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.

 

Blogger Grace Atwood Gives Us Her Accessories Low Down

blogger grace atwood blue ruffle red chanel bag

Blogger Grace Atwood of The Stripe, based in Brooklyn New York, serves us style on her blog offering up wearable, fun, and slightly sweet, yet fashion-forward options. As a rounded modern woman, she touches on beauty tips, books, and travel. So, how about her accessories taste? Well let’s just say that the BK blogger likes a good bag. She can often be spotted sporting a great Chanel piece or one of her latest handbag discoveries.

blogger grace atwood orange cross body bag

Is there a certain style of jewelry you find yourself gravitating towards?

Right now I’m all about a great statement earring or a bold cuff. When it’s really hot I have a hard time with necklaces, especially chokers. I love how they look but when it’s hot I just can’t do it. Right now I love a bold earring in a solid color (turquoise, cobalt blue, red) or solid gold/brass. It’s the perfect, easy way to add a bit of color to a little white dress. I also love just doing all gold. I have these gold oversized vintage Chanel drops that I bought last year and they’re one of my proudest purchases. Those + an armful of bangles = all you need to dress up any outfit.

Vintage jewelry seems to be a key component of your wardrobe, is that fair to say?
Also, what era or type of jewelry are you drawn to?

Absolutely. I am incredibly fortunate in that my grandmother the most amazing
collection of vintage jewelry. Pieces that she bought in the fifties and sixties but
also things that had been passed down to her from her mother and grandmother. Over the years my mom and aunts have given several pieces to me….

I have a few really special pieces of fine jewelry – an aquamarine bracelet from Tiffany’s that I wear on special occasions, a diamond ring and some really beautiful old Mexican silver pieces… but it’s actually the costume jewelry that I obsess over. I’m always
amazed by how fantastic the quality is. Costume jewelry just isn’t what it once was.
Back then, even a piece from Monet (which is still around and sold at Macy’s) would
last and last for years to come. Actually, my favorite necklace in the world is long
brass box chain necklace that was my grandmother’s. It’s vintage Monet!

In terms of an era, I’ve always loved the twenties (art deco is just the best for a
big night) but lately I have been obsessed with the fifties and early sixties. Old
Hollywood, the women Slim Aarons photographed… The Beverly Hills Hotel + Palm
Springs glamour… it’s everything!

blogger grace atwood oversized woven pom pom bag

What is one of your favorite pieces of personal jewelry, where is it from, and why
is it one of your favorites?

It’s so hard to pick a favorite but I would say it’s an art deco diamond ring from
the twenties. I bought it for myself (technically it was listed as an engagement
ring?) but I wear it almost all the time on my right hand. It’s one of my favorite
pieces not just because it’s so beautiful (like I said earlier, nothing compares to
the art deco pieces of the twenties) but also because I bought it for myself after a
good year… every time I look at it I feel like a bit of a boss for buying myself a
diamond ring.

Do you have a piece of jewelry that is sort of your go to?

A gold bangle from Julie Vos. It’s so simple but looks gorgeous with a tan and adds
a glamorous little touch to all my summer dresses. I have two of them – one with a
clear stone and another in pale blue. I am a freak about clutter but I always leave
one of them out so that I remember to wear it if I am running out the door and don’t
have on any jewelry.

Check out some of Grace’s current accessories picks:

Meet Gogo Ferguson: Rattlesnake Rings and Sun Bleached Bones

Painting of Gogo by West Fraser.

One cannot really speak of Gogo Ferguson and her work without discussing Cumberland’s history, natural beauty, and the cultural remains it holds. Cumberland is 40-square-miles which is not a bad size for paradise. For thousands of years this area and coastal Georgia was inhabited by indigenous people. It was first the Timucua Indians that lived on Cumberland, and they left their mark. There was a Spanish mission in the 1600s, Oglethorpe’s two forts erected in the 1730s, the Greene family, the Stafford plantation, descendants of freed slaves, and the Carnegies.  Now, a person could write a book on Cumberland, and in fact many people have done so.

Gogo’s grandmother painted by the artist, Ipsen, Boston.

