Some say it’s a vibration, others a stirring of the soul — but a creation that’s imbued with dreams and invested with thousands of hours of crafting can certainly provoke an otherworldly feeling. Typically with high jewellery — the prestigious ‘couture’ side that for centuries has catered to royalty, society and high-fashion, and where a piece can cost anything from tens of thousands to several million — the mind turns to opulent settings and formal dress codes.
But not so with Spirit, Louis Vuitton’s new ode to strength, freedom and destiny. The new collection, which speaks to “what lies within and what manifests without”, spanning mythical spirit animals and a kind of modern-day metamorphosis, triggers a powerful urge to break out; to venture beyond; to brazenly rock up wearing it somewhere completely unexpected, perhaps even to just dance around the kitchen.
Breaking out is exactly what the maison did just a decade ago, channelling its famous sense of adventure into new territory with a Paris high jewellery atelier and gem-buying department, and becoming the upstart in a long-established, rarefied field dominated by names such as Bulgari, Cartier and Chaumet. It would have been easy to tread a well-worn route, but the house set its own compass — and while it’s still early days, the strategy of subversive savoir-faire has crystallised beautifully in this year’s ambitious and at times audacious 150-piece collection.
It’s all about an attitude that informs the aesthetics, explains Francesca Amfitheatrof, the maison’s graceful and energetic artistic director of watches and jewellery, who is four years and four collections into her tenure. The art-trained designer, whose early work was shown in London’s White Cube gallery, was Tiffany’s first female design director from 2013 to 2017, before her appointment at Louis Vuitton in 2018. “There are maisons and brands that have been doing this for hundreds of years, and we come in, you know, all excited . . . We know we’re the babies in the high jewellery world, and you can’t just walk in with the finance and demand to change the landscape — it takes time. But because we don’t have these hundreds of years of history, we have the freedom to be bold. We don’t have to worry whether we’re upsetting preconceived ideas: we can come out of the gate with no weight on our shoulders.”
The designer, who is feasting on pieces from the finished collection in her office beside the Pont Neuf, couldn’t be clearer about her mission: “Amazing, beautiful things were made in the past — but there’s no point, to me, in reproducing them now. Everything we make should have a point of difference to what’s gone before.”
Graphic, personality-led design and left-field inspirations aside, a pattern of twisting high-jewellery norms is emerging: sourcing important scene-setting rubies from Africa instead of Myanmar; and loading multiple important, coloured stones, which could have made up multiple jewels, into staggering one-off pieces. “I felt strongly that there should be only one of these treasures — as unique and individual as the person who wears it,” she says of those pieces. “It’s hard to tell powerful people, ‘It’s sold, you’ll have to wait for next year’, but that’s a choice we made”. There are also contemporary two-finger rings, up-the-ear-chain earrings and playful riffs on the classic high-jewellery stable — think cuff bracelets that look like a shirt peeking out, complete with a custom-cut LV monogram starcut diamond “cufflink”.
While Amfitheatrof says Louis Vuitton is still a “young” player in the jewellery category, the house isn’t coy about its intentions: certainly, industry veterans’ ears pricked up when in late 2019 it paid an undisclosed sum for the 1,758-carat Sewelo diamond, found in Botswana, the largest stone mined since the Cullinan diamond in 1905. While the stone had inclusions that would dictate how it was cut, the house isn’t being timid about innovating in that area, either, despite the complexities — indeed it already has two patented cuts based around the monogram’s iconic flowers.
The new collection, at times fantastical and often complex — “We do make challenging pieces, and I drive our ateliers mad sometimes, especially about the custom-cut stones, which are so expensive and difficult to do,” says Amfitheatrof — is approachable and brilliantly wearable. “Yes, they might have a d-flawless 8.7-carat diamond, but many of these pieces you can wear all the time if you wanted to. They should be worn as much as possible — especially now.” This way of thinking has parallels with other houses including Boucheron: its direction under Claire Choisne sees a modernity and a lightness of heart in the high jewellery that makes the pieces more wearable.
Many of the new pieces incorporate alternating elements of yellow and white gold to “soften” the showiness of the white, and there are magnificent yet minimally mounted rings, with tsavorites, rubies or sapphires. Even the convertible pieces — one of the most lavish traditions of old-world high jewellery — are executed with such slick precision that there’s an ease, a casualness, so it appears almost like switching stones between rings and necklaces and converting high-octane necklaces to new lengths is a cool concept that’s just been invented.
“The codes are one of the things that will make these pieces instantly recognisable and timeless,” says Amitheatrof, “and I feel we’re on a roll.” The signature minimal lines are there, but revving up in places to create an intricate interplay of angles, with deep Vs dancing throughout. They’re enhanced by slender emerald cuts — even the rubies, which is exceedingly rare — and triangle-cut diamonds, which punctuate drop earrings, pave latticework paths in cocktail rings and bracelets, and form spiky pyramids to give a cool edge to “classic” button studs. Meanwhile the chevron “arrow” shape that “pointed the young Louis Vuitton’s way to Paris” in last year’s Bravery collection has now found a home on collarbones and as the pedestal of show-stopping diamond rings.
Geometry is tempered with a sort of supercharged sensuality, and in some cases a literal softness: the gold Radiant “protective armour” necklace, built from tiny gold triangular scales and boasting a spectacular spessartite garnet, was inspired by the Louis Vuitton trunk and the strength of scaled creatures, but it sits on the throat, silky-smooth and strokeable — like a second skin.
What unites the sharp and the soft, the arrows and the curves, is a sense of perpetual motion: there are wing details aplenty, but many of the pieces also have a subtle rippling or gentle flipping component — one chapter of the collection plays with an optical illusion, giving the sense that the metal is turning or swirling like a ribbon. It all alludes to the theme of transformation, while adding fluidity and comfort on the skin.
“It’s super-important to look at ease,” says Amfitheatrof. “High jewellery shouldn’t wear you, or age you. It takes poise to carry it, yes, but mostly it’s about character, spirit.”
Photographer: Thomas Chene/SevenSix; Stylist: Marine Chaumien; Talent: Sheryl Bennett @Marilyn Agency; Hair and Make-up: Sophea Yen
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