A unique her­itage story lies be­hind Van Cleef & Ar­pels’ his­tor­i­cal col­lec­tions

VOGUE Living Australia - - CONTENTS - By Bon­nie Vaughan

“De­sign, like art, is part of the his­tory of hu­mankind mak­ing stuff. Whether it’s been made for a gallery or out in the world, it still has mean­ing and it’s em­bed­ded with ideas and so­cial, po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic val­ues” SI­MONE LEAMON, CU­RA­TOR, NA­TIONAL GALLERY OF VIC­TO­RIA

What con­sti­tutes art? It’s an age-old ques­tion that gets many purists’ knick­ers in a fine old twist — es­pe­cially in light of the ris­ing pop­u­lar­ity of mu­seum ex­hi­bi­tions dis­play­ing cre­ative works that are not paint­ings, sculp­tures, draw­ings, mo­saics or fine pho­tog­ra­phy. Block­buster shows in re­cent years in­clud­ing Alexan­der Mc­Queen: Sav­age Beauty, David Bowie Is and The House of Dior: Sev­enty Years of Haute Cou­ture broke at­ten­dance records in mul­ti­ple in­ter­na­tional art venues. Yet there are still cer­tain crit­ics (some might say ‘snobs’) who would ques­tion their right­ful place in such hal­lowed in­sti­tu­tions.

The same ar­gu­ment rears its head when it comes to de­sign. Does this form of cre­ative mas­tery be­long in a gallery or mu­seum? It’s a chal­lenge that Si­mone LeAmon, cu­ra­tor of contemporary de­sign and ar­chi­tec­ture at the Na­tional Gallery of Vic­to­ria (NGV), has ad­dressed nu­mer­ous times when dis­cussing the tri­en­nial Rigg De­sign Prize (see page 215). “The hi­er­ar­chy be­tween art and de­sign has been played out since the ad­vent of Modernism,” she says. “De­sign, like art, is part of the his­tory of hu­mankind mak­ing stuff. Whether it’s been made for a gallery or out in the world, it still has mean­ing and car­ries mes­sages, and it’s em­bed­ded with ideas and so­cial, po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic val­ues.” Can the same be said about jew­ellery? At least one ma­jor mai­son sits squarely in the af­fir­ma­tive camp. Ear­lier this year, Van Cleef & Ar­pels (VCA) un­veiled When El­e­gance Meets Art, a com­pre­hen­sive ex­hi­bi­tion at the To­day Art Mu­seum in Bei­jing, China, which fea­tured nearly 400 pieces from var­i­ous pri­vate col­lec­tions as well as those from the mai­son. Pre­sented in chrono­log­i­cal or­der dat­ing back to 1906, when Al­fred Van Cleef and his brother-in-law, Charles Ar­pels, founded the first Van Cleef & Ar­pels bou­tique in Paris, this glit­ter­ing pat­ri­mo­nial prac­ti­cally shat­tered its glass cases with wow fac­tor. It fea­tured his­tor­i­cal show­stop­pers and sig­na­ture cre­ations such as the Col­laret, an Art Deco daz­zler once owned by Princess Faiza of Egypt, fea­tur­ing 10 drop-shaped Colom­bian emer­alds and stud­ded with di­a­monds of mul­ti­ple size and shape. There was also the 1956 Mys­tère IV, a flex­i­ble gold mesh neck­lace em­bel­lished with a fighter jet and a trail of grad­u­ated cir­cu­lar-cut di­a­monds — a gift for the first fe­male pilot to break the sound bar­rier, France’s Jac­que­line Au­riol. ››