Gogo is a direct descendant of Thomas Carnegie and granddaughter Lucy Ferguson, daughter of Margaret. Janet, aka Gogo, has quite a knack for finding fossils like shark teeth and eye-unearthing natural remains of all kind. Not to mention her interest in the Native American history of the island. She caught my attention as someone who understands and appreciates nature. Her interests align with my anthropology and archaeological experience, but I was also drawn to her because of my jewelry obsession. The pieces comes in different finishes or metals and the price points vary, allowing for one to buy multiples in silver or to focus on the 14k pieces—depending on your style. 


Her work is really an extension of earth and all of its treasures, what it leaves behind, what it can teach us, the beauty of life and death. Like glittering glamorous fossils, her jewelry catches the eye without trying to hard.  My favorite pieces include her cast metal boars tusk necklaces and the rattlesnake rings. Delicate, yet tough at the same time, though her work is not restricted to jewelry.  I’d love to have one of her seaweed sculptures hung on my wall. Yes, she dabbles in sculpture and décor.

Gogo’s New England Seaweed Sculpture. From Gogo Nature Transformed.

gogo ferguson conch and seaweed jewelry

I personally discovered the island when I was living in Atlanta about 10 years ago and have been going once a year since.  At heart, I am a country girl who enjoys wildlife, nature, and the peace the island gives me. I relate to what many of the people drawn to Cumberland see—pure nature and history coexisting. You either love it or it’s not your cup of tea.

There are two options in terms of staying on the island. Take the national park service ferry over and camp out or stay at the historic Greyfield Inn, still owned by the Carnegies. A few private land holds exist, but nothing public. What you find there are wild beach trails, clean sand, and so much space for just an “island”. I did not stay at the Inn (which Lucy opened officially in the 1960s) until last year on my birthday when I met the talented Gogo Ferguson.  

Her work is truly art, not just jewelry but an extension of her place in nature and Cumberland. Her line includes home goods, sculpture, and jewelry.  Mikhail Baryshnikov photographed on Cumberland’s beach by Annie Leibovitz in 1990 with Rob Besserer explains his first experience with the island and Gogo:

“Like many, my first experience of Cumberland Island was a field trip of sorts. I wanted to see the wild horses that famously roam its dunes-relics, like so many things on Cumberland of past attempts at domestication. What I didn’t expect was the mystery, the majesty, and the simple raw beauty of the place.

I don’t exactly remember when my encounters with Cumberland led to meeting Gogo, but at least thirty years ago, when she welcomed me into her modest house with a bright smile and the offer of an oyster roast, it was clear that she and Cumberland were two parts of an organic whole (Gogo Nature Transformed, Introduction 11).

The ruins of the Carnegie’s Dungeness. Another earlier home site also burned in this same location.

Gogo’s jewelry designs have garnered lots of press, celebrity wearers, magazine articles, and even her own exhibit at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. She grew up enjoying summers on the island and spending time with her ecologically minded grandmother Lucy, before finally returning to live there in the 1979 as a single mother.  Her work slowly evolved when she began making pieces for guests at the inn and looking back to her roots and the island. Her 1989 spread in People magazine helped propel her work forward. She designed the wedding rings for Carolyn Bessette and John in 1996. 

Interview:

What is your educational background and how do you use it in your life today?

I went to high school in Providence and art school in Massachusetts.

gogo ferguson boars tusk necklace

Favorite piece you ever designed or made?

That’s hard to say…each new piece I design becomes my favorite but if I had to choose one for sentimental reasons it would be my logo which is made of rattlesnake rib bones and vertebrae. It was one of the first pieces I ever created and cast it into gold and silver. It symbolizes 30 years of blood, sweat and tears!

Gogo’s rattlesnake logo, from Gogo Nature Transformed.

 

Describe your process from start to finish.

My process is to be out in nature and walk the shore line after the tide comes in or after a storm and search for new inspiration. The design process is constantly running through my head. Every six hours, the tideline deposits new inspirations for me to discover. I’ll take it back to my studio and sometimes look at it for up to a year until I get a creative flash of what to do with it. The colors and patterns in nature are what are really mind boggling to me. They all have a purpose and I feel my place is to transform that into wearable art or something fabulous for the home.

