outside, because we are working with fine craftsmanship.
In this collection, the hidden details are focused on the metal settings that construct the placement of the stones. The gold threads that surround the stone are visible from below and follow, like a tiny golden path, the tie-dye design. The skullcap beads are set with diamonds, creating the illusion that the diamond is floating underneath, like it’s disappearing.
Divya: Do you enjoy seeing your pieces worn in unexpected ways?
Victoire: I love it. Like, I think it’s very important—on men, for example. Men were the first to wear jewelry, from the beginning, even prehistorically. So I think it’s very important that now they reappropriate the jewelry.
Divya: Is there something you’ve never been asked that you wish someone would?
Victoire: If I want to be buried with my jewelry.
Divya: And do you?
Victoire: Before, yes. Now, I don’t believe in God, so, no.
Divya: Best not to encourage any budding excavationists out there, anyway.
Model Emma Breschi at Models1. Hair Olivier Schawalder at Bryant Artists. Make-up Kathy Le Sant at Call My Agent using Dior Beauty. Photo Assistant Kei Takeda. Production Gaia Geneston at trbl mngt. Casting Director Angus Munro at AMC Casting.