With a global pandemic, the rising cost of living and worsening climate crisis, the past few years have been turbulent by anybody’s standards. But for young French jewelry designer Capucine Huguet, the silver linings in this cloudy sky have just kept coming.
In 2020, the pandemic forced her to leave London and return to her native Paris, taking her half-finished jewelry design degree collection with her, based on meticulous research into the melting Arctic icecaps. Three years on, she has not only launched the finished collection to commercial success, she also won the Grand Prix for Accessories at the prestigious Hyères Festival for Art and Photography, and returned last year to showcase a second collection, created with Maison Desrues, a Chanel Métiers d’Art costume jewelry house, as part of the prize.
After four years spent studying jewelry design at the prestigious HEG school in France and interning for Cartier, Capucine had chosen London’s Central Saint Martins School of Art for a design-focused MA course, where she designed and made jewelry inspired by melting ice caps in an effort to raise public awareness around the issue. “It was hard leaving when Covid hit,” she tells me when we meet for coffee in Paris. “I had only finished seven pieces of my Masters collection, but I had great feedback. I felt in my guts that it was the right time to launch my brand: we’re living through a climate emergency, in 10 or 15 years, my message won’t make sense.”
Capucine’s singularly beautiful jewelry is born of a commitment to the issues around the climate crisis that led her on an expedition to Norway, to join a research trip at the Wahlenbergreen glacier, in 2019. The opportunity, one of several that she has grabbed with both hands, focused her ideas and she “collected lots of data, interviewed scientists and took hundreds of photos”. Then she began drawing, to translate the urgency she felt when she saw the melting glacier, into jewelry that bears a powerful message.
The resulting collection, Wahlenbergbreen Mementos, explores the geometric shapes of snowflakes seen under a microscope, alongside more organic forms, cleaved with deep, jeweled cracks. The message is glacier-clear, and it won the hearts of the jury at the 2021 Hyères Festival, who awarded her the Grand Prix for Accessories, a prestigious industry springboard that comes with mentorship and the chance to produce a second collection with one of the Métiers d’Art subsidiaries of Festival sponsor, Chanel. But it nearly didn’t happen “I had missed the Festival application deadline because of Covid, so I had to insist to be allowed to apply” she laughs.
For her second collection, Téthys, she was inspired by phytoplankton, ocean-dwelling micro-organisms at the bottom of the food chain, which transform twice as much carbon into oxygen, as forests. During her research, she spoke to prominent biologists and marine scientists to better understand the importance of the tiny organisms, and she hopes that her jewelry will spark similar conversations.
Through her rings, earrings and brooches, she explores more complex shapes and textures, and takes a step into color, enabled by Maison Desrues expertise and technique. As she prepares to launch Téthys commercially, Capucine H talks about the collaboration and explains how her work is evolving.
How did it feel to be back in Hyères a year after winning the Grand Prix for Accessories?
Amazing! Hyères Festival is all about creativity, pushing design boundaries and is a lot of fun. The Villa Noailles is like a big family, open-minded and very supportive of young designers. I had no idea how people would react, or whether they would be as passionate about phytoplankton as I am! But they were curious about the story behind the collection and how it was made in collaboration with Desrues.
I think what moved me the most, is that a lot of people remembered me and my Arctic collection, and were delighted to see another one exploring climate change.
Why did you choose to work with Maison Desrues?
Working with Desrues was an incredible experience, but also challenging for both of us. The Maison is used to making fashion jewelry, and I make fine jewelry, so we both had to push ourselves during the process. I chose to work with them, because I got a great feeling when I visited their workshop and met the team, and they were very enthusiastic about my ideas. That was important, as it was my first time working in collaboration with another workshop.
How did you combine your design signature with Desrue’s costume jewelry expertise?
I think the collection turned out so great because we used fashion jewelry materials and techniques like colored metals and certain structures, combined with fine jewelry skills like stone-setting, which is something they are not used to doing. Both sides worked out of our comfort zones and we learned a lot.
You use more color in Téthys than in previous collections, tell me how this relates to your inspiration.
I spent hours researching phytoplankton, meeting scientists, watching documentaries and reading books. And one of the most striking things about phytoplankton is the color range. If you look at satellite imagery, you can see the whole gradient from blue to green, and I knew I wanted that for my jewels. Desrues is known for their color mastery.
What are your next steps?
I am currently working on creating a fine jewelry version of the collection. We used lacquer and ruthenium for the jewels made with Desrues, but I’m going to use titanium for the fine collection, which is a metal I have been wanting to use for a long time.
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