What are your first memories of Cumberland?

Being a young child with my grandmother on the island – we constantly went clamming, horseback riding, and exploring the island. I learned from her about the land and how the magical process of nature worked on it.

Why do you think you feel so connected and inspired by it in terms of your work?

Seven generations of my family have lived on the island – it’s literally in my blood and I consider it the soul of my family. It is my sense of place on this earth and I feel very fortunate to call it home.

What other places have inspired your jewelry line?

Anywhere I travel. I was recently walking down the street in Martha’s Vineyard and saw a beautiful skeleton of a leaf on the ground and now I have it taped to my kitchen window where it will stay until I decide how I want to incorporate it into a design. I don’t have to be in an exotic location to be inspired as long as there is raw nature to see and study.

How would you describe Lucy’s role in your work or understanding of the island?

Lucy was an original naturalist. She taught me everything about the intricacies of the island and to respect it and always learn from it. She had a keen sense of her surroundings — she was deaf at an early age so her sense of nature was far more attuned than most peoples and she passed that wisdom down to us.

What piece do you wear from your jewelry line?

Everything! I am always wearing multiple pieces everywhere I go. I’m currently wearing a new arrowhead opera-length necklace, dolphin disc necklace, rattlesnake rib bone earrings, sea urchin ring, rattle snake multi rib cuff, and a spiny murex conch cuff. I think that’s the great thing about my line…they are all statement pieces, but they all complement each other very well.

gogo ferguson gold silver jewelry

Do you feel your jewelry or home decor is art or sculpture?

Art — that is my goal — to design pieces that are wearable art or functional art for the home that then inspire the owner and those around them who see it.

Your work is now made in the artist community in San Miguel de Allende, please describe your relationship to them and Mexico city?

I started going to SMA in the late 60s through an artist program with the Rhode Island School of Design and fell in love with San Miguel, its architecture and the culture. I have been going back ever since, now own a home there and also work closely with a local artist named Julio Miguel who I take my inspirations to and work with on transforming them into designs. I’ve brought him to Cumberland so he could see the island firsthand and understand my source of inspiration. I have great respect for Julio and his creative talents.

 

Describe your work with Nicole Miller if possible?

Nicole is a dear old friend of mine who often hosts shows for me in NYC. She also designed a beautiful silk custom-made scarf with a map of Cumberland Island on it to commemorate my High Museum exhibit in Atlanta. We still have them in stock and they serve as a great souvenir of Cumberland.

Do horses at all inspire your work or design, experiencing them riding with Lucy and then as they are now on the island daily?

Yes, the horses have been on the island since the1500s. They’ve acclimated beautifully to the island and I love that we all live symbiotically.

What is your work day like? Do you typically “work” and “hunt” during the fall and winter or early spring?

I explore and hike year round, but when I’m on Cumberland I love to walk the tideline to see what has washed up, especially after a big storm comes. I find sharks teeth, shark vertebrae and other natural treasures.

Gogo’s collection of prehistoric shark teeth, most she found and some from her grandfather.

Speaking of home, I have seen inside of your house and the decor is pretty fabulous, as is the history of the home’s construction. Can you speak about it a bit and how you decorate?

Thank you. I always incorporate nature into my home. Deer antlers become towel racks, shark vertebrae become door pulls. Driftwood becomes center pieces for the table. My husband Dave and I designed the house and built most of out of reclaimed items from old carriage houses and barns on the island.

Is it fair to say you have a gift for finding artifacts and fossils as well as the bones you use in your work? Is this something that you have worked at?

I think I have a natural eye for seeing unusual things in nature and I have reinforced it over the years.

What is your most current line and is there a new piece or commission you are currently designing? 

I created a line of pearl designs to mark my 30th year in business this year that have been very popular. I also just finalized an arrowhead pendant that comes in gold-plated, rhodium, and brass. This one is great because both women and men can wear it.

Are you experimenting with any new materials or ventures?

The above-mentioned arrowheads are all made of new materials.

