Despite the fact that since 1925 her family has owned and run one of Paris’s most prestigious haute jewelry houses, Gaia Repossi had no intention of becoming a designer. Painting (a passion she’s pursued since childhood) and her studies in anthropology at Le Sorbonne were at the center of her life when she crafted her first Ere by Repossi collection five years ago. But Repossi, now still only 25, discovered that she could merge her creative vision and interests in ancient and tribal cultures in her coveted rings, cuffs, chokers and pendants.
As the artistic director of Maison Repossi, Gaia blends painstaking craftsmanship and intellectual inspirations in her baubles, some of which are minimal, others of which feature laced gold sprinkled with diamonds. And judging by her star-studded fan base (Dree Hemingway, Diane Kruger, who recently donned Repossi’s Berbère black gold and diamond ear cuffs, and even Karl Lagerfeld are among her patrons) it’s plain to see that she’s become one of the industry’s most sought-after young talents.
Just before Paris fashion week, Interview visited Repossi in her studio, a clean white space posted above her family’s historic Place Vendôme boutique. Leaning against her broad wooden desk, it’s apparent why the Italian-born designer, clad in a Céline sweater, simple black pants, and Japanese-inspired ballerina flats, has quickly emerged as a fashion darling—her minimal, effortless style and poise seems far beyond her years. Kitty-corner from a fanned window that overlooks the Vendôme Column is a wall of inspiration boards, covered with everything from lions’ heads to tribal tattoos. Next to boxes of her latest works in progress sits an antique silver tribal necklace, as well as ornate vintage combs, all of which are points of reference for her upcoming collection, set to debut this July. Repossi is slowly working on her new designs, which will, for the first time, incorporate a selection of big-time diamonds. She doesn’t follow fashion’s seasonal calendar; rather, her work is all about evolving a timeless tradition. This month, Repossi, who has previously collaborated with Alexander Wang, Joseph Altuzarra and Zadig & Voltaire, will release a capsule collection for Paris’s favorite concept shop, Colette. Come this summer, she’ll launch a line of decadent carved gold and diamond snake rings, a project that has been in the making for over two years. Here, Interview sits down with Repossi to discuss her inspirations, painterly pursuits, and the new collection.
KATHARINE ZARRELLA: Did you know when you started five years ago that you were going to be such a success?
GAIA REPOSSI: No. I was still studying and I just wanted to start working slowly. It wasn’t my idea at all to be part of the scene and to work so hard and I just tried one collection. I was really a kid without any interest or without any goals or aim to succeed. But I think with creative people, there shouldn’t be an interest in fame or money, it’s more about just being creative and trying to do your duty and when it works, it works.
ZARRELLA: Considering this is your family’s house, did you always know you’d be a part of it?
REPOSSI: No. I was a real tomboy. I was studying while I started, and I was still in my dream of painting, and I didn’t expect it. I didn’t want to do this job at all. It was a very established, bourgeois house and I was more into intellectual research.
ZARRELLA: But it seems like you look at some very intellectual influences when designing.
REPOSSI: I’ve started to work in it. When I started working I slowly realized that, first I was very passionate about the image—something you see in a dream, how you see a silhouette, how you picture an imaginary world. I was studying archaeology and painting at the time, and I did fine art before, and all of a sudden, jewelry became a motif; it became a sculpture, it became a piece of canvas, it became a tribal outfit. I realized that jewelry wasn’t just Place Vendôme diamonds, it was something else. It was cultural.
ZARRELLA: Did you look at anything specifically for this new collection?
REPOSSI: I start to see patterns everywhere, but this season, it’s definitely more abstract. I use patterns from Art Deco and Art Nouveau from the 30s, very complex ones, and I try to to translate them into a wearable art craft in gold and metal. It’s going to be very refined, very delicate and a little bit contorted. And it will have very radical, simple, minimal lines.
ZARRELLA: Are you working with any new materials this season?
REPOSSI: Yeah I’m going to work with big diamonds. In the past, I never wanted to commit to doing that because I think the house needed young designs and easier materials. But now I think it’s time to embrace the richness of high jewelry. It’s also important to continue the craft. Being in Place Vendôme, in a house like my father’s, it’s important to have the big stones. But I want to use them differently and bring my own message to them, so it’s going to take a little time.
ZARRELLA: Can you tell me how the diamonds will be used in the pieces?
REPOSSI: The pieces are going to be very voluminous, which is different because I don’t generally like volume. It’s going to be abstract and youthful with some cultural, ethnic and Chinese influences.
ZARRELLA: How would you describe your personal aesthetic and how does that manifest itself in your designs?
REPOSSI: I’d say maybe minimal, but I don’t know what minimal means. It’s abstract, and there’s always a kind of intellectual connotation to it.
ZARRELLA: You’re a big Céline fan, right?
REPOSSI: Yes. But I also like Yves Saint Laurent and I think Balenciaga’s always been an unexpected kick in the fashion world. And I really like what Christophe Lemaire is doing for Hermès. This masculine vibe is always beautiful.
ZARRELLA: Do you have any style icons?
REPOSSI: Not really. I have more intellectual icons.
ZARRELLA: Who are your intellectual icons?
REPOSSI: Well I’ve always been very interested by Picasso—by his career, his life and his personality. He was irreverent, sarcastic and violent.
