When she turned 34, Belgian-born Tatiana Verstraeten launched her eponymous fine-jewelry brand after having made her mark in the realm of accessories for Chanel. Just three months in and she already has a showroom on Place Vendôme. A get-together with one of the must-not-miss designers selected for the second edition of the GemGenève show, held back at the start of May.
Tatiana Verstraeten epitomizes contrast in all its splendor. Occasionally flaming red on her lips to turn gazes away from a plunging neckline, at other times dressed in a tracksuit, trainers, hair tied up messily with headphones wrapped around her neck. She conjures up the perfect mix of fashion and design, femme fatale and child-like woman, with her strong yet naïve character, dreaming of getting Beyoncé to wear one of her necklaces and, at the same time, she would have loved to have accessorized Audrey Hepburn’s Givenchy dresses. A cutie, with a feline allure, a sort of crossover between the American Amy Adams and Nicole Kidman back in the 90s.
Tatiana Verstraeten, who studied as a financial engineer in Solvay, prestigious
business school located in Brussels, began her career with the stylist Anthony
Vacarello whose priority is to help young designers, like himself, to take the plunge. She was in charge of developing the whole brand when, one day in 2011, Karl
Lagerfeld invited her to join Chanel and work in the creative studio designing
hats and accessory jewelry. For eight years, she was responsible for creating collections hand-in-hand with 15
of the great designer’s associates. Influenced by several realms prior to setting off on a path which would become her chosen one, Tatiana Verstraeten launched her eponymous fine-jewelry brand during Paris Fashion Week last January.
By applying traditional jewelry techniques to ultra-contemporary jewelry, she breathes fresh style into the sphere. Immediately after, she opened a showroom on Place Vendôme and, today, is the youngest jewelry brand established on this legendary square, toppling Poiray which, by settling there back in 1975, had inherited the status of “Jeune Fille de la place” (Young lady of the square). Unlike major brands which draw from their archives and for which the names of their designers are more often than not kept secret, Tatiana Verstraeten personifies the woman for the jewelry she creates. By reinventing volumes and ways-of-wearing by adding a totally unabashed approach, she exemplifies this new jewelry era.
GemGenève: strategic visibility
British Vivienne Becker, jewelry historian and reputed author, discovered Tatiana
Verstraeten’s creations through an article published in an international issue
of Vogue. Whilst visiting Paris for another project, she decided to pay her a visit. “I was eager, impatient, I had a hard time
finding her showroom even though it was on Place Vendôme, but when I arrived and saw her pieces, I immediately thought to myself that there was something really different here. You could just feel a sort of boldness, fantasy, freshness which brought something totally new to the diamond and jewelry market,” explains Vivienne. “She seemed absorbed by my creations,” recalls Tatiana, honored to have been contacted then well thought of by the historian, “Vivienne portrays jewelry authenticity, she’s a purist!”
When Vivienne told her she would be one of the creators selected for the second edition of the GemGenève show for which she was curator for emerging talents, at first Tatiana Verstraeten had no idea what she was talking about. Somewhat detached from jewelry shows and, although in discussion with leading industry names, she does not wish to find herself lost in the crowd by sharing her pieces in an aseptic, lifeless showcase. What fascinates her though, is contact with customers. As GemGenève is a show which stands out from the other major sector events because it remains on a human scale, is organized by industry professionals who have understood exhibitors’ needs precisely, Tatiana accepted the invitation joyfully measuring the impact this opportunity could have. Ronny Totah, cofounder of the GemGenève show, confirms the importance of a personality such as Vivienne Becker who enjoys undeniable recognition in the world of jewelry. “Although the approach to center stage up-and-coming talents comes from us, Vivienne is an expert in her field and the selection comes from her. We wish to make room for a pool which revitalizes our profession a bit and, at heart, which highlights creators who, perhaps, would have had to have shown their success for several years before being able to participate in the show.” Now it’s become reality and Tatiana Verstraeten was able to take advantage of her trip to Geneva to meet customers, purchasers and collectors from around the world and, as such, answer their requests for her upcoming collections in the best possible way.
Contemporary jewelry quintessence
Her first fine-jewelry collection created exclusively in France, with a partner from Antwerp for the diamonds, is a blend of glamor, technique and delicacy. Her first Fringe earring, inspired by embroidery work, would become her signature. Fashioned with gold threads, pearls and diamonds, it conjures up starry rain and adorns the ear with its perpetual movement. Her Barbara necklace is a unique piece made up of 16 gold elements set with dozens of carats of diamonds. Angel wings lightly kiss shoulders like a feather boa enhancing a neck by delicately caressing the skin. When we ask her why she began by creating fine jewelry pieces which were ever-so offbeat, she answers that “becoming a designer means recreating what the leading jewelers had when they started out: real DNA and a savvy creative head, like for example Victoire de Castellane at Dior. Staying true to this, I wanted to propose tomorrow’s creations. In other words, for me, jewelry is a form of fashion where the object which I create must be exquisitely worn and not just placed in a certain way to exalt woman.”
At a time where the jewelry market has become saturated with new brands and creators, a few come up trumps and, without reinventing the bases, successfully rework traditional jewelry codes. Tatiana Verstraeten is one of the few who adds a touch of fresh air by imaging tomorrow’s contemporary jewelry, explaining that as, strictly-speaking, she has no jewelry culture, she focuses on volumes and movements and makes this difference her strength.
The ability to add costume-jewelry volumes to fine jewelry
“When you create fine jewelry, you don’t have a base to place things on,” explains the creator. “You need to create a space and ensure stones, pearls and whatever other decorative element you use stay put there. In other words, you have to hook everything together. I wanted to propose something different.” Her first wish was to work with volumes as she had enjoyed doing with Chanel by accessorizing jeans and t-shirts with a large brooch. “That’s the great thing about costume jewelry, you can get lost in the volumes and you don’t worry about material, or weight or prices” she adds. By working on accessories in this way she was able to test her ideas by adding volumes of costume jewelry to fine jewelry. “I wanted to do something surprising yet pursue traditional jewelry codes,” she explains, “yet, you don’t have to be bold to wear my pieces. They’re eye-catchers but they don’t overpower the person wearing them.”
It’s a sort of jewelry which intrigues wearing-wise, which surprises technique-wise and which delights look-wise because each piece is center staged on the person wearing it. Altered through her experience in fashion, she sketches the silhouette before creating the jewelry piece, “you must know how to make it exist before creating it,” she explains. Eight years designing for Chanel at lightening pace alongside Karl Lagerfeld gave her great practice. “He was like an orchestra conductor who would trust you, who would let you take control and create but who, above all, would ensure your idea reached maturity,” recalls the creator. “Forget other people’s opinions, never compromise. If you’ve got an idea, regardless of how twisted it is, forge ahead and change nothing,” he would say. Without knowing it, Lagerfeld reassured her. Her only regret is that he passed away before she had time to show him her finished collection launched the day before his final fashion show.