We chatted with Jewelry designer Paloma Picasso about her 30 years with Tiffany & Co. and more when she came to Washington recently.
Paloma Picasso visited Washington recently for a special honor at The National Museum of Women in the Arts. She sat down to chat with us about her 30 years with Tiffany & Co., her latest collection and what she feared growing up as the daughter of famed painter Pablo Picasso and Francoise Gilot.
What was your inspiration for the Marrakesh bracelets in your newest collection?
We have a house in Marrakesh where we have lived for five years now. We redid the floors and there was a fountain, which we thought was ugly. So I researched motifs for the base of the fountain which is that kind of mosaic with special geometric motifs all around. One day, as I was looking at the new fountain, my husband said why don’t you use those shapes in your jewelry, so I started including all those patterns.
How is this collection different?
It’s the only time where I have had such a precise story to tell. Very often it’s hard to pinpoint where your ideas come from because it’s a mixture of different experiences, of things you like, of things you suddenly feel you want. For example, for years I wore turtlenecks, but I can’t stand them now because they feel itchy. When V-necks came into fashion, that was perfect. Then of course you want to fill up the space, and you start designing things that you weren’t designing before. It’s really interesting how one thing pushes you into another. Setting new challenges is always great. Of course there are days when you think, maybe I’m going to run out of ideas one day. It’s happened to me. But then something always comes up, thank God!
Your latest collection seems much more intricate than the simple and classic pieces for which you are known.
It’s made me look at more intricate design. The shape can be very simple but in the shape there’s a lot going on. Like here, the cact that it’s hammered gold instead of just plain gold gives it a kind of luster, something antique about it. During the day it gives it a more subtle approach. At night the way the light reflects on it is so beautiful and special. It’s like a good book, there’s the main story, but the side characters are just as important. Touch is very important to me. In the ’60s the fashion was “sculptures to wear” and indeed people had things around their necks that were like sculpture.
But when you would try to say hello and kiss, something would get into your face – I thought never again. I went to Greece when I was 14 or 15 and I saw all the men playing with worry beads. I thought that was great because it was very tactile. It had that calming effect on them. I always thought that’s the right kind of relationship you should have with objects. The sound that a clasp makes is very important. It’s like when you buy a beautiful car and you close the door. We have to play with all the senses.
How do you come up with fresh ideas?
I’ve actually gone back and looked at old collections. You go back to something you did 10, 20 years ago and you think, maybe there is some great twist about this idea and some new things come up.
What’s your favorite piece from the new collection and why?
Maybe the Marrakesh bracelet with pavé diamonds. I think it will be a timeless piece, which is important for me. I could have done fashion, but I decided to stay with jewelry because jewelry has a timeless quality. It’s ageless. I always try to remember that. I love the idea that jewelry passes on from generation to generation. What I love about jewelry is all the emotional feeling that is linked with it. We all have a story for every piece that we own.
This is our annual Power Issue. What do you think makes a person powerful?
When you feel at ease with yourself, you project something positive. Jewelry is something that does make you feel powerful. It comes from the beginning of man. It’s not a necessity. Jewelry must serve a purpose and I think that purpose is empowerment. It used to be that the chief of the tribe would have very big jewelry because that would show he is a very powerful person. It’s also a decoration. It’s also a talisman. We have certain pieces that we feel are protective.
How did your childhood influence your decision to go into design?
My parents always taught me that I have to be my own person. At the same time when you have such parents and such a name you don’t want people to associate the two. When I got to be 14 or 15 it started making me feel very nervous. For a number of years I wouldn’t touch a pencil for anything other than writing, I was so afraid I might become an artist.
I was always interested in jewelry and loved to look at my mother’s. I would always make secret jewelry. I would go to the flea market and string beads together and I would wear them inside my shirt so nobody knew. But I always knew I was very chic. That’s why I’m always interested in the inside of jewelry, not just the outside.
Something surprising about you people don’t know?
Because of that Avedon photograph of me for the fragrance in the ’80s, with the big tanzanite ring, people have this image of me as this towering, powerful woman, and the first thing people say to me, especially in America, is “oh but you’re so petite!”