"A woman wearing a lot of jewellery is no longer taken seriously" – Gaia Repossi
Mira Duma in conversation with the designer
G aia Repossi has become the fairy-tale "Prince Charming" that has brought Sleeping Beauty back from its slumber. The eponymous jewellery brand that is about to celebrate its hundredth anniversary was brought that back to the top of its game by the 27-year-old heiress. Her artful yet minimalist pieces in the spirit of new Repossi have set trends across the industry. How she has managed to achieve that and who is the woman behind this legendary success — the Founder of Buro 24/7 Miroslava Duma finds out...
The Repossi brand was founded in 1920 and in four years time you will be celebrating its hundredth anniversary, which is going to be a big thing. The new flagship boutique is opening in a few days — is it an early birthday gift to yourselves?
You could say that it is, but we have been planning it for a few years already. It's a radically new store concept, which I've been developing for a very long time. We had a temporary boutique on rue Saint-Honoré in spring, but now we are ready to launch a permanent store in the historic Repossi atelier building on Place Vendôme. The address is the same, but we have completely changed the space and added an extra floor.
Repossi has always been a great and respectable house, yet it may have somewhat lacked the cool factor. That is why the changes that you have implemented over the last nine years are so astounding. Back in March at your presentation at the Gagosian Gallery in Le Bourget I had the pleasure of meeting your father. You could see that he was very proud of you. I told him then that one day I hope to be as proud of my daughter as he is of you. I know the history of the house, but it would be great to hear it from you. Can you please tell us how it all started?
My grandfather was a very skilled drawer and an industrial designer. He could draw anything, from cars to advertising campaigns, and his talents were put to good use at the jewellery house founded by my great-grandfather. My father wanted to be an artist as well and he had made a name for himself in jewellery design. He loved classical art and was attracted to one-of-a-kind gems of a certain size, so his designs were very much on trend in the seventies when it was all about voluminous shapes, exuberance and black gold.
But as time goes by each generation brings with it new perspectives and ideas of what is considered beautiful. I am more about reduction, minimalism and simplicity, which you could say is the opposite of what my father was doing. As a graphic designer, my grandfather also preferred simple lines and shapes, so perhaps my work is bringing Repossi back to its historic roots. I am also showing a woman's response of moving with the jewellery, living with it and at the same time expressing a certain narrative.
You started with the company nine years ago when you were twenty-one but before that, as far as I know, you were not planning on joining the family business. What changed?
It's true. I considered myself to be a creative person first of all; too creative to go into business, even this somewhat artistic family business. I have always been very keen on art, architecture, and archaeology. Art was my main passion. Then little by little I took a different path. I wanted to start creating something and very soon I entered this new dimension and I've joined the family business.
I once witnessed a business meeting where you sat opposite three very important potential business partners...
I remember that meeting!
You were so strong and sharp and you answered the most complicated financial questions. I saw you from a different perspective, as a woman entrepreneur. So now when someone says: "She is a creative person, she can't do business" — I always reply that a creative person can also do business and you are an example of that. Repossi has recently become part of the LVMH Group. Can you please tell us how did this partnership come about and what does it mean for the future of the brand?
The partnership is very recent, although I have known the members of the LMVH Group and the members of the family for a little while, so there has always been a relationship and a common interest. The sharing of common values was evident when at one point the family realised that we needed to expand in response to this very sudden success that we had. The partnership with LVMH will allow us to extend our reach and to enter new markets at a different level. We weren't looking for expansion as such, it was more important for us to raise brand awareness, to communicate our message and ideas.
What are you plans for international expansion and which markets are your top priorities?
We're keeping it confidential, but I can say that we are planning to expand over the Atlantic and we are doing different projects in Europe as well. Asia is the new priority for us. The clients already know us but we are still small there. The Asian market is very interesting, because they love traditional jewellery and European craftsmanship and they follow global trends. In Japan they like unusual beautiful products and that corresponds a lot to what we offer in terms of jewellery.
You are still very young, yet you have achieved incredible success. What do you have planned for the next five to ten years?
I'm very intuitive and my subconscious probably knows the answers better than I do. It's difficult to put it into words; I'm just following my intuition. I want to take this company on a very nice and peaceful adventure that brings about an evolution that is very organic and natural. I respect the fact that our work is both art and craft. At the same time I still want to put forth a lot of modern and fun artistic expressions that we use and all the different ways of communicating with this product.
The Agrafe collection, which you've shown at the beginning of the year, was the first time that you've presented jewellery for men. Is it somehow related to the ideas of gender equality?
