Working with veteran artisans at fine jeweller Mellerio dits Meller's atelier, near Place Vendôme in Paris, made Alexandre Vauthier feel like a child in a candy store. Instead of embroidered lace and crystal-laden leather, Vauthier got to play with exquisite emeralds and Mellerio-cut diamonds. The French couturier - famous for his feminine creations that have attracted celebrity fans such as Beyoncé, Rihanna, Madonna and Lady Gaga - has ventured into fine jewellery.
"I was so passionate about it that I finished the [design] drawings in two days," Vauthier says. "It's been a childhood dream coming true."
The collection was unveiled during Paris Haute Couture Week in July, featuring an art deco-style ring, necklace and bracelet set comprising stunning emeralds and diamonds, and outlined with delicate enamel. A more accessible version of the capsule collection will be launched at Lane Crawford in Hong Kong from September 11 to October 4.
Vauthier approaches fine jewellery with the same aesthetics he brings to haute couture. The design is fluid, sensual and seductive.
"[The movement of fabrics] and how couture comes alive on a woman - I feel the same way with jewellery," Vauthier says. "I want the pendant touching the [wearer's] skin so closely to create an extension of the beautiful curve from the collarbone to the décolleté."
His aesthetics, Vauthier explains, are about giving a voice to women through his designs.
"I always respect women, and I want to make them feel beautiful," Vauthier says. "Different women I meet in my life inspire me. I love watching the way they work, they talk and when they fall in love. I always try to understand what they want."
Vauthier has dressed screen sirens Sharon Stone, Sophie Marceau and Charlize Theron, and young style icons Cara Delevingne and Taylor Swift. Vauthier's clientele also includes socialites and CEOs.
"All these women are so different from each other - different age group, different lines of business," Vauthier says. "They all recognise something in my designs. It's very encouraging."
Born in Agen, southwestern France, Vauthier studied fashion at the prestigious ESMOD institution. After graduation, he apprenticed with Thierry Mugler at the couture atelier before working alongside Jean Paul Gaultier as a head designer for the couture collections.
"The first collection I worked on was for Thierry's couture show and it was the best opportunity I could only dream of," Vauthier says. "With Jean Paul, I was involved with everything from couture to ready-to-wear, campaigns and events. Mugler was responsible for my formation and Jean Paul gave me my first job." Vauthier started his own brand in 2009. He quickly built a celebrity fan base and was invited to show as a regular guest of Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. He became an official member in January this year.
Vauthier's honed skills are evident in his couture collection, which includes a body-con mini-dress featuring more than 390,000 pieces of exquisite sequins to mimic the effects of alligator leather that took Maison Lesage artisans in excess of 1,600 hours to make.
"Fashion was different when I first started," Vauthier says. "[Designers] didn't care much about whether the cost of the clothes was realistic. They just focused on exclusive pieces and followed through with their vision. It's the spirit of haute couture."
The couturier is quick to embrace wearable technology in his creations. He collaborated with wearable tech artist Moritz Waldemeyer in 2010 to create a jacket and dress ensemble featuring illuminating LED electronics modelled by Rihanna.
"For me, it's [also] haute couture to mix technology with traditional crafts," he says. "This way you can make progress. The balance is key, and is itself an act of art."
Vauthier is one of the few younger designers putting a modern twist on couture such as sporty silhouettes and references to pop culture. His latest autumn couture collection is inspired by Los Angeles, one of his favourite cities.
"This collection I probably had more references of the LA style than usual," he says.
"But my collection is never about just one story, and I don't interpret the influences literally. You'll also find French '70s style and even ethnic elements from India and Southeast Asia. My challenge was to elevate the elements of such influences and work them into really luxurious, opulent designs."
The designer also collaborates with contemporary brands for one-off novelty designs. His interpretation of the classic Nike Air Force 1 footwear sets you back €650 (HK$5,599). Vauthier's collaboration with cosmetics giant Lancôme alongside fellow young couturiers Yiqing Yin and Jacquemus was another example of his talk-of-the-town projects.
After almost two decades working in haute couture, Vauthier says clients in emerging markets are fuelling growth in the industry.
"I've heard people saying that couture is a niche and that it's been dying since the day I started, but I believe there's always going to be demand for haute couture," he says.
"There's a rapidly changing demographic for couture clients today emerging from markets such as China and India. They are learning very quickly about exclusive designs and haute couture. I think couture is very much alive and growing."
Vauthier has applauded his mentor Gaultier's decision last year to close his ready-to-wear line to focus on haute couture.
"Jean Paul is a very talented designer and has [had] a fabulous career," Vauthier says.
"Fashion, though, is a tough business. You need to be creative, and you need to sell - not once a year, but six times a year. Every designer is different. I think it's a very personal thing."
Vauthier is expanding this year. In addition to the fine-jewellery collection, he has his first handbag collection. And after working with Christian Louboutin for several seasons, Vauthier is also launching his own shoe collection.
"My design - be it fashion, shoes or jewellery - is a way of expression," he says. "I also gain valuable experience and knowledge out of it."
M I L E S T O N E S
Born in Agen, France
Works as an apprentice for Thierry Mugler
Graduates from ESMOD fashion school
Works as head designer for Jean Paul Gaultier couture collections
Debuts at Paris Fashion Week with own label
Dresses Beyoncé for her album 4
Dresses Madonna for the cover of her single Girl Gone Wild
Becomes official member of Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture