Victoire de Castellane has never touched drugs. Nor alcohol. Not even sneaked a puff of a cigarette. Even back in the giddy late Seventies, as a foxy 14-year-old gallivanting around Paris’s famed dens of iniquity—Le Palace, Les Bains Douches, Le Privilege, Le Paradis Latin—she was perfectly content to observe the fashion jetset as they blitzed their minds. And boy, did they get blitzed. Fabulously chic Parisians were so preoccupied with consuming mescaline, amphetamines, Valium, quaaludes, cocaine, and heroin, it’s hard to fathom how anyone was coherent enough to dress as beautifully as they did—let alone create the extraordinary collections that continue to hold such allure for contemporary fashionistas. For young Victoire, though, with her penchant for right-angled bangs, micro-miniskirts, and Mickey Mouse ears, the whole orgiastic scene was simply fuel for her already overactive imagination.
Fast-forward 30 years, two husbands, and four children later, and de Castellane’s signature bangs—and eccentric creativity—are as sharp as ever. She has been Dior Fine Jewelry’s designer for more than a decade, and the stuffy world of haute joaillerie has her wild mind to thank for giving it a massive shot of Technicolor adrenaline. But now, as if to say that the world of luxury fashion can no longer contain her zeal, de Castellane has created a new personal body of work inspired by recreational drugs. By some distance her most outlandish, the collection of wearable jeweled sculptures is being exhibited this month in Gagosian’s recently inaugurated Paris space. The astonishing baubles blur the distinctions between the real and the artificial, the beautiful and the grotesque, the subtle and the baroque. Hers is a creative world of limitless fantasy, where Alice in Wonderland, manga characters, and Walt Disney converge with Venus flytraps, Bassett’s Liquorice Allsorts, and the darkest depths of the subconscious.
De Castellane has all these elements—the decadence and excess, the whimsical and the doomed—in her genes. Born into an haute bourgeoisie family that goes back to the 10th century, she boasts an illustrious ancestry that includes reigning princes, bishops, generals, noblemen, and, most notoriously, a Parisian legend of the Belle Epoque. Born on Valentine’s Day, 1867, Victoire’s great-granduncle Boni de Castellane was the sort of dandy case study that makes academics’ hearts skip a beat. Dashing, elegant, and full of sparkling bons mots, he married American railroad heiress Anna Gould in 1895 and immediately set about hemorrhaging $10 million of her father’s riches on a lifestyle that one biography politely describes as Louisquatorzien. With natty facial hair, a flamboyant wardrobe, and a portfolio of opulent estates, Boni soon became one of Europe’s most voguish gentlemen. His own mini Versailles—le Palais Rose, a pink marble hôtel particulier on Paris’s elegant avenue Foch—was the scene of his era’s most lavish parties, with guests including Marcel Proust and a veritable who’s who of European noblesse. Predictably, Boni’s big party ended in tears: A fantastically messy divorce (Gould ran off with his cousin) left our dashing hero destitute. He was forced to take gainful employment as an antiques dealer (what else?) before dying in 1932, a shadow of his former self.