She was the youngest jeweller on the block at Place Vendôme, selling pieces for close to £1 million, and worn by megastars in the first year of launching her eponymous brand.
But, as Tatiana Verstraeten tells us, she’s only just getting started. “The sky’s the limit – I don’t think anything is not reachable,” she says, in a way that makes the statement seem like a given, with none of it’s implied hyperbole. It’s this straight-talking confidence that perhaps propelled Verstraeten to where she is today, as one of the most exciting designers in the world of Haute Joaillerie.
Although she started out in private banking, Verstraeten has always gravitated towards major artistic players. Working in consulting, she saw to it that the firm was creative, with a client list that included the likes of Zaha Hadid. “I would come to London and have tea with her at The Wolseley. She was very striking, ‘impressionante’. In French we say ‘avoir du chien’ – I love this way to describe a woman because it means they have a lot of things inside, a lot of passion, rage, confidence.”
Inspired, she pivoted, working with creatives including Anthony Vaccarello to raise their profiles. “I found myself in the fashion crowd,” she explains. “And then I got an offer to work with Karl [Lagerfeld] at his Chanel studio as a designer – for jewellery and all the hats and headpieces.”
Here, we speak in more detail about her successful mission impossibles as a designer and businesswoman, and what persuaded her to break with high jewellery tradition to embrace the digital realm.
What inspired you to launch your own brand?
I came to a point where other studios started chasing me, but working in-house just wasn’t rock’n’roll enough for that moment of my life. You know, you’re only 25 once. You have that time and that energy. I needed something intense.
Chanel is exceptional in fashion jewellery. The collections are enormous, and I worked with amazing ateliers and amazing techniques, like nothing you could experience as a designer in another brand.
Chanel was the most wonderful training I could dream of and I felt ready to start my own artistic signature. And also to slow down, to explore precious materials (gold, diamonds) and to create less, but better. I mean, enter high jewellery.
How do you keep things interesting?
I am particularly attentive to lights and movements. I like to revisit volumes and shapes. There are endless ways to embellish a body or a face. I try to stay true to myself, to my authenticity and my own style and input.
To test my style, I made my first collection in “black and white” – using only gold and diamonds. It’s easy to seduce people with huge gems and bright colours, you don’t need to be a good designer-jeweller if the stones are amazing. So, I thought ok, let’s take that out of the equation, all the easy stuff. Colours and big stones will come later (unless I’m making a bespoke piece).
How has the pandemic affected business, and what are your 2021 plans?
It froze the high jewellery business in general. 2020 is my second year (since I launched in January 2019) and was supposed to be an incredible year for me, it was going to be a statement moment. In particular, I was planning to launch in China and the Middle East, to come back to Cannes for more fantastic red carpet moments and with sponsors on my side. But none of this happened, of course.
So instead, we started exploring the potential of the online market. An entire new world that I wasn’t prepared to explore. This included launching an entry-price collection with Moda Operandi, installing a Concierge service on our website to stay in touch with our clients, and also translating our platform into Chinese to respond to the growing demand from Asia.
What persuaded you to take Tatiana Verstraeten online?
I first categorically refused online, including putting pictures all over Instagram. Because my pieces are at a very high price point, sales are much more private – the jewellery world is very discreet. I thought it had to be totally discrete. But then it hit me that I couldn’t go against my generation. We are in a generation of visibility. The question became more, how am I going to deal with these tools?
Because of the pandemic, I found myself amazed how the world stopped except for images. Online was the only viable dimension for many months. It’s also an indispensable tool for launching in China, which is much more advanced in that area – you can’t proceed there without a digital dimension. Nowadays, I’m very preoccupied by the digital world of communication.
Who’s your dream creative collaboration?
It’s Rihanna, but also Damien Hirst.
Jewellery house-wise, I love Tiffany & Co. for its history. I love Van Cleef & Arpels, I love Cartier – the archives of those houses are all amazing. But I have a very particular love for Buccellati and their Italian jewellery techniques. A capsule collection, I would love that.
I would be delighted to collaborate with a contemporary artist or someone in a discipline that’s completely different from what I’m doing… A visual artist, or dancer.
Of the actresses who haven’t yet worn your pieces, who would you love to see in them?
Sharon Stone. The Iranian actress, Golshifteh Farahani. UN Women activist Angelina Jolie. Beyoncé. There are so many. Margot Robbie, Nicole Kidman, Zoë Kravitz, Scarlett Johansson, Jemima Kirke, Margaret Qualley, Zendaya… It’s a long list of beautiful, powerful women.
My brand is very connected with film, most of the girls who already wear my jewellery are actresses. It wasn’t planned, but I love the crossover with an industry that I cherish so much, like film.
Your work supports UN Women, why is this partnership important to you?
It’s been a long term wish of mine. I was drawn to UN Women because the first celebrity who wore my jewellery, before I even thought about launching my own collection, was Emma Watson and she’s a UN Women ambassador.
My parents are doctors, so I also considered working with MSF, Doctors Without Borders. I feel that these NGOs really participate in working towards a better world, which I don’t feel I always do with art…
[That’s not to say] we don’t need art. We need hope, we need art, beauty is one hundred percent part of life. It would be dark and uncreative and the world would make no sense without art – music, images, sculpture, history, majestic cities like Paris, amazing films, inspiring paintings, books…
What does the future look like for you?
In 10 years time I’d like to be close to nature, have children and make a lot of time for them, to make work a part of my life and not everything. To have a very good balance. I’d like to focus on creativity, and be more available for me and for my creativity. I’d also like to do films.
To be a good manager I think you have to have some free time, to have your creative and intuitive dimensions fully awake. Somebody told me you’ll be at the peak of your success when you properly work 20% of your time. I think that’s kind of true. The other 80% of the time you somehow work passively, you have both feet in the world, so you create much better and you think much better.