Gripoix, Paris Interview: The DNA of a Jewelry Icon

 

If ever there was costume jewelry that could be called “haute couture”, the examples made by Gripoix, in Paris over the years for the couturiers, fit this definition. Not made of gold or diamonds, but of glass and gilt metal by hand…the work of the house represented some of the finest artisanship in the industry. Let’s follow them as they push forward into the future.

Gripoix for Schiaparelli. Recent collab image. Photograph courtesy of Gripoix, Paris.

My fascination with Gripoix started with the acquisition of Chanel pieces from the 30s-90s made by Gripoix and older examples made not for just Chanel, but beautiful nonetheless. This led to my interest in researching articles, images, and texts on the subject. Many sought after rare pieces were made for indeed Chanel and other fashion houses like Worth, Pioret, YSL, Balenciaga, Dior…but Gripoix also made pieces early on for private clients. Most of the earliest examples can be recognized from a few characteristics, such their use of handmade glass beads, pearls and sometimes the mark Made in France.

Early clasp style and beading example, marked France.

Although, it is important to note that various vintage pieces marketed as made by Gripoix online, are not actually even pate de verre. The back is telling in that it should have a poured appearance. One should look at themes, coloration, and design as well.

Back of the poured glass belt by Gripoix for Chanel. Believed to have been designed or executed with Goossens.

As an admirer of the jewelry for quite a while, my interest was renewed in their history and current jewelry team. They recently have begun working with designers on limited examples and creating custom orders for clients themselves. The custom orders as I understand it will be made to specification and are one of a kind or limited. My intention is not to address here the definitions of couturiers (legally here), but to recognize the brand’s past relationship to haute couture producers/ or couturiers while looking at their future as a jewelry brand. See our previous post on books and definitions.

Lou Lou de La Falasai vintage earrings. Gripoix glass.

1950s example made for Coco Chanel, based I think on a fine design by Verdura.

Piece made by Gripoix for and signed Gripoix.

TIMELINE:

MAISON GRIPOIX, Paris began to produce poured glass or “Pate de Verre” jewelry in 1869, using a special technique of molten glass and enamel which was poured into the metal. They began with pearls and this sort of “gemstone glass” technique reproducing the jewelry of the elite in costume form and working with the French theater.

Great early example of the pearl effect and fine Byzantine style Gripoix construction.

They became more popular when Augustine began creating pieces for specifically for Sarah Bernhardt at the end of the 19th century to be worn by her on stage. The works were theater style recreations of fine pieces and romantic historic designs.

By the 1920s Suzanne Gripoix continued to cement the brand’s role as an iconic producer of couture costume jewelry, with the creation of jewelry for Paul Pioret, Worth, Chanel, Lanvin, etc. The couturiers wanted jewelry that complimented the various moods and themes of their designs. They were part of the overall look for each season. They invented the most realistic faux pearl for Chanel and brought her costume interpretation of Byzantine fine examples to life. Those deep jewel toned pieces and the beautiful poured flowers have become iconic. However; it was still the glass beads again at this early stage that were very popular. The secret of pouring glass flowers was said to have been passed down from the founder.

Collection BillyBoy* Purchased in the 1970s directly from Mme Gripoix. These are prototypes and samples circa 1950s-60s.

Collection BillyBoy* Purchased in the 1970s directly from Mme Gripoix. These are extremely rare and offer us a glimpse into the history and process of the brand.

Robert Goossens for Chanel.

With Robert Goossens in the 1950s, the poured glass designs became more popular among Chanel patrons and collectors. According to some, Goossens did the designs and sometime metalwork, sometimes using fine examples, for Coco Chanel then they were copied by Chanel in Gripoix glass. His training with Parisian workshops and jewelers made him especially skilled as did being the son of a foundry owner in Paris. It is also possible that the Gripoix glass cabochons were supplied to him based on the design,then glued in later by Goossens. He also produced some similar techniques in his studio, so there is some confusion in terms of production, especially later when he became a sort of individual producer of jewelry for design houses as well.

Goossens for Chanel vintage case, Gripoix details. Signed Chanel. Photo courtesy of BillyBoy*

Gripoix necklace, collection of BillyBoy*

1938 Schiaparelli Brooch. Made by Gripoix. From the collection of BillyBoy* Instagram image courtesy of BillyBoy*

Collection BillyBoy*. Gripoix.

