Charlotte Chesnais

In conversation

The Parisian based jeweller, Charlotte Chesnais, has been collaborating with Viviane Sassen for the last few years on a series of graphic shoots for each new collection. It's very tempting to collect from each new series, as Charlotte's pieces become a family, each idea evolving into a new but familiar relation. I once visited her showroom in Paris and asked her about how she works and thought it would be nice to ask her the same and new questions to share with you.

WF: Can you describe the process of how you mould the pieces around real hands/wrists and necks/ears etc?

My creative process is coming from my lack of sketching skill. So I found a way to bypass this lack by doing the jewellery in real with brass wire, or moulding paste for example, like if I was draping a dress on a mannequin. This has allowed my research go to a new dimensional level, where a mockup initially done to become a bracelet is actually turning into an ear piece when trying it on and twisting it, for example. I see my work as chapter from a book, a story that I started to tell 5 years ago. Each collection is more like a chapter, that can refer to the previous ones. It’s hard for me to compare them between each other, I still love very much some pieces from the first season. But on the other side, moving forward is what I am always looking for, it’s how I am having fun and feel accomplished in my work.

Tell me a little about your beginnings? How did you start and who gave you your break?

I started as a fashion designer at Balenciaga. When I was 20, and stayed there for almost 10 years. I was doing ready-to-wear there, but one day, Nicolas Ghesquière asked me to take care of the jewellery for one show; this is how I started and I never stopped since.

WF: You can see the influence of artists and sculptors in your work but which artists have really inspired and informed your development as a designer.

I am a deep fan of Barbara Hepworth works of course, and others such as Pol Bury, Mallet Stevens, Brancusi and many more, the list is long. But I feel that all these artists beyond many others are feeding my creativity in a deep way, not so much in a literal way. It’s like if I was learning to read, but here I am learning to explore my creativity looking at their work.

WF: Can you describe or share any deep challenges or moments when you felt like giving up?

I never really felt like giving up, I am doing a job that is a passion and feel so lucky about it. But there are some challenging moments of course. Running my own business and having 3 kids at the same time is probably the biggest one, even if I felt that it’s also giving a specific energy, a very structured one. For example I had to check on the production of the first collection in July 2015 and then ship it to buyers, 5 days after giving birth to my first son, 30 degree in Paris, all by myself without any experience on how to do it… I was crying every 5 minutes. I am very concerned by ecology and making our planet a safer and better place, and it’s true that working in the fashion industry and making sure you respect these values is very challenging.

WF: What woman do you think your jewellery really appeals to?

It’s hard for me to say, but the reasons why I love them is maybe the reason why they love them. It’s a very personal and honest work. Balanced between pure but sophisticated lines, light but with a real presence at the same time. The collections are small because I want to make sure that each jewellery has his own room to live.

WF: Can you tell me a little bit about the collaboration with Byredo?

Ben and I met few years ago, and I propose him to collaborate quite immediately. I felt we shared many values together. We wanted jewellery that we could wear, both of us. The chain appeared obvious. And also the symbol of it is strong, the link between us, the link between creativity and « savoir faire «, the link between femininity and masculinity.

WF: How long ago did you discover Viviane’s work and can you remember how?

One of my very closest friends offered me the Pikin Slee book from Viviane, in 2014 I believe. This is how I discovered her work. Actually I knew her pictures before without knowing who she was, I have the Carven campaign in mind in 2013. There are so many series that I love! I love very much when she paints with ink on top of picture particularly. There is also this series with pictures of antique statues that really look like Viviane photographed real bodies. Very inspiring for me! When I work with Viviane I trust her and her vision 100%, she always brings strength and poetry to my jewellery it’s crazy.

WF: Anything exciting on the horizon?

The Corona confinement is shaking up almost all our plans… But hopefully (fingers crossed) we will open our first Parisian store by the end of 2020 or beginning of 2021.

Marte Mei for Charlotte Chesnais. All images courtesy of Viviane Sassen.