Laurence Nicolas, president of Dior Timepieces and head of Dior Fine Jewellery, shares her thoughts on the timeless elegance and back-to-roots craftsmanship that has earned the House its standalone status in the world of haute couture.
You’ve been at Dior for almost 17 years now. Tell us something about your journey since joining the House…
When I first came to Dior in 2001, I was overseeing the creation of the jewellery. We were coming up with the most extravagant pieces imaginable, which was incredibly exciting. I found it difficult to imagine a challenge that could top it, but the timepieces have proved to be really rewarding in many ways. I’ve been involved in growing the team from three to 150, for example, while creating something from scratch is immensely satisfying.
What is it that makes Dior timepieces unique?
We’re not here to compete with the big brands or copy them, rather our aim is to be completely true to what Dior stands for, which is an haute couture brand that offers women something that’s absolutely beautiful by combining savoir-faire expert craftsmanship with daring, creative attitude. When Monsieur Dior created the brand in 1947, he was determined to ‘go big’. Victoire [de Castellane, Dior jewellery designer] has the same attitude; she’s someone who breathes the brand and is totally in tune with its spirit, so it was wonderful to create the jewellery collections with her.
How do you go about creating a collection and choosing its design or mood?
For us, it’s not about following a trend or marketing brief. When Victoire has an idea, we come together and try to create something coherent from it, so the steer is artistic first and foremost. When I started with the timepieces, we launched a very small, 19mm watch even though at that time, everyone was going large. I told people that as Dior, we weren’t interested in following the trend and then, at Basel three years later, we saw lots of small-sized watches on display. There’s a similar story with our bracelets; we spent around five years creating one that’s made from unique Milanese mesh. It’s true savoire faire, made only in select workshops in Europe, beautifully silky and is also a lovely metaphor of the lining of a Dior dress.
So would you say that ‘timeless’ is an apt description of Dior watches?
We certainly try to be timeless even though, as a fashion house and a brand, we are of course in that cycle. I’d say we create timeless elegance. That’s the essence of an haute couture brand. It’s also about putting craftsmanship and the attention we give to detail first. We make a commitment to achieving excellence, even when it comes to the tiny details that no one sees. To me, that’s the ultimate luxury.
The designer Andrée Putman talked about ‘le luxe c’est d’être exigeant’ (luxury is being demanding) …
Yes, I think this is exactly it. Monsieur Dior’s commitment was to make a woman look more beautiful and means working with top quality craftsmen, whether it’s a lace-maker in a village or a specialised feather craftsman. This is quite unique and I’m proud that we team up with experts who are truly passionate about what they do.
Which era would you choose to live in if you could go back in time?
I’m quite happy with my time! That said, I think early 20th century Paris was a really exciting and inventive period for jewellery, with Suzanne Belperron, for example, creating highly unusual pieces for the Boivin and Herz jewellery houses. It was a fascinating era and one that Victoire is currently exploring in depth.
How do you select the stones you use in your jewellery? Do you have a favourite?
We like to use a lot of opals; to us, it’s the queen of stones and inspiring for all sorts of reasons, from its many colours to the romance and fire it coveys. We at Dior were the first House to begin using opals again after they were dropped for being associated with bad luck, like emeralds, because they were difficult to cut. We also feature portrait diamonds that are flat, created in a style that was popular in the 18th century. Choosing one is impossible since I view them all as my babies.
By Anastasia Nysten
A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, Letters From The Past #43, pages 150-151.