It is on a mid-warm morning that I stumble into Nathalie Jean’s jewelry boutique in Milan, with the hope of meeting the designer and asking her the questions I had formulated on the early morning train ride from Lugano to Milan. I am surprised that she is excited and clearly taken aback that our blog would be interested in her line of custom made designs.
She hails from Canada, now based in Milan, with a wonderful boutique on via Solferino 48 and her wonderful creations are presented in lit boxes throughout the cosy store. She is an architect by training, and this is evident in her style…having been based in Italy for almost 30 years, she is established, but understated…a rarity in the industry where bling and big brand advertising are call of the day. But, this is exactly what drew us to her label.
So, there I sit, with my blue notebook, at the glass table (that she of course also designed) and fire my questions away…
DG: What are your influences?
Nathalie: That is a funny question…I can’t say that I have direct influences. I don’t read books on jewelry and then take ideas from them. It comes when I am holiday, when I see a leaf…at times I feel as though my brain is exploding with all these ideas…you could say it is me, myself and I (laughs)
DG: What type of woman wears Nathalie Jean jewelry?
Nathalie: I started designing on myself - what I found good or interesting. I wear a lot of black, so the designs were always worn on black clothing. My important pieces were pectoral…I feel jewelry is a statement, the jewelry says something about you. That you are ready to strike! I don’t think of a particular woman, I see it as wearable sculpture…in the beginning the pieces were not easy to wear. They needed to be smaller and I added that to my thinking when designing. I also never realised that women could be so different. The designs had to be modified for various body types, so my designs are firstly architectural.
DG: Why are you based in Milan?
Nathalie: I was working in Montreal, in one of the best architect firms in Canada and I was bored, to be honest. I wanted to go to Japan because I found it so interesting and creative. Then this ‘sliding door moment happened when my friend, an architect, came over and asked me to consider coming to Milan to work with her at Scottsass Associates . I went. What was supposed to be a 5 month stay became 27 years! I love Italy. It is so rich and has all this art and all this history. In this country, the artisans are still celebrated and respected. Their work is so wonderful…and for jewelry design, it is a good place to live because the traditions are centuries old!
Nathalie: When I started 12 or 15 years ago, I thought what a pity that I didn’t start sooner with a career in jewelry design. Why didn’t I start 20 years earlier so that I could have had more experience in the field? But I see it as important to have studied architecture. It is part of the background of my designs. I started on such a large scale: huge buildings! Then I branched out into interior decoration and design but when you look at it, it is all the same. You can indeed scale it up or scale it down. It is a process after all. It takes a full year for a jewelry collection to be completed. From the idea on paper (I draw everything) to the computer, to the prototype, to the finished piece. It’s like having a baby (here she smiles broadly and I have a sense of how happy she must feel when she holds the jewelry for the first time, as a mother holds her infant for the very first moment).
I quit architecture because the clients were always difficult and getting in the way and with jewelry, it’s me from start to finish. I have the luxury to do what I want.
DG: Plans for a men’s line?
Nathalie: For me, men’s jewelry should be limited to cufflinks and wedding rings, the only mens pieces I make for my brand. In the consultancy part of my work, I did design some men’s pieces for Versace, for example. I have just designed a line of men’s bracelets for Cerruti and I have to admit that despite all my prejudices, I had fun doing it!
DG: Do you think your line is for older or younger shoppers?
Nathalie: I love it when a young person comes into my boutique and buys something. For some it is their first real ‘jewelry buy’ and it is special. Of course the older customers have the financial means to afford my work, but I love that my designs appeal to both and this makes me very happy…to see a 20 year old buying something and then later a 70 year old as well, this is indeed satisfying.
DG: Are you a fan of online social media?
Nathalie: Facebook is not for me because it is not personal enough. My designs are unique and I cannot present them online on such a platform. I guess I am old school in that I am not online that much! I do have a nice site though, obviously!
And with that, my interview with her is over and she then takes me on a tour of her current collection…and I could buy everything (of course for the special women in my life!). Her designs are bold and timeless. In an age where everything is mass marketed and we are over indulged with everything our hearts desire, it is a welcome relief to have someone designing for a niche market…and if old school means timeless elegance, then I’m also in Nathalie’s boat.
For more information, please visit nathaliejean.com