What piece of jewelry can you not live without?

Raccoon penis bones! I make earrings, bracelets and necklaces out them and they are the best conversation starter ever.

Raccoon Penis Bone Earrings. GogoJewelry.com image.

Do you have any books you would recommend for those discovering Cumberland for the first time?

There are great photography coffee table books by my cousin, Mary Bullard. I would love to do one of my own, to showcase the island through my eyes.

What is your trunk show agenda like, how can people interested in your work see it off of the island. I know you spend time in Martha’s Vineyard? 

We are on the road frequently for shows, and I love to do speaking engagements. I have my summer shop on Martha’s Vineyard in Vineyard Haven that is open through September. My shop on Cumberland is open year-round, and we have a permanent store on Saint Simons Island. We have wholesale accounts in Atlanta, Charleston, Fernandina Beach, and Memphis, and of course the website is always open for business!

gogo ferguson rattlesnake rings

Describe how your jewelry has evolved from the very first pieces to now?

I never try to deviate from nature’s designs, however over the years I began combining precious stones to some of my beads.  Part of my evolution was growing my line into homewares, serving spoons of New England sea clams, cockle shells, oyster and mussel servers, candle holders of seed pods, sea urchins and votives of Maine sea kelp.  I’m always transforming in my mind the treasures I found on the tideline or in the forests to some wearable of functional piece. It is how I look at my surroundings. 

Your daughter was involved in your business, has that continued?

My daughter Hannah remains as creative as ever and even though her priority immediately is raising her precious son Ronan Zephyr Carnegie Thomas, she has started her own line in England where she now lives.  One of her designs was auctioned at the Princess Trust for the largest amount in the auction.  I am so proud of her and know that she will soar, she is so very creative.

What do you hope your legacy will be and the future of your brand?

My desire is for my designs to be considered art, that my clients become collectors and understand and appreciate the beauty and perfection of natures designs.  

www.gogojewelry.com

CBS Sunday Morning

High Museum Feature

Book List:

 

Shop my personal picks from Gogo Ferguson:

Gogo 14k Armadillo Shell Cuff. GogoJewelry.com image.

Spiny Murex Conch Cuff. GogoJewelry.com $295.

Boars Tusk Cuff. GogoJewelry.com $50.00

Boars Tusk Pendant. $200. GogoJewelry.com

Seaweed Necklace. $450. GogoJewelry.com

Rattlesnake Double Rib Ring. Gold/Silver. $425. GogoJewelry.com

Alligator Scute Earrings. $150. GogoJewelry.com

  • All photography unless otherwise stated, taken by Sara Brandon the author, rights reserved Sarara Couture. Images of jewelry displayed reflect her original and personal shop/home experience on Cumberland.

 

 

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Designing for YSL: Willy van Rooy An Inspirational Career.

Willy Van Rooy personal image archive.

Lou Lou, Willy, and Yves. 1980.

Willy van Rooy has lived a life of travel, art, love, design, and is the face of one of the most popular fashion mannequins ever made. One could write her off as just a top model, but they would be missing the core of who she is- an artist and free spirit. Many things about Willy intrigue me-  her classic magazine covers, her time as a designer and muse in the 80s for Yves Saint Laurent, as well as her own shoe line.  Before gracing the runways of Gaultier and Thierry Mugler among others, she worked with prolific photographers as well as studied at the Academy of Fine Arts Fashion department in Rotterdam.  For more fashion images from her career you can see her instagram account.  As a vintage textile and jewelry lover, her time designing shoes, prints, and accessories for YSL and Karl Lagerfeld appeals to my curiosity. We explored this here together. 

Image Provided by Willy Van Rooy.

Willy van Rooy, high school street photograph, rights reserved.

Willy van Rooy:

Q. How did you get into modeling, what was your first big break?

A. It all happened by itself, photographers would sometimes ask me, just in the street. Really, when I think back to when I was still in High-school, my friend and fashion freak like me, Sophie van Kleef, and I would pose for her friend who wanted to be a photographer. We posed in the dresses we had made. I wish I had those pictures. I had them for a long time, but because I change places and countries quite often, things get lost. 

