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Suzy Menkes

Vogue International Editor Suzy Menkes is the best-known fashion journalist in the world. After 25 years commenting on fashion for the International Herald Tribune (rebranded recently as The International New York Times), Suzy Menkes now writes exclusively for Vogue online, covering fashion worldwide.

#SuzyCouture: Wheatfield Inspiration Brings Nature's Story To Fine Jewellery

4 Июля 2016

Chanel’s collection was inspired by sheaves of wheat
Chanel’s collection was inspired by sheaves of wheat

Fancy cars, glossy people and the grandeur of the Hotel Ritz are the usual focus of the Place Vendôme in Paris. But sheaves of wheat in all their golden glory, filling up the sidewalks? Really? 

It was not the latest demonstration by angry French farmers, but rather an overwhelming back-to-nature story from the high jewellery houses in Paris. 

Sheaves of wheat filled the grand Place Vendôme with their golden glory
Sheaves of wheat filled the grand Place Vendôme with their golden glory

The artistic wheat installation was a celebration by Chanel of Coco's love of nature and the countryside — even if her permanent home was the Ritz. Wheat-inspired jewellery was displayed alongside a lush bed of satin covers and art pieces taken from her home. Other high jewellers have already taken a country course — notably Chaumet, which staged a poetic event in the Musée Bourdelle, a Paris sculpture museum, and another display in its historic Place Vendôme home.

There, a wheatsheaf tiara from 1810 proved that le blé — as the French call this grain — has long been an inspiration. Cartier's concept was a more prickly version of nature, with a cactus inspiration - an original idea that started with creative jewellery director Natalie Verde thinking about finding a new Cartier flower, and finishing with spiky spines.

Chanel’s artistry celebrates Coco’s love of nature and the countryside
Chanel’s artistry celebrates Coco’s love of nature and the countryside

Nature has, of course, long inspired fine jewellery in the form of flowers or birds. But for three such esteemed houses to look to fields rather than gardens reflects a general trend, in fashion as much as jewels, to go back to the good earth as a contrast to the wired world.


The Nature of Chaumet

To offer greenery, a hefty tree and laurel-leaf headpieces as parting gifts in a straw bag was a clear statement from Chaumet. This house's ability to turn a museum of stone and sculpture into a graceful take on nature produced not only tables groaning with fruit, but also models with the look of Grecian maidens. White satin columns and a wink of precious stones in tiaras or necklaces suggested a kind and gentle approach to jewellery.

The glint of precious stones in tiaras and necklaces offered a gentle approach to jewellery
The glint of precious stones in tiaras and necklaces offered a gentle approach to jewellery

The next day, I went to Place Vendôme to study the new collection up close. From an opening under an arch, dense with greenery, the display was filled with floral sets - but with the effect of wildflowers in blue, corn-golden, yellow and red, all the better to appreciate the quality of the stones. They included a 34.36 cushion-cut Burmese sapphire in a wheatsheaf necklace of moonstones and marquise-cut diamonds.

Around it, leaves were an eerie silver-grey, while a transformable necklace of tourmalines, opals, and yellow and black sapphires was shown in a blaze of red flowers. The corn was the most compelling story and clients — who have been sparse in the past six months since the terrorist attacks in Paris, according to Chaumet CEO Jean-Marc Mansvelt - were back to find peace and calm in this display.

Chaumet’s graceful take on the natural theme included models with the look of Grecian maidens
Chaumet’s graceful take on the natural theme included models with the look of Grecian maidens

To me, the most extraordinary piece was shaded motifs of wind-blown leaves in lavender-blue, violet and pink, created in sculpted chalcedony and sapphires, and with pink spinels. Under the 'leaves' nestles a tiny watch. Nature with a sophisticated touch. 

Chanel's Fine Fields  

A drawing of a wheatsheaf by Salvador Dalí for Coco Chanel defines just how much that sophisticated but superstitious designer looked back to the fields of her country childhood. 

So there was something magical about a sheaf of golden wheat tied by a yellow sapphire, or a yellow-gold ring set with yellow diamonds around a pear-cut orange centrepiece.

Grains of 'wheat' were even used to create brooches as stalks of brilliant-cut diamonds, or the wrap-round necklaces that have been emblematic of the Chanel repertoire since the 1930s. The delicacy of the Haute Joaillerie saved what might have otherwise been kitsch, and made it into an art form. Just as the street artist Gad Weil, who turned the Champs-Elysées into an elongated garden in 2010, had brought the Place Vendôme back to its distant country roots.

Prickly Pleasures

The cactus on the front of Cartier's invitation gave away its story — but the stage-set of russet sand dunes made a dramatic backdrop for these spiky jewels. It was a bold gesture to pick the least romantic of flowers, ones which cannot be touched, when so much of jewellery is seen as a symbol of love. Yet that sharpness seemed in step with Cartier's signature leopard, and its history of edgy modernity. 

Golden cacti, with a geometric woven effect and a diamond flower on top, were made into rings, brooches and earrings. The quiet colours, like a dewdrop of diamonds, contrasted with vibrant lapis lazuli. The display became more dramatic with contrasting vivid shades - emeralds and chrysoprase, for example, topped off by fiery orange cornelian.

Cartier’s concept was inspired by a rather more prickly natural phenomenon - the cactus
Cartier’s concept was inspired by a rather more prickly natural phenomenon - the cactus

Inevitably, even though the colours might change and the cactus might be extended into a bracelet with spiky shapes at either ends, or even presented as a necklet, the design effect was repetitive.


Nevertheless, Cartier made up this intriguing trilogy of jewellers which are currently putting nature first.

Cartier’s cactus inspiration
Cartier’s cactus inspiration

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