French designer Charlotte Chesnais was quoted as considering jewelry making as the interior design of the current generation. Back in the 1990s, the market offering impeccable taste in interior furnishings and design is saturated, but the same can be said for jewelry now. This is the reason Chesnais thought it was important to stand out, and she did so not by introducing novel techniques in polishing and setting but rather through creating pieces that spoke to her personally and was certainly close to heart. And these were exceptional for their contemporary style, clean lines and the manner in which they can seemingly fuse with the body—check out her famous Bond bracelet for reference.
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The detour from fashion
Like many young people, Chesnais was unsure and confused of what to do career-wise, and initially took an elementary business course. It was not too long after that she found out she was not cut out for it and made the decision to go to Studio Berçot, which she owes for refining her taste in fashion and her style. It was also through the school that she found her way to Balenciaga—then house creative director Nicolas Ghesquière shared a mutual contact with Chesnais. She worked for a while with Vincent Darré from Ungaro, who became a friend and a mentor to her, but it was her move to Balenciaga that actually led to her current state.
Designing jewelry was not really part of the plan for Chesnais. The opportunity came out of the blue, actually—while in Balenciaga, Ghesquière thought they needed to have jewelry for a show they were about to do but he had no particular contact to do the job. He asked Chesnais to do it, to which she agreed, and the designer dutifully studied and met with masters of the craft. Soon enough she led the creation of the house’s jewelry line besides working on pret-a-porter. Other distinguished maisons and designers also knocked on her door, among them Saint Laurent, Kenzo and Paco Rabanne.
Charlotte Chesnais: something personal
Along the line, Chesnais found her time in Balenciaga limiting because she wanted to create pieces that spoke to her personally, and the freelancing was not enough for her to do so. She wanted to show how she would like her jewelry to look like, without following codes of the famous houses she has worked for. Luckily for Chesnais, she had the support not only of friends but also of the people in the industry. She bid Balenciaga farewell and opened her eponymous brand—how personal can you even get?—in 2015. Her very first collection which debuted during the year’s Paris Fashion Week immediately caught the attention of authorities and tastemakers alike; she was awarded the coveted ANDAM Fashion prize right there and then.
Inspired by sculptors Alberto Giacometti and Constantin Brancusi, Chesnais often has her jewelry showcase influences from sculpture. By the way the lines surround the limbs and together create a new form, her pieces often bridge fashion accessories and fine art. And yet, they are rarely adorned with ultra-rare stones. Often, her works feature simply gold and silver; if there is anything that adds to that, its beauty is often understated and requiring of a body to be fully appreciated. With their one of a kind look that is hard to replicate, the pieces are meant to be timeless and incomparable to passing trends in fashion. Still, Chesnais continues to explore more of the fine lines and abstract shapes to create something original while still playing with favorites: the Saturne earrings and the Bond bracelet. To her, her collections of jewelry remain largely a work in progress.
The French tradition lives in Charlotte Chesnais
Chesnais keeps the operation within France, and she is often splitting her time between Normandy and Paris. She does away with sketches, and instead dives in directly into the prototype, giving herself as much freedom as possible. While she is good at planning everything else, she lets herself loose when designing jewelry that may begin as a bracelet but soon enough she’ll find better as a ring. After being satisfied with what she has molded, she takes the design to French ateliers where master craftsmen recreate the prototype all by hand. The jewelry are often available in gold, silver and vermeil. As to why she keeps everything in France, Chesnais says that she has utmost respect for the French style and techniques, and likes to preserve these as much as possible in her work.
Thankfully, despite maintaining a French operation, Charlotte Chesnais is available all over the world, in around 60 stores, some of them located in Europe, North America and Asia; a full list of retailers is available on her website. For those who would like to make the most out of the convenience provided by mobile devices, they can also purchase from online retailers, some of which include Editorialist, Net-a-Porter, Matches Fashion, Moda Operandi and SSENSE.