Q&A: Marie-Helene de Taillac

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 August, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 August, 2009, 12:00am

French designer Marie-Helene de Taillac launched her first jewellery collection in 1996 using brightly coloured semi-precious gems from India, including apatite, chalcedony, sapphire, fire opals and topaz. Her designs quickly created a buzz for their simple, chic look and wearability. Today her collection of rings, bracelets, earrings and necklaces is available at luxury boutiques around the world, including Colette in Paris and Barneys New York.

When did you fall in love with jewellery?

I grew up in Lebanon where jewellery is part of the culture so I have loved it since I was a child. One time my parents came back from Iran and I remember seeing pictures of the treasure of the Shah of Iran. I would pour over them. When we lived in Beirut, I would often go with my mum to her jeweller and work with him. The women in my family loved jewels, so it was in my blood.

You are known for your work with the Gem Palace in India. How did that begin?

I first went to India in 1989 for a five-week holiday. Beirut has a similar culture and I was attracted to the warmth of the people. I went back a few years later with a friend who was buying pieces for a shop and she asked me to help her and also to design a small collection for the store. The timing was right.

Back in Paris, I showed the pieces to a Japanese friend based in London who loved them. Then my good friend [cashmere designer] Lucien Pinet-Fillet helped me promote them by showing my pieces alongside his latest line of sweaters. We had a good response and I went back to India to buy more gems. It snowballed from there. Barneys bought my first collection but getting the next one done took so long because I had to find the right stones.

What makes your jewellery different?

When I launched my line I had two passions: jewellery and fashion. At the time it was the post-grunge era and fashion was very minimalist. I loved shopping but I could never find jewellery that didn't look dated in comparison to all these cool clothes. I always loved colours, so I decided to start my own line featuring coloured stones that could be worn with my everyday clothes. I didn't know if people would like it but I knew it was for me. I started by using the briolette cut [at that time usually reserved for diamonds] on multicoloured stones, which I strung on a necklace. It was and still is a best-seller. I wanted to change how women wore jewellery. It should be part of your lifestyle, something you wear everyday. We use 22 carat gold for its colour - it's more beautiful and has a matt finish. The patina comes from wearing it more, so it gets better with age. My designs are what I consider timeless and wearable but what really makes them stand out is the colour. I design pieces that I want to wear. It all comes instinctively and I have a good eye and sense for colour. I never wear black.

How have your designs evolved over the years?

My designs haven't really changed because the beauty always comes from the stones - I just find the purest way to show them. I don't believe in fashion trends, but when I see a stone I sit and figure out the best way to showcase it. Sometimes it's the stones that inspire me but it is so personal. It's colourful because they express my passion. All my work is instinctive, so I hope to evolve with it naturally.

What are you working on now?

For autumn I have started to put stones in stones - for example I take a light coloured piece that is transparent, big and bold and then embed other semi-precious stones in it. I am enjoying working with rock crystals, especially with the inclusions in the stones. In November we are doing a joint exhibition with [French] department store Bonmarche called 'Love from Jaipur' to pay homage to the city where I make my pieces. I have a multi-brand fashion boutique there called Hot Pink which showcases Indian designers, and we will bring in pieces from the store. I have been working there for so long it's important for me to give something back to the community.

Do you plan to open more boutiques?

When we opened in Paris four years ago I never thought people would like my work, but the store has been great. I want the business to grow, but I also want to have my life, so I don't want to go too quickly. It's so personal that my sisters are even involved in the business. But I would love to host an exhibition of my most expensive pieces.

Marie-Helene de Taillac is available exclusively at Lane Crawford, IFC Mall, Central, tel: 2118 3388