Patrice Leguéreau: Chanel's master of stones
Patrice Leguéreau is the secret weapon behind Chanel's spectacular jewellery collections
In the jewellery ateliers circling Place Vendôme, new creations have long been sketched on white and light grey papier calque or tracing paper. The tradition stems from a time before printers, scanners and photocopiers, when designs were edited and re-drawn by hand until a final version was agreed.
In 2009, Patrice Leguéreau joined Chanel as director of the Parisian brand’s Fine Jewellery Creation Studio. Since his appointment, Chanel’s jewellery has been drafted on black tracing paper.
“I have special [paper] made for Chanel. I really like it – black is very Chanel. We use a lot of white diamonds and the contrast is stronger”, Leguéreau explains in a rare interview.
“When I joined Chanel ten years ago, I wanted to create a unique style – a unique spirit – in the collections. In the product, but also in the way we work. Black paper was not used in jewellery, they all use grey paper because it’s tradition. It’s very complicated to paint on, it’s a nightmare for new people on my team.”
Following his degree from Paris’ École Boulle college of fine and applied arts – where he specialised in modelled engraving –Leguéreau continued his education at the nearby Institut National de Gemmologie. Founded in 1967, the specialist school offers one of few gemmology degrees recognised by the French state.
“I studied art at school and I slowly understood that jewellery was a place where I could feel comfortable”, Leguéreau recalls. “I arrived on Place Vendôme 27 years ago and I never left.”
Leguéreau arrived at Chanel from the design studios of Van Cleef & Arpels. Drawing by hand has remained paramount to his work. In addition to filling personal sketchbooks, Leguéreau chronicles each new Chanel jewel in beautiful gouache and water colour sketches. “I make the dream of Chanel a reality”, Leguéreau says of his role. “At Chanel, we have a very rich history with a lot of creativity. The jewellery [in turn] is very young.”
During her lifetime, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel authored just one high jewellery collection. Presented at her home on Faubourg Saint-Honoré to guests including artists Jean Cocteau and Pablo Picasso, Mademoiselle’s 1932 Bijoux de Diamantes set sparkling white diamonds in pale light-refracting platinum cast to shape shooting stars, fringes and bows.
Coco continued to design select pieces for herself and close friends; the brand’s jewellery division lay dormant until 1993. “With each collection, I open a new chapter of the Chanel book”, says Leguéreau.
“Like painting or sculpture, for me jewellery is a technique to develop an idea”, Leguéreau says, describing his approach which honours Chanel’s lexicon of signature emblems – comets, noble lions and the formal-double flower of the Camellia plant among them – in precious materials. “Stones [and] metals are only materials to translate creativity. This brand is so rich, there is no limit.”
Since 2012, Leguéreau’s designs have slowly taken shape at Chanel’s own 220 sqm master atelier overlooking Place Vendôme. Here, artisans work in tandem with Leguéreau’s small and close-knit design team to finish jewellery inspired by the Chanel’s famous founder. In the past, aesthetic cues have included Coco’s collection of antique Chinese Coromandel screens (2018) and the her time aboard the Duke of Westminster’s Flying Cloud yacht (2017).
In 2016, the specialists worked on Leguéreau’s Les Blés collection, which centred on Chanel’s talismanic wheat sheaf motif and counted treasures such as a Fête des Moissons necklace, which framed a central vivid yellow diamond in twisting garlands of wheat. A spectacular design, the unique collier was crafted with comfort in mind. “This is Chanel, all our products are created for women to be worn”, explains Leguéreau. “This is the most important.”
Leguéreau is an experienced runner and open air workouts helps him to tune out from his busy schedule. “I’ve been running for the last forty years”, he announces before describing sprints though night-time Japan, the Grand Canyon and Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
“Sport is a part of my life and it’s good for creativity.” Leguéreau recently travelled from Paris to Russia to research his latest Chanel high jewellery offering. He tells me he made of point of leaving his mobile phone in his hotel room to truly take in the scenery - a run along the city’s Moskva River was particularly memorable.
Unveiled this July, Le Paris Russe de Chanel drew from Coco’s fascination with Imperial Russia, bringing to life the founder’s social entourage and storybook of style from the 1920s and 30s with poetic exclamations in diamonds, blue sapphires, mandarin garnets and green tourmalines.
Following the revolution of 1917, Paris became a temporary home to Russian immiagrants; Chanel’s burgeoning circle of friends soon included composer Igor Stravinsky, Ballets Russes impresario Sergei Diaghilev and dancing wunderkind Serge Lifar.
She elected platinum-coiffed actress Lady Iya Abdy a brand ambassador and charged perfumer Ernest Beaux – who devised scents for the Russian Imperial courts and once created a fragrance in tribute to Catherine the Great – to dream up her Chanel No 5 scent. Then there was a reputed love affair with the handsome Romanov Grand Duke Dimitri Pavlovich - Coco subsequently went into business with the Grand Duke’s sister, partnering on the Kitmir embroidery studio which finished fabrics for Chanel’s 1923 Russian fashion collection.
Counting 69 pieces, the collection artfully fuses influences gleaned from Chanel’s biography with Russian iconography. Lace-like Sarafan designs are set with white diamonds; their intricate design evokes both Russian needlework and Chanel’s haute couture lineage. Elsewhere, a pair of red lacquer enamel-finessed folklore earrings dazzle with colourful gems in tribute to the detail found on Russian folk dress; a dramatic headpiece follows the shape of the traditional Kokochnik headband.
Of special note is the Aigle Protecteur necklace, which extends strands of briolette-cut diamonds between two matching shields, each topped by a double-headed eagle. Used by Imperial Russia to signal its powerful empire, the eagles can also be found inside Coco’s own apartment, where the avian emblem frames a gilt mirror. “It’s the first time I mixed so many elements”, says Leguéreau of his blockbuster collection. “It’s very special and unique – but always pure and classic.”