∙ Monique Péan: Sus­tain­able Chic

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“She’s not a novice by any means,” Michael Kowal­ski, Tif­fany & Com­pany’s chief ex­ec­u­tive once said of Monique Péan. “She has un­usual craft­ing skills com­bined with an as­tute busi­ness sense. Half-haitian, half-amer­i­can Jewish in ori­gin, Péan be­gan her ca­reer in fi­nance at Gold­man Sachs in New York City af­ter grad­u­at­ing from the pres­ti­gious Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia. Af­ter three years of work­ing as an an­a­lyst in fixed se­cu­ri­ties, she trag­i­cally lost her 16-year-old sis­ter Vanessa in a car ac­ci­dent. The ex­pe­ri­ence caused a marked change in Péan’s life, re­sult­ing in her re-eval­u­at­ing her own path. She had al­ways been pas­sion­ate about jew­ellery and given her back­ground with num­bers, she en­tered fash­ion and ac­ces­sories with a qual­ity few-and-far-be­tween in the cre­ative field.

She made her New York Fash­ion Week de­but back in 2010, a defin­ing mo­ment for any de­signer. Mak­ing the de­ci­sion to show at the Lin­coln Cen­tre is not to be taken lightly as one’s de­but is a make or break ex­pe­ri­ence. As it turns out, it was the for­mer for Péan. She is now renowned for her nat­u­rally sourced and eco-friendly lux­ury pieces.

Some of the unique ma­te­ri­als she’s used in the past to make her cre­ations in­clude con­flict-free di­a­monds, ground mother-of-pearl, and pre­his­toric fos­sils. Up­scale de­signer bou­tique Matches Fash­ion in Lon­don, Eng­land re­cently hosted an in­ti­mate lunch with Ms Péan; I had the chance to speak with the CFDA Fash­ion Fund fi­nal­ist about her game-chang­ing col­lec­tions, tran­si­tion into fash­ion and what she hopes to achieve with her sus­tain­able de­signs.

Your col­lec­tions have very unique choices of ma­te­rial. Why have you cho­sen this route and how do you go about choos­ing this ma­te­rial to work with?

I’m re­ally in­ter­ested in sus­tain­abil­ity and unique ma­te­ri­als. My core ma­te­ri­als – the sig­na­ture ma­te­ri­als that I tend to work with – in­clude fos­silized woolly mam­moth, fos­silized wal­rus tusk, as well as a fos­silized di­nosaur bone. I just think that it’s amaz­ing to find ecofriendly ma­te­ri­als that aren’t harm­ing the en­vi­ron­ment but are re­ally beau­ti­ful and one of a kind. Depend­ing on where the fos­sils have been rest­ing, the min­er­als will change the colour over time. So, if the

fos­silized woolly mam­moth has just been trapped in the ice it will main­tain this very creamy colour, but if it has been ex­posed to silt min­er­als or salt min­er­als we get these amaz­ing deep blues, which is pretty fas­ci­nat­ing, so sim­i­lar to this ring that I have on here [point­ing to her mul­ti­di­men­sional blue ring], and then the di­nosaur bone, both this ring and this ring have di­nosaur bone, and you can ac­tu­ally see the cel­lu­lar struc­ture of the di­nosaur, which I think is just in­cred­i­ble, and to own some­thing that is a hun­dred and fifty mil­lion years old is pretty spec­tac­u­lar.

How do you get your hands on these unique ma­te­ri­als?

I’m al­ways trav­el­ling all over the world to find unique ma­te­ri­als to be able to work with. I work with ar­ti­sans now in the Arc­tic Cir­cle, as well as in Gu­atemala, in Peru, in Nor­way, in French Poly­ne­sia, re­ally all over the world and I think it’s re­ally im­por­tant to be able to sup­port ar­ti­sanal crafts­man­ship. There are so many amaz­ing ar­ti­sans who have re­ally unique, spe­cial­ized tech­niques, so to be able to sup­port those ar­ti­sans is re­ally spe­cial for me and ex­cit­ing. And then with the gold and diamond work, we use all re­cy­cled gold and con­flict- and dev­as­ta­tion-free di­a­monds, and we do all the gold and diamond work in New York City. And then with each piece of jew­ellery that we sell, we work to pro­vide clean drink­ing wa­ter. We’ve built wells now in Malawi, Mozam­bique, and Haiti, and just through last year’s sales we’re cur­rently build­ing wells in Nepal and Ethiopia.

You’re very in­volved in phil­an­thropic ef­forts as well; how do you en­deav­our to make this come out in your work?

I think it re­ally goes back to the en­tire de­sign process and mak­ing sure that each step of it is eco-friendly and sus­tain­able, not only in sourc­ing the ma­te­ri­als but in terms of us­ing the re­cy­cled gold and mak­ing the pieces and then work­ing to pro­vide clean wa­ter, which is very im­por­tant to me. Min­ing enough gold just to pro­duce one sim­ple wed­ding band can pro­duce over 20 tonnes of waste and that’s mer­cury and cyanide go­ing into the wa­ter sys­tem. Most peo­ple don’t know that there re­ally is a real rea­son to be us­ing re­cy­cled ma­te­ri­als.

You’re part of the new co­hort of de­sign­ers that have en­tered the in­dus­try with a fi­nance back­ground. How do you feel hav­ing worked in such a num­bers-ori­ented field sets you apart from the typ­i­cal de­signer?

I started my ca­reer in Fi­nance and worked at Gold­man Sachs. I stud­ied eco­nom­ics and po­lit­i­cal science and phi­los­o­phy at Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia. Af­ter fi­nance I tran­si­tioned into the world of fine jew­ellery, but I’m very for­tu­nate that I started my ca­reer in fi­nance be­cause I think it re­ally helped me to un­der­stand ac­count­ing and fi­nance and how to run a busi­ness.

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