Gripoix poured glass necklace for Jacques Fath. Seen in the text Costume Jewelry for Haute Couture by Florence Muller. This style is often identified as Chanel, but nonetheless it is 50s Gripoix in construction.

Josette, Suzanne’s daughter followed her as head of Gripoix, at which point they were already working with Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Lacroix, Balmain…among others. By the 1980s the demand was weakening, in favor of less expensive processes overseas.

Late 1980s example of the Byzantine Gripoix style. Chanel.

Her son, Thierry we believe then sold the brand in 2006 to TWS. The next owner Ms. Keslassy, also had the vision of making Gripoix more known as its own brand and more widely sold. This strategy alone has been a hard one. She worked on making designs relevant and a bit more accessible today, as well as simpler in style. Recently, she left the company and it has come to be owned by an investor who is (anonymous). Some collaborations, such as that with Catherine Baba have led to pieces which merge the history with new fashion styles. Her pieces were inspiring because they drew from Sarah Bernhardt and pushed the designs to results similar to that seen in the 70s and 80s.

Hint magazine image of Catherine’s collection click link to see more.

This is where our interview begins. The new creative director, Fanni Fischer produces one collection a  year in Paris and opens the showroom up to wholesalers of the collection. It is sold directly in their shop in Paris, as well.

Gripoix for Schiaparelli.

Recently there seems to be a uptick in demand as collectors and brands begin to seek out these rare vintage creations. Gripoix has also started to work again with more fashion houses and is seeking to keep to its roots as producers of jewelry for designers. As for couturiers, as less of them exist and are legally certified this question becomes a larger more complex one indeed.

Yet, we must appreciate the art of the creations of the past and Gripoix’s works for couturiers to understand why what happens to the brand today is important and how a new market overall affects that strategy. Let’s look at further examples and probe into the new brand’s intentions with our interview below. Examples of recent “collections” done each season include The Botanical Garden Collection.

Red Currant necklace by Gripoix. Last Season.

 

THE INTERVIEW:


Are any original artisans who worked for the family for more than 10 years still working with Gripoix?

There is one artisan, Thomas Lebouille who worked for the third generation of the Gripoix family before, he learnt the technique there.

Is Virginie Curbilie, who trained was trained at Gripoix still working with you? What is her role?

No, it’s been a long time that Virginie is no longer our glassmaker. There is no training for this profession at school. I learnt this fabulous technique from her by observing her gestures, and after she left, I became the master of glass at Gripoix.

Gripoix Paris image.

Where do you get the glass used, is the quality important?

Our glass sticks came mainly from Italy now. I like the Italian glass it’s easy to work with and they have beautiful colours.

How many creative directors have you had? Who?

Marie Keslassy was our artistic director for a long time. She collaborated with other designers like Elisa Nalin for example. The way how they created the jewels was very new for us. They wanted to realize more fashionable, geometrical shapes and that’s how we modernized the technique too. Sometimes this task was not easy with the glass. Today we use more floral shapes, and ornamental patterns to keep the good quality and the naturally curved shape of the glass.

Could you give us a sense of how the pieces were signed through the years?

Gripoix never signed the pieces. It’s been more recently that Gripoix Paris exists as a brand individually and signs the jewels. Gripoix was the supplier of the big fashion houses, the design came from the designers and the amazing technique and realisation from Gripoix. The other reason is that it was not so important at that time to put the logo on every piece, not like today…

Also, do you still have the drawings and sketches? What is left of the old archives?

We have a few of them but not from the old archives. We have mostly sketches and pictures.

Could you give us a sense of the main design elements used on antique Gripoix pieces from the early 19th century, do you have any images of such pieces?

At that time the main characteristic of the custom jewelleries was the imitation of the Byzantine jewels. To have this aspect they mixed the jewels with metal stamps, which came from a supplier called ‘Janvier’, they are in Paris and they still have beautiful pieces from that period. They have a huge collection of metal stamps, more than 1000 references. An amazing place to visit when you are in Paris. Also, they used the glass to imitate the precious stones. To get this finishing they created the jewels with ruby, emerald, sapphires, topaz colours, with an irregular, called baroque surface.

Describe Robert Goossens’ role in the history of the brand as you see it?