My first paid modeling job was in 1963, in Japan, where I was stopped in the street by “Arab Edy”, as  the foreigners called him, and he said he had an agency. He asked if I would like to be a model or an actress. He had some young travelers like me and some American girls from the American army base in Tokyo ,for whom he found work in the movies, television, or pictures when they needed a foreigner. Actually, I did quite a lot of work there but that would be another chapter. Back in Holland I did some modeling, but it was not exciting at all. At one point, I decided to take it seriously and made a collection of dresses and jackets. Then I went to Barcelona Spain, where a friend and I made a lot of pictures, which we printed ourselves and made a”model-book”. There in Barcelona I was also working as a model, because a lady came up to me in the street and asked me to be a model in her agency. I did a lot of TV commercials and even a short movie, that now is considered very avant-garde and plays in the film museums. I went back to Holland to prepare for a trip to London because it was there that it was”happening”. Immediately I was accepted as something new and was booked stiff for a long time to come, lots of newspaper articles and interviews, they even made window dolls in my image, so like I said… it went by itself

Q. When did you first begin designing or creating in an artistic way? When did your interest in fashion, modeling, and the arts begin? 

A. Since as far as I can remember. 

When I was about 16, I made my first fashion self portrait. I don’t have that picture either, but one day I will make a drawing. If I really start to think about it- it started much earlier, when I was 10. I had a very nice picture in the newspaper because of a play we did in the orphanage for a 

highly elegant public who were the donators and friends of the directrice who was of Dutch aristocracy, a baroness to be exact. I had directed and done the costumes for the play in which I had given myself the role of the princess and the other kids were gnomes. I never forgot the dress which came from a closet that was always locked. There were all these amazing dresses, capes, and furs which were stowed in big sacks, all from that society lady. When there was a reason to dress up, the big bags came out. The dress I am talking about was a long evening dress of yellow satin silk with big elegant grey and white flowers, cut in a way that hugs the body softly. At the time I did not know if it was silk but I remember the softness, so I guess it must have been. A few years later I directed another 

Japanese themed play in which I had everybody dressed up and that time the directrice hired a 

photographer to make pictures of me dressed up. There are many more incidents that led me to be a

model, although that is not what I really wanted so I did not really look for it. I thought that as a model you had to be perfect with perfect hair and nails… and I’d rather get my hands dirty in paint or spend my time making clothes or just see what is going on in the world.

Q. What do you think was different about modeling then and now? 

A. Don’t get me started, everything is different. First of all in many countries

like Holland or Spain ( and surely many others but I did not witness those) it was

considered a job for “light girls” and not respected at all by the ordinary people.

Because of London and the fashion of young real people this slowly changed, but of

course not like today, today the models are as famous as the movie stars and are

idolized. They can earn a lot of money and respect, which is great. In the early

sixties you were expected to have a collection of wigs, stockings, gloves, costume

jewelry , make up, and hairsprays. I mean it was a whole suitcase full and then you also

had to be a makeup artist, a hairdresser and a stylist. The other day I looked at

some Vogue pictures and saw that the make up was not perfect at all, so funny, no

one notices I guess. On the other hand it was marvelous in the sense that you could

create your image and make yourself look like what you felt like, well not always, but you

had a hand in it so to speak. The reason for all the wigs and stuff is that mostly they did not

want you to be recognized but rather be a different person every time. Now the thing is to be

recognized and everything looks so much more natural and they are open to new things. It was

funny for me to see the incredible organization that was going on for the Italian

Vogue shoot at the Korean cemetery with Steven Meisel in 2008 in LA. First of all, I

got picked up by a beautiful black Mercedes and upon arrival was immediately

brought to a delicious breakfast by the best gatherers. There were Trailers with everything

one can wish for, tables and tables with accessories and shoes, racks of the most

gorgeous outfits, big tents for the photographer and his equipment which include

enormous computers so the result is seen immediately and so on and so fort. About 5

make up artists, hairdressers, stylist with a group of assistants.

Back then there was an editor, the photographer, an assistant and the model(s).