ZARRELLA: Speaking of Picasso, you’re a painter. Can you tell me a bit about your painting?
REPOSSI: It’s kind of confidential. It’s something I want to develop in the long term because I’m too young now and I don’t want it to be associated with my work. But it’s my dream. It comes naturally. I’ve always painted. Mainly abstracts. And I like figures, eyes and expressions.
ZARRELLA: Would you ever do a show down the line?
REPOSSI: Later. You know, Louise Bourgeois wasn’t really discovered until she was almost 70, so I think it’s something that should come naturally.
ZARRELLA: Does your experience painting and that creative process ever influence what you do with the jewelry?
REPOSSI: Certainly. I think it’s the same aesthetic. Even when I sketch jewelry, the silhouettes are very messy. I’m not a precise drawer. I get bored. I want to go fast!
ZARRELLA: Where do you find yourself going when you need a creative boost?
REPOSSI: It can be very unexpected. Obviously art exhibitions, discovering new artists, looking to the past, tribal groups, even nature and landscapes. The colors I find in nature are amazing. I was at the Spiral Jetty last year and there was this pink coming out of the water with the blue. Colors like that stay in my mind. But then it can be anything. I see patterns even on a vase or in the street.
ZARRELLA: Do you ever work with muses?
REPOSSI: Yes definitely. But more than muses, I’m interested in developing relationships with artists to bring jewelry to a stage of sculpture, which is not very commercial, but I think it should be. And then, of course, any beautiful figure, I like seeing the jewelry on a very beautiful person or woman. Not even beautiful, but interesting.
ZARRELLA: Are there specific women you have in mind when you’re designing, or is it more an idea of a woman?
REPOSSI: Not really. It’s more this idea. She’s just a silhouette. She could be anyone. It’s made for not being over-the-top, so the person is still there.
ZARRELLA: How do you uphold the tradition of your family’s house while still bringing in this artistic, cool, young aesthetic?
REPOSSI: I think any artist or focused designer has this obsession with renewal, even Michelangelo or Da Vinci, like every year they’d tear apart their own work and redo it and redo it. It’s part of a creative mind in general. So it’s very important to renew even within the tradition. Studying archaeology, I learned that there are some art crafts that have disappeared—look at houses that have stopped doing couture. Also civilizations or tribes that are disappearing, so in France there is a lot of awareness of the endangerment of culture in the world. It’s important to maintain cultural practices and crafts.
ZARRELLA: You studied anthropology and archeology. How does that influence your process and your aesthetic?
REPOSSI: Well, when you look at some tribal men and women in Africa, you see that they wear pearls and feathers and are otherwise naked. Their jewelry is all they wear, and that reveals that these people find themselves beautiful. They’re expressing something through their outfit, so it was a huge shock when I was studying that and working at the same time. It was a perfect combination. I was thinking that through archeology I’d study civilizations of the past—the Greeks, the Romans, the Mayans or whatever. And then I ended up in these ethnic classes studying jewelry. I learned that what we call fashion is just part of a costume and a cultural identity or aesthetic among people.
ZARRELLA: You had an early relationship with Indian jewelry. Can you tell me a bit about that?
REPOSSI: My father has always been completely in love with and inspired by Indian jewelry. For example, Indians used to use cabochon cuts that are flat like glass. My mom has a brooch cut like that and you can’t tell it’s a diamond. What I found very interesting is that my father used mostly shapes of necklaces and brooches that men wore. But on the other hand, I traveled around in India and I was completely in love with the women and the countryside and the nomads or the peasants who just had this completely wonderful aesthetic. They’d wear bangles all over. India was a huge beautiful visual shock.
ZARRELLA: How did you feel the first time you saw Karl Lagerfeld wearing one of your pieces?
REPOSSI: I felt very honored. And I was very honored when he came to my first presentation. He was a little bit late because he was shooting and he sent flowers apologizing that maybe he couldn’t make it. But he did make it. Even though I was very young, I could tell that he was looking at the work as a designer or as another mind that is used to seeing patterns. It was very flattering and then obviously him wearing the jewelry is even better.
ZARRELLA: What was the first piece he wore?
REPOSSI: The pendant. And he wore a ring once but now he’s over the rings.
ZARRELLA: What else do you have coming up?
REPOSSI: I’m doing some snake rings that will come out this summer. They’re a very small collection because, with all the scales, the carvings are a huge amount of work. And we’re going to cut custom diamonds that are exactly the size of each scale. I’ve been working on them for two years. It’s going to be very high jewelry.
ZARRELLA: Has the snake motif been used by the Repossi house before?
REPOSSI: My father used to do some snake bangles. It’s a classic in jewelry. Even with the Greeks or the Romans, if you go into a museum, the snake pieces are the nicest ones. And the snake is a beautiful animal to sculpt. Mine are completely inspired by a Greek ring from the fourth century BC.
ZARRELLA: What outside of fashion has excited recently?
REPOSSI: I just went to the opening of a really beautiful John Chamberlin show in New York. And my boyfriend and I are going on a trip soon to Big Sur. I’ve never been… I’m European! But I hear it’s a classic.
ZARRELLA: Your boyfriend?
REPOSSI: Yeah, he’s a young artist. Jeremy Everett. We’ve been together a year, and his work is really nice. It’s very minimal.
ZARRELLA: Would you guys ever collaborate?
REPOSSI: Maybe later!