I’m so sorry, but this question is very hard for us, as we don’t have any information about this. I think it’s only Goossens and Chanel who could clarify this question or someone from the Gripoix Family.

What makes your technique so special, I’ve seen the color card- I’d say that is one aspect?

Our technique is special because of the glass work. There are only a few artisans around the world who can ‘ flow the glass’ in this way, directly in the metal. It’s a very old ‘savoir faire’ what we are meant to pass from generation to generation.

Fanni what led you to Gripoix?

The magic of the glass. I always wanted to learn this technique. As I’m also a jewellery maker and designer, I tried to do jewels with the glass before at home, but I couldn’t as I didn’t have the right materials for. When I learnt that this is Gripoix’s speciality, I knew that I should work here, that this profession was made for me.

Gripoix Octopus by Schiaparelli. Gripoix, Paris photograph.

Who are some current fashion houses you intend to work with or are working with today?

In the past 3 years, we had several collaborations with Schiaparelli and today too we are working on a very nice project with them. We worked also with YDE, we made very nice scarabs for them. Also we might have a collaboration with another well known fashion designer, but this is a top secret for the moment;)

I know you said you are working on recovering the history and archives, does that include vintage or rare Gripoix examples? Are there any pieces still in the archive? Did the family keep those pieces or that information?

Yes, we are trying to rebuild the archives for this we are using the informations from the auctions and we have a lot of reparations with vintage pieces, that we include each time in our datas. Mostly we are building new archives, we have drawers and we keep good records today of the drawings and sketches, like this I hope we can help the generations after us.

Do you have any past sketches we can see to better understand the process? Who usually does the sketches?

Yes. We have a creative team of professional drawers. Also, we like to work with interns. They are very creative, quick, fresh brains, and like this we always have a new member in the team. It’s always nice to have an active life in the workshop.

Take us from concept to the final product?

First we find a nice shape or a vintage piece what we would like to rework. We build a collection, for this we do a lot of sketches and colour trials. The way of the colour use is very important as this is our DNA. After we use the drawings to do the prototypes and if we are happy with the result of the metal part, we can flow the glass directly in the pieces. The last part is the guild, 24 Carat on the jewels, and of course we put the crystals or pearls after the gold finishing.

Books and articles to get you started:

Patrick Mauries. Maison Goossens Haute Couture Jewelry. Thames & Hudson.

Patrick Mauries. Jewelry By Chanel. Bulfinch.

Florence Muller. Costume Jewelry for Haute Couture. Vendome Press.

Ariel de Ravenel. Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni. Lou Lou de La Falaise. Rizzoli.

Jean Leymarie. Chanel. Skira / Rizzoli.

Alice Pfeiffer. Glass, with Class. Fashion and Style. New York Times.

Couture. The Great Designers. Caroline Reynolds Milbank.

  • This post is an attempt to research more specifically the history and future of the brand. I would love to talk to someone in the family, but could find no contact. I hope they have the drawings and images or samples, my intention here is to highlight the importance of preserving the Gripoix  design archive.

 

Facades: Bill Cunningham- A Book Review

For anyone who has a fascination or admiration for one Mr. Bill Cunningham, then I have a book review for consideration. I decided to revisit a vintage book by the name of Facades done in 1978 by Bill Cunningham, introduced by Marty Bronson with model Editta Sherman. This whimsical book, organized by the enduring and iconic late Bill Cunningham, is a feast for the eyes. Fashion, vintage lovers, and red blooded New Yorkers alike should know what this classic is all about.  In 1948, Bill came to NYC to pursue a career in fashion. Before he dawned his bicycle to capture fashion on the streets of this fair city, he opened shop as a Millinery label William J.  After writing for WWD, he fell into his love of photography as a fashion journalist/ writer at the Chicago Tribune and the rest is history.

1900-1903 Flatiron Building. 5th Ave and 23rd. Designed by Daniel Burnham. Editta Sherman in era undergarments.

Facades, came about, as the book itself references; after 8 years of playing around with this labor of love. In the late 60s, he combined his love of cityscapes and began collecting antique and vintage clothing to photograph in front of architecture throughout the city. But what about a muse? We’ll get back to that key element…. Each era outfit was juxtaposed against the architecture and a chosen setting in the city. Both the clothing and building era correct. I find it intriguing that he thought of such a thing, why clothing? Well, I suppose this was the beginning of him sort of creating street style in the wake of the Seeberger Brothers.