Slowly but very slowly there were hairdressers on the set and even slower the make

up artists. For the rest, it is hard work, please don’t think it is all fun and

glamour, it is also hard work, specially in my days. If I think of the racks with all the

clothes that had to be photographed in one day, planes here and

there… yes, it is fun but it is also hard work to be in shape and take care to

look beautiful as many people depend on you and there is a lot of money involved. 

Image Provided by Willy Van Rooy.

Willy’s style, image courtesy of Willy van Rooy. rights reserved.

Q. What was your favorite fashion moment from the 60s? What was your life like then?

A. Everything seemed possible, there was a certain freedom because of the knowledge

that one was not alone, one knew there were many like you who wanted to express

themselves and a good way to do so was the way we dressed. Fashion was young,

fashion was new, mostly because it got a whole new public as things were more

exciting and more affordable then the designer clothes that were around. My favorite

moment was when I discovered a shoe store in London, that I saw sort of hidden in

the window in the background, gold leather shoes. It turned out they were

original Ferragamo shoes from the 40’s. They were a model’s, the sales girl told me-

“they did not know what to do with them”. No problem, hallelujah, they were my size

and I bought all 6 pairs of them for next to nothing. Vintage was great to combine

with the latest and there was lots of it on the fabulous Chelsea market. The modeling at

that time was exciting too.

Q. What photographer do you think had the most influence on your career and why?

A. Definitely Helmut Newton because it was with him that some different style

pictures were made. He was getting known and when I came in, it seemed to be the

right time. I think the pictures we did together were new and people thought they

were exciting. The thing is I was such a nomad and disappeared to Ibiza or India

sometimes for a year or more, otherwise we would have made many more pictures

together. As he told me once, I was the only model he would ever think to ask to be

under contract with him, but I told him that was not necessary because I would always

choose to work with him first. In reality maybe is not always true because

doing all the editorials is great but you also want to bring home the bacon.

Image Provided by Willy Van Rooy.

Willy van Rooy walking in a YSL show.

Q. What was your favorite part of working as a model for YSL and how was the

transition to designer for you? How exactly did this happen? 

A. I loved to do the shows or pictures for YSL because I liked his designs, it made

you look and feel good even though in real life I was not dressed like that at all. He

was a wonderful person and was in the height of his incredible career. The whole

atmosphere there was good and exciting and the shows were a party. Now the runway

shows are so different too. We were not that many girls, maybe 20 or less and we

each had at least 6 or 7 changes. Now I see lots of girls coming on only once. Also, we

could walk how we felt best and each model had a style which the people enjoyed I think,

now they all walk the same? In that time my husband and I became friends with Anne

Marie Muñoz who was a very important person in the history and the House of YSL and

and it was through her that I later started to design for YSL. Drawing and designing

has always been my thing so when the modeling became less exciting and my shop was

closed, I wanted to draw and my husband told Anne Marie one evening when she came for a

visit, to have a look at my drawings…so thats how that started…… 

Q. So to quote your blog about the beginning of your career as

a designer for YSL,

“It is 1980 and I started drawing a collection of shoes for Yves Saint Laurent and

when I had 24 of them I called Anne Marie Muñoz and went to see her at Avenue

Marceau, the official “house” of YSL. I had been there often for fittings and

private shows so I knew a lot of people there, but this felt different. I was quiet

nervous and at the same time excited to show my drawings as I myself really liked

them. Good for me Anne Marie did so too and so I got my first check as a free lance

designer and it was a good one. I had hoped they would buy at least 6 but they

bought all 24 of them!” (Willy van Rooy, blog). http://willyvanrooy.com/

Yes, thats what happened and after that I designed lots of perfume and powder boxes,

jewelry and umbrellas, tee shirts, bathing suits and lots of hand bags and

shoes. It was great fun, I had a lot of pleasure drawing them and what they at Yves Saint

Laurent liked about it was that if I designed T shirts or bathing suits, I would

draw the jewels and belts as well, just because I liked it. 

Q. What pieces did you design for YSL and Karl Lagerfeld? About how many jewelry

designs would you estimate? Do you have any examples of these you saved or images? 