Repossi is a woman's jewellery brand, so we weren't planning to do a big collection for men. It was originally a collaboration for a man earring that we've created for a photoshoot in Fantastic Man magazine. Incidentally, my friend Jeremy was involved in the project as well. That's how the Agrafe collection was born and it became a line for both men and women. I wanted to create something very simple and light, yet harsh and masculine. So femininity here means sophistication that comes through a certain aggression. I like this duality and the fact that each piece looks harsh yet elegant at the same time.
Gender equality has long been one of the main trends in fashion and in society. Women are wearing their boyfriends' clothes and vice versa. How is this trend translating in jewellery?
Modern working women have entered new territory. Have you noticed that the strengthening of women's positions in society has been accompanied by a change in attitudes towards jewellery? A woman wearing a lot of jewellery is no longer taken seriously. Successful women tend to dictate a certain minimalism in what they wear. For the last hundred years, jewellery was thought to be for going out in long evening gowns, it didn't have a narrative that corresponded to a working lifestyle. But everything changed. Modern jewellery is not something opulent and shiny to just wear in the evening. It is now appropriate to wear pieces of jewellery throughout the day and for any occasion.
Fashion is one of the busiest industries in the world. It has this insatiable demand for all things new: new trends to follow, new people to love or not to love... How do you keep up with it and how do you find balance?
Luckily, jewellery is another dimension. We definitely have the fuss and the speed of fashion, but I think jewellery is a little bit slower. We have a good balance between that sort of speed and the demands of our clients, who begin to want new things faster. At the same time our business allows us time to think and to come up with new ideas. Perhaps it's due to that fact that we work with precious materials — mistakes are more costly than with prêt-a-porter. Jewellery doesn't age as fast as clothing does and the collections stay for a while.
I'd say that we are the ones who are speeding up the jewellery market. Most houses show one collection a year, but we show two or four, with a lot of variations. So it's a new speed that the ateliers and the structures within the company have to get used to. It's hard for the craftsmen, but they are also enchanted by it because it is the future for them. If we don't improve our speed, then there's no future for us. However, the speed of change in the fashion industry? It's definitely too fast.
Architecture, fashion and art are inextricably inter-connected and ideas are cross-pollinating across the board. Where do you draw inspiration?
My main passion is art. I am surrounded by artists and I share my life with one of them. My father has a background in art and he has influenced me immensely. My other passion is travel. When traveling I see different ethnicities and I notice what clothing and jewellery women are wearing across the world. Women in India and Africa wear a lot of opulent jewellery, which reflects the culture and traditions of these countries. At the same time we've entered an era where jewellery lacks identity. It became more modern to wear absolutely nothing. So how do we respond to that? What is modern opulence? Do women need jewellery? Is it still a way to express yourself? It's important for me to answer these questions in my work.
Your work is a balance between art, architecture and jewellery. I think it encapsulates the DNA of the brand, as far as I can see from the outside. How would you describe what you do?
What I do is not art, even if it has a certain depth and a narrative behind it. First of all it's a craft that we really have to respect, and it's a certain savoir-faire that goes through the generations. So we don't really call ourselves artists. For me the presentation at Gagosian Gallery was more about creating the environment for the jewellery and also the new world, which this new woman gravitates towards.
What about your links with architecture? It probably isn't a coincidence that you've invited Rem Koolhaas, one of today's foremost conceptual architects, to design the new Repossi flagship store...
We have asked Rem to redesign the boutique for us and at the same time we have also been working together on a jewellery collaboration that is coming out very soon. When he saw the ring, his first reaction was: "This is architecture!" Which is true, but jewellery and architecture do not have the same type of engineering, because we work on a miniature scale. When creating jewellery we don't just draw something, but we calculate every millimeter — that makes the process quite similar to architecture. We re-use certain sizes, shapes and measurements from one collection to another, so there are rules and systems that come back. That's a little bit unusual in jewellery, I would say, because normally a collection is a parure: a necklace, a bracelet and a pair of earrings. Whereas, like architects, we start with shape and design.
Who is your perfect client?
I think it's a woman who isn't afraid of change and who is trying different things that resonate with her. She is also sensitive to a certain narrative. In our jewellery we use a lot of codes that come through collective memory, for example, the codes of ancient African tribes. So our client is a woman who responds to that and who wants to have a certain narrative in what she wears, a certain soul in the pieces.
Whom would you like to see wearing your jewellery?
I was very lucky to meet a lot of interesting people through my work. For example, I met photographer Cindy Sherman; she is a good friend and also my client, and she wears a lot of our jewellery. For me this has been an incredible connection that she actually responded to my work in a specific way. I'm working with Rem Koolhaas at the moment, but he can't wear our jewellery just yet (laughs). So there are a lot of amazing and inspiring people around me, and it's a dream come true to work with them.