Boni’s roller-coaster fable is a perfect example of the bittersweet fairy tales that are key to de Castellane’s creative spirit. She delights in the darker undercurrents to seemingly picture-perfect scenarios. Indeed, her own childhood is a textbook example of aristocratic solitude. When she was three, her parents went their separate ways, and she was brought up by her maternal grandmother and an uncle, Gilles Dufour, one of Karl Lagerfeld’s key aides, first at Fendi and then at Chanel. To escape the pain of parental betrayal, she created a new, imaginary family made up of valiant kings and beautiful princesses, resplendent in huge, hypnotizing jewels. In reality, these extravagant, oversize treasures were the type favored by her paternal grandmother, cognac heiress Sylvia Hennessy, and her close friend Barbara Hutton. As for little Victoire’s own jewelrymaking career, her first feat was accomplished at the tender age of five: She dismantled a priceless charm bracelet, given to her as a peace offering by her absent mother, and made a pair of earrings. Mother was incensed; Victoire’s creativity was ignited. At 12, she created her first ring using gold melted down from the religious medals she’d received at her Communion ceremony. Indifference to convention and a sense of technical challenge: The road was paved.
“An excess of wealth provided my ancestors with freedom,” says de Castellane today. “I just want an excess of freedom in which to create.” It’s testament to de Castellane’s conceptual and narrative ambitions that her jewelry—or any jewelry, for that matter—has found its place in the art world’s most influential gallery. The Fleurs d’excès collection consists of 10 pieces, each with a faux-classificatory name such as L. Es Déliriuma Flash, Quo Caïnus Magic Disco, and Héroïna Romanticam Dolorosa. While the titles barely disguise their allusion to illegal narcotics, the works themselves are more expansive, portraying wild narrative scenes in which flowers play the roles of heroes and heroines in extreme mental and physical states. Each of the intricate hybrids contains a functional element—say, a ring or a necklace—that can be detached from its base, making the pieces “jewelry at rest, waiting to be worn.” The pair of delicate petal rings nestled in a jade base? For de Castellane they’re “a couple, stripped of their inhibitions by Ecstasy’s potent effects, having wild sex in a public place while voyeurs, creeping in the shadows, look on.”
Ultimately, what makes de Castellane’s work so unique is the manner in which she’s able to explore contemporary human conditions through a field that has traditionally limited itself to the most basic of sentiments. With her extravagant personal history, acute insight, and penchant for the surreal, it is clear that de Castellane is, like her jewelry, quite simply on another planet.