Established in the 1950s, Parisian couture jeweller Goossens made its name creating dramatic, Byzantine-inspired pieces for some of the 20th century’s most legendary designers, including Coco Chanel, Cristóbal Balenciaga and Yves Saint Laurent.
Now owned by Chanel as one of its skilled group of métiers d’art houses alongside milliner Maison Michel and embroiderer Lesage, Goossens still produces deliciously sculptural pieces in its signature 24 carat gold-bathed brass for countless major fashion houses and interior designers today.
For Goossen’s second collaboration with sculptor and jeweller Harumi Klossowska de Rola, who is as likely to be spotted in the front row of a Chanel show as she is at a Parisian art opening, their joint creative menagerie of golden lions and serpents has expanded to include butterflies and dragonflies.
These delicate creatures have been depicted in jewellery since ancient times, but Klossowska de Rola’s designs are not your standard renditions. Rather than cutesy bugs decorated with pretty coloured gems, these are substantial, sculptural insects that focus on the metal itself, and its relationship with the body that wears it.
That animals are the subject is no surprise as far as Klossowska de Rola is concerned. When she was a child she would only remember someone if they happened to own a cat or a dog. Unless there was something to pet, her child mind said the humans weren’t worth remembering. Her affinity with creatures persists today. “Everything related to nature is inspirational to me. It could just be a leaf or a piece of wood, but I’m particularly inspired by animals,” she says.
From giant wolf sculptures to serpentine necklaces and ferocious yet noble wild cats in the form of rings, she is drawn most of all to wild animals, and the intrigue of lives not contained by the will of man. “I love the way a wild animal looks at you,” she says. “As humans we tend to want to control animals but I respect that instinctive intelligence which most tamed animals have lost.”
What spurred her imagination in this collection was not the bewitching orange and blue symmetry of the Kallima inachus butterfly’s top wing. Instead she was drawn to its brown, textured underside that, complete with veins and midrib, resembles a dry leaf and allows it to disguise itself from prey by blending in with surrounding foliage. In her hands it becomes a bold statement necklace, a 3D creature that ripples with texture and can as happily be displayed on a mantelpiece as worn round the neck.
The collaboration with Goossens, says Klossowska de Rola, was born initially out of a mutual respect for one another’s work. “Their craftspeople have such great know-how and I love that their pieces reveal the hands that made them,” she explains. She initially carved her designs in wax at her home studio in Switzerland, before handing them over to the Goossens goldsmiths to be realised in metal.
That home just happens to be the storied Grand Chalet, an enormous wooden 18th century former hotel in which she was raised by her painter parents, French father Balthus and Japanese mother Setsuko Ideta. Balthus died in 2001 but Setsuko still lives with, and works alongside, Klossowska de Rola today, and it is her mother’s belief in the Shinto religion – with its respect for nature and belief that everything has a soul – that her daughter credits with inspiring much of her own work. They share their home with with Klossowska’s husband, photographer Benoit Peverelli, their two children and – you won’t be surprised to hear – an ever-expanding menagerie of animals, including a serval, or African wildcat, and a wolf dog that is 95 per cent wolf. Not everyone would feel comfortable living with such unpredictable creatures, but to Klossowska de Rola, it is an endlessly inspiring privilege. “I love the way they look at me, it’s like having a silent conversation.”