A. Like I said, for YSL I designed all kind of things and for Karl Lagerfeld mostly

prints, something I like to do very much. I did design prints for YSL too and

some jewelry for Lagerfeld as well. The thing is that at that time it was not so

easy to make copies in color and so on and often you forgot or did not care in the

end. I do have photocopies of a lot of it but in black and white. 

Image Provided by Willy Van Rooy.

WWD cover with her prints for Lagerfeld. 1980.

These days one would just do it with the Iphone and gets a great copy. In the end they actually

used little of the original designs I made for them because it is more a inspiration

for the accessories, I would sometimes see a glimpse of it in some jewelry

or especially the shoes. I don’t really know what they were selling and weren’t so I

don’t really know if they made up the umbrellas or handbags that I had designed.

Everything was kept though for later times or whatever. The prints for Lagerfeld were

different because he really used them and when I saw the show and

all the girls coming out in silks and satins with the prints I designed, that was

really something else. I have some newspaper cuttings of the Karl Lagerfeld prints

in the WWD but to be honest I did not check it out very well, once sold, something

new is coming and that was it.

Image Provided by Willy Van Rooy.

Image Provided by Willy Van Rooy.

Image Provided by Willy Van Rooy.

Image Provided by Willy Van Rooy.

Willy’s original jewelry and accessories sketches for YSL. 

Q. On your blog you displayed some original sketches from YSL- how many do you have

in your possession? 

A. At a point when they were selling the YSL label Anne Marie called me and gave me

back some of my original drawings because, as she said” Monsieur St Laurent had

liked those very much and you should have them, maybe one day you can do something

with them”. So, yes, I have about 20 originals drawings I did for them.

Q. Many vintage lovers adore Yves Saint Laurent’s Rive Gauche collection- do you

have a favorite piece you modeled?  

A.Yes, me too I love most vintage YSL but the Russian inspired collection was really

one of my favorites and I have one of this lovely Russian suede hats with fur, red

and Black which is an original, used in the show… other pieces of designers I had

I gave to my sisters because I really only wear what I feel

best in. The only vintage clothes I wear are also my own.

Image Provided by Willy Van Rooy.

Saint Laurent ad, Eric Boman.  

Q. You are sort of synonymous with YSL- so many fashion ads…. They are often used when researching vintage designs.  Do you have a favorite campaign? 

 A. Mostly everything I did for YSL I liked, but the pictures I did with Eric Boman for them I think I like best and the series with the green fur coat by Hans Feurer for the French Elle, all very 30’s-40’s inspired, which is a fashion period I like very much and I love the picture the master himself signed for me with a wonderful text which was handwritten…. ah, the elegance

Image Provided by Willy Van Rooy.

Q. How did you meet your husband?

A. My husband and I met on a photo shoot with Helmut Newton for the English magazine

The Observer. I was booked for 3 weeks with Helmut for different jobs in Marrakech,

Morocco, some publicity’s, Elegance and 3 series for the Observer. One day he saw 2

very interesting looking young men in the street with an Afghan dog ( they looked

foreign and were actually Spanish) and he later thought about it and send some

people to find them and ask them to be in the pictures he was going to make the next

day. I already had seen them as well in the Marrakech souk, you could not miss them,

and to make a long story short, we fell in love right there the morning they showed

up for the shoot. I was waiting in the bus doing my make-up and there they were and

I only remember seeing Salvador. Now he was sitting beside me in the car and the

moment he offered me his pipe of kiv and we looked at each other… Later we were

posing together so we have this wonderful pictures by Newton from the day we really met. The next day the whole crew was leaving for London but I stayed in Marrakech to the chagrin of Helmut who had booked me already for weeks ahead.


Image Provided by Willy Van Rooy.

Image Provided by Willy Van Rooy.

Irving Penn. Vogue image of Willy’s shoe

Q. In the 1980s you designed a quite successful shoe line under your own name, worn

by famous women and fashion lovers. Why shoes?

A. It was the only thing I could not make myself and shoes had always fascinated me

as I had designed some shoes for YSL. Sometimes I had my shoes made up after

my own design, there was a good shoemaker I knew in Milan, Italy, and later in Spain.

