∙ Monique Péan: Sustainable Chic
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∙ The Hummingbird Bakery
“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.