‹‹ Ethe­real 1940s bal­le­rina and fairy clips high­lighted the mai­son’s cel­e­brated sense of whimsy and charm; jewel-en­crusted brooches de­pict­ing flow­ers, birds and but­ter­flies tes­ti­fied to its fas­ci­na­tion with na­ture; and the 1951 Zip neck­lace — an ac­tual work­ing zip­per made of gold that can be trans­formed into a bracelet — left no doubt about the mai­son’s su­perla­tive tech­ni­cal knowhow. The evo­lu­tion of VCA’s de­signs through­out the 20th cen­tury and into the 21st tell sto­ries about time and place, and re­flect changes in fashion, so­cial mores and even po­lit­i­cal devel­op­ments as keenly as any art form. Highly or­nate van­ity cases and ci­garette boxes, all func­tional works of art, took off with eman­ci­pated women in the 1920s. With plat­inum rel­e­gated to mil­i­tary use dur­ing World War II, yel­low gold be­came the pre­cious metal du jour. The el­e­gantly sim­ple Al­ham­bra neck­lace in­tro­duced in 1968 — clover-shaped charms set in semi-pre­cious stones — her­alded a less-for­mal ap­proach to jew­ellery for the mod­ern woman. (At the sprightly age of 50, it re­mains one of the mai­son’s most pop­u­lar de­signs to­day.) Van Cleef & Ar­pels con­tin­ues to de­light its devo­tees with new in­no­va­tions, such as 2017’s Le Se­cret col­lec­tion — cre­ations with clever mech­a­nisms that give them a the­atri­cal, an­i­mated qual­ity. How­ever, the jew­ellery house re­mains pas­sion­ate about its cen­tury-long her­itage, as ex­hi­bi­tions in pres­tige venues around the globe clearly at­test.

A more in­ti­mate cu­rated ex­pe­ri­ence is of­fered to guests at the 1906 Room, a mini-gallery in the Syd­ney flag­ship bou­tique — the only one out­side Paris. The serene space, de­signed in the hexag­o­nal shape of the brand’s Place Vendôme head­quar­ters, fea­tures a ro­tat­ing themed show­case of sig­na­ture her­itage col­lec­tions that is re­freshed every three months. “This room is ded­i­cated to pat­ri­mony,” says Ni­co­las Bos, VCA’s CEO and de­sign di­rec­tor. “The pieces are not for sale; they are part of our own pri­vate col­lec­tion. But for us, it’s a good way to in­tro­duce the house, to demon­strate the tech­nique be­hind his­tor­i­cal pieces, and to en­gage in a di­a­logue about how this in­spi­ra­tion or tech­nique is trans­lated to­day.”

In other words, it’s about show­cas­ing the mas­tery and crafts­man­ship be­hind the glitz, the glam­our and, make no mis­take about it, the art. As Si­mone LeAmon so elo­quently puts it: “Be­fore peo­ple painted on cave walls, they painted on them­selves, be­cause it was a form of vis­ual com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween dif­fer­ent tribal groups. Jew­ellery is no less wor­thy than any other art form of study or ap­plause, or be­ing lo­cated in the con­ver­sa­tion of hu­man cre­ativ­ity.” Not to men­tion it’s so damn gor­geous.

“The 1906 ROOM is a good way to demon­strate the tech­nique be­hind his­tor­i­cal pieces” NI­CO­LAS BOS, CEO, VAN CLEEF & AR­PELS

Van Cleef & Ar­pels now has a new bou­tique in Mel­bourne’s Chad­stone shop­ping cen­tre. van­clee­ @van­clee­farpels

CLOCK­WISE FROM ABOVE Se­quinned dancer clip (1953) in gold, di­a­monds, ru­bies; Chrysan­the­mum clip (1937) in gold, plat­inum, di­a­monds, ru­bies; Mi­mosa pair of clips (1948), for­merly in the col­lec­tion of Princess So­raya of Iran, in gold, bril­liant-cut di­a­monds; Se­quins clip (1948) in plat­inum, yel­low gold, di­a­monds, all by Van Cleef & Ar­pels.

FROM TOP LEFT Spirit of Beauty clip (1941) in plat­inum, ru­bies, emer­alds, di­a­monds; In­dian-in­spired neck­lace (1971) in gold, di­a­monds, emer­alds; Fée On­dine Au­toma­ton (2017) clock, cre­ated for the Sa­lon In­ter­na­tional de la Haute Hor­logerie watch fair in Geneva, in white gold, di­a­monds, opal, sap­phires; Wal­ska Bri­o­lette brooch (1971) in di­a­monds, emer­alds and sap­phires, all by Van Cleef & Ar­pels.

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