The marvelous boots one could have made up, the best shoemaker of those was in

Marbella, now it is not what it used to be 40 years ago either. The thing is that

in 1980 I was in Spain and Spain is a shoe manufacturer country which was an

interesting fact to explore. Shoes on my mind because one day when I

was bringing my drawings to the YSL house, I met up with the man who was responsible

for the production of the YSL shoe line and he told me I had an extra ordinary

feeling for shoes. It is not only the design but the balance and the comfort and so

on. He gave me a few incredible wooden shoe forms and some courage to start my own

shoe line if the opportunity appeared. It did and in 1982 I had produced my first shoe collection in Elda,Alicante, Spain.

Q.How many collections did you design and what inspired your favorite

pair?

A. About 2 collections a year for 10 years. Many of my shoes and boots were inspired

by the wonderful brocades still available in the area which they used in their

yearly festival costumes. It was also tricky because some of it was hand woven in

could take months to produce. It is hard to say which is my favorite but some models

I sold over and over again for many years… they also happened to be my favorites.

Q. In what way was the Tunic Unique indicative of the era, what was it’s impact on

your career? 

A. well, everything comes together. Because of my career as a model I knew many

people and many knew me. I got a lot of help from Karl Lagerfeld who bought them for

all his friends and everybody who worked at YSL including Lou Lou and Dear Anna

Piaggi and all the models I knew, it was a blast and I got a lot of publicity.

Image Provided by Willy Van Rooy.

Celebrities wearing and press about her Tunic Unique.

Q. What other fashion houses have you designed for?

A. In the 90’s I lived in Madrid and designed for the Spanish designer Juanjo

Rochefort who had a lot of celebrity clients and I designed mostly evening dresses

for him. It was a lot of fun.

Q. On your instagram account I see quite a bit of wonderful images from your career

and related to your husband and children? How has and does your family and

especially your husband continue to inspire you?

A. Thats the point, they never stop to inspire me, my family is most important to

me, probably because that is something I have not known and my husband always

surprises me with the art he makes and that is very inspiring. We are very lucky

like that, to have our art and have each other. Not that these things come by

themselves, you have to work at it.

Q. Do you wear vintage? What is the oldest item in your wardrobe? Do you have a

collection of your shoes? 

A. No, I don’t wear vintage except my own and the oldest piece, my faux fur coat, is

26 years old (not that vintage really?) I do buy vintage sometimes because I am full

of admiration for the workmanship but really I think that young people look great in

it combined with the latest accessories. Or I love and wear the vintage jewelry,

that looks always good and again, it is the artistry that went into it that mostly

enchant me. Dressing vintage for me now would look like I never left it.

Image Provided by Willy Van Rooy.

One of Willy’s latest jewelry illustrations. rights reserved.

Q. You design jewelry today and have your own shop- how would you describe your

aesthetic? 

A. I do sporadically design and make up a piece of jewelry or bags and sell it in my

online Etsy shop but to tell you the truth it is too much work, I always want to

make it very special and it does not pay in that way so I only do it when I really

feel like it and then mostly give it away. What I do enjoy a lot is drawing them,

that makes me really happy.

Image Provided by Willy Van Rooy.

Necklace currently available in Willy’s shop

Image Provided by Willy Van Rooy.

Leather and vintage component necklace, created by Willy.

Q. What other projects are your working on? 

A. Right now I am working on a book of my illustrations and if possible would like to make a book of my shoes and all the adventures that went with it. Also a book about the wonderful work of my husband… We just released the new SHOP, I have been working on with my son and daughter, which is very important. It contains designs and product made by the Willy van Rooy label. We have ambitious plans….so much to do. Yet we have to take care to take the time to look at the clouds and the beauty around us, so I am going step by step and every day is a new day.

Love and Peace

After conducting this interview, I am in even more awe of Willy’s life and passion for it! If you are also more enamored, please check out these links for more Willy van Rooy!

Visit Willy’s jewelry shop: https://www.etsy.com/shop/willyvanrooy