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The Style Series: Victoire de Castellane

“I draw inspiration from the relationship I have with the outside world... an image comes to me like a flash and then leads the entire collection.”

Victoire de Castellane, who has masterminded chrysolite and chalcedony skulls and lush collections of rainbow-colored roses alike for Dior over the past twenty-plus years, has been drawn to bold bijoux practically since birth: “I’ve always been passionate about jewellery that is colorful and makes noise when worn,” the native Parisian, whose penchant for more-is-more accessories can be traced back to those of her grandmother, Silvia Hennessy, Countess of Castilleja, tells RE-SEE.

That unmistakable playful panache—coupled with her pedigree (her uncle, Gilles Dufour, was Karl Lagerfeld’s right-hand man)—led her to 31 Rue Cambon, where, at just 19-years-old, she worked as an assistant to the late designer, who was then tasked with injecting new life into the French fashion house. “Backstage at Chanel's fashion show yesterday,” the New York Times wrote a few years later in 1987, “the models spent as much time looking at Miss de Castellane as they did at themselves. Camera crews followed her around, too.”

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Lagerfeld was enthralled, too: Elements of her Eloise-at-the-Plaza-esque ensembles—black tutus, fake leopard fur, and Minnie Mouse bows—often wound up on the Chanel runway, as did de Castellane herself. “She follows the rules I like best in life,” he said. “Don’t compare. Don’t compete. You look at her. You get the message.

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“It was very exciting and fun. There was a lot of freedom and Karl encouraged this in extravagance,” she now recalls of her fourteen-year tenure overseeing costume jewelry, during which she established herself as one of Paris’s most boundary-breaking designers, thanks to exuberant creations, including extra-large pearl string necklaces and pink fringed earrings bedecked with stones and Chanel-inspired charms (think: a quilted handbag and No. 5 flaçon).

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And then Dior came calling: In 1998, de Castellane was named creative director of the maison’s haute jewelry division, a post that she holds to this day. With references ranging from Christian Dior’s Milly-la-Forêt garden to Technicolor, Walt Disney cartoons, and manga characters, her wildly original oeuvre—which has earned her a Légion d’Honneur award, solo shows at the Gagosian Gallery, and her own book, Dior Joaillerie: The A to Z of Victoire de Castellane—continues to grow in scope, size, and, of course, fantasy. And why stop? As she puts it, “Jewelry is the most precious accessory. Like a tattoo, it is part of the person who wears it.”

as told to Zoe Ruffner

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