As for muses, it was one alluring Editta Sherman who filled those shoes, lover of period clothing, photographer, mother, and artist. The “Duchess of Carnegie Hall”, referencing her home above Carnegie Hall for decades, cuts a great figure for each image which captures clothing from the 1700s-1960s.

“Bill carefully accessorized all the costumes with the proper shoes, parasols, wire bustles, gloves, and jewelry, sometimes even the underwear. When an authentic period hat was missing, out came his collection of felt, flowers, and ribbon, and he completed the picture with a reproduction based on careful research. The richness of Manhattan’s architectural settings was found beyond his greatest expectations. From Egyptian temples to Russian cathedrals, the locations were scouted by bicycle, Bill’s major means of transportation to this day. Success at matching the appropriate costume with the right location came as much from study as from intuition. Each location was carefully documented and dated through the many books available on the subject and through the files of the city’s architectural records”(Marty Bronson, introduction).

This work represents years of fashion and is in retrospect indicative of Bill’s life, talent, and relationship with the city. There is just so much in this book to look through and read, it is best enjoyed from cover to cover. Each image has a detailed description of the location’s history and era Here is a just a little taste…..

 

Mainboucher’s Jewelry Dress

“What you don’t do with a dress is at least (as) important as what you do, do. Too many gadgets can spoil the dress, just as surely as too many cooks, the broth.” A quote from Mainbocher while speaking to the Fashion Group of Chicago in 1940. The wise words above are from the Chicago History Museum’s catalog titled, Making Mainbocher: The First American Couturier’, which accompanies an exhibit of the same name currently on view at the Chicago History Museum through August 2017. It is the first exhibit focused solely on the designer, Mainbocher. This is fitting as Mainbocher was born on the West side of Chicago and attended the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. Through a very circuitous route and no formal training, Mainbocher ended up in mid-life (age 40) becoming the first American Couturier in Paris.

Mainbocher’s designs were practical, exacting and tended to have an emphasis on minimalism. Mainbocher did not follow trends but set them. He was responsible for introducing the world to the short evening dress, jeweled sweaters, the cocktail apron, the strapless bodice, and reviving the corset eight years before Dior’s ‘New Look’.

Being a collector of vintage jewelry, I find the gowns that Mainbocher created in the 1940s to be the most appealing because of their jewelry-like embellishments. During World War II, because of fabric rationing and not wanting to appear too extravagant during war-time, Mainbocher repeatedly used the same dress silhouette. To create interest and make his gowns beautiful, he added embellishments. Oftentimes these embellishments looked like jewelry. They were beautifully constructed of beads, rhinestones and sequins and mimic the look of necklaces and bracelets.

Mainbocher was very exacting in his vision. By creating gowns embellished with ‘built-in-jewelry’, he could more easily ensure that a customer would not change his intended vision by trying to accessorize the gowns themselves. According to the curator of the exhibition, Petra Slinkard, Mainbocher did not disallow his clients to wear jewelry, but rather made it easier for them to forgo the selection. The use of trompe l’oeil as a design tool was one he revisited frequently, as evident in his 1940s designs.”

In 1947 Mainbocher created a red velvet strapless gown for Mrs. A. Watson Armour III. Although there was no neckline or cuffs to embellish, Mainbocher created bracelets and a choker made out of red velvet covered balls, beads and sequins to be worn with the dress in order to complete the look. When the fabric rationing of World War II ended, Mainbocher could turn his attention away from embellishments and concentrate more on textiles and garment construction to create beautiful clothing. He did, however retain his minimalist aesthetic and ascribe to the notion that, “Too many gadgets can spoil the dress.”

All rights reserved. Article by Stuart Mesires for Sarara Couture. Stuart is a vintage shop owner, as seen on 1stdibs and former fashion veteran.

JUDITH LEIBER: Crafting a New York Story

Photo by Jenna Bascom. Courtesy of the Museum of Arts and Design.

JUDITH LEIBER AT MAD

April 4-August 6, 2017

by Harrice Miller

The first time I met Judith Leiber was in the early 90s when we were both doing Personal Appearances at Saks. She looked so real, so like a kindly grandma, I was struck with the dissimilarity between her appearance and the wildly glamorous and bedazzling jeweled purses she designed. Decades later, at the opening of her exhibition, “Judith Leiber: Crafting a New York Story”, at the Museum of Arts and Design, Judith, now 96, sat regally with Gerson Leiber, her artist husband of many years at her side, like a queen whose adoring subjects were stopping by to pay their respects.

Judith with friends in Greece. Courtesy of Judith Leiber.

Photo by Jenna Bascom. Courtesy of the Museum of Arts and Design.

 

Photo by Jenna Bascom. Courtesy of the Museum of Arts and Design.

The exhibition illustrated, through a series of extraordinary, iconic purses, the story of her rise as a handbag apprentice in her hometown of Budapest during World War II, to the last bag she designed before her retirement, in the shape of a jeweled peacock in 2004. In 65 years in the handbag industry, Judith revolutionized the concept of craftsmanship, with her bags ranging from beautifully fashioned leather and textiles to the Swarovski crystal-encrusted figural bags we know today to be her signature look. From the founding of her company Judith Leiber Handbags in 1963 until 2004, she designed more than 3,500 bags. She began first with leather examples and designed her first metal bag in 1967. 

Exhibit image by Sarara Couture. This was the first metal bag Leiber created and it was based on a Chatelaine made in 1967.

Rare 1968 metal bag, by Judith Leiber. Image courtesy of Sarara Couture.

Judith’s handbags have been carried by First Ladies, Hollywood actresses and opera singers, including Mamie Eisenhower, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, Greta Garbo, Mary Tyler Moore, Claudette Colbert and Beverly Sills. Current wearers of Leiber bags include; Chanel Iman, Kelly Osborne, Sarah Jessica Parker, Chrissy Teigen, Diane Kruger among many others. They are cherished the world over by collectors who are attracted to their often whimsical shapes including fruits, vegetables, animals, birds, foo dogs, books, musical instruments, sea creatures, Fabergé-inspired eggs and even a Buddha!

Photo by Jenna Bascom. Courtesy of the Museum of Arts and Design.

 

Handbags, wax models, personal letters, and archival photographs create an atmosphere that personalizes the woman behind her creations. Judith’s inspiration stemmed from her love of travel, art, textiles, and materials, creating a body of work that MAD envisioned as exploring the gendered significance of the handbag in the 20th century and in the importance of immigrant entrepreneurship to the fabric of New York.

Photo by Jenna Bascom. Courtesy of the Museum of Arts and Design.

The exhibition was curated by MAD’s Assistant Curator Samantha De Tillio, with the support of Curatorial Assistant and Project Manager Angelik Vizcarrondo-Laboy. Be sure to visit the Leiber Collection, the museum is located in the East Hampton hamlet of Springs, NY.

Relevant links:

http://www.leibermuseum.org

Purse Perfection: Judith Leiber on Faberge, Rhinestones, and Her Favorite First Ladies

Jewelry History Spotlight: 1955 Gripoix Brooch for Chanel

coco-chanel-ad-and-brooches

I was honored to have had this piece for just a bit, before it was acquired by a Chanel collector. This very interesting brooch was from the collection of Robert Clark of Haskell and De Lillo.  He had an extensive archive and this piece was sourced directly from Gripoix in the 1950s.  It was one of 6 created  in reference to a jeweled piece that Coco Chanel had made by Verdura earlier. She is also said to have also had one of these copies. Stamped Made in France and in very good condition for it’s age, it was one of the more interesting piece coming through the doors as of late, and I couldn’t resist a little highlight on it for others interested.

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Vintage ad from Sotheby’s concerning the original Verdura piece which they auctioned off.

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1955 Chanel Gripoix brooch.

chanel-back

Signature detail/ construction.

Dragon of the East: Jute Magazine features Sarara Couture Jewelry

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Love a good dragon? Feeling a bit Daenerys Targaryen?  Well, so do we; the “webitorial” now posted on Jute Fashion Magazine’s website today, shot by none other than the talented Hannan Saleh, features our jewelry. That’s our Miao collar, Judith Leiber handbag and a big vintage Accessocraft dragon necklace, one of my favorites.  Hannan let us have a few extra images and I’m posting them below.  The editorial went live today so be sure to check out the complete photo story on Jute. 

 

 

 

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