If you want to know about Solange Azagury-Partridge, just press the doorbell at her Carlos Place flagship – stepping in is like being transported through her imagination into a piece of jewellery, like a much better version of that bowl of cereal in Honey, I Shrunk The Kids. Neons; coloured mirrors; plush psychedelic carpets and more stars than a galaxy, it’s a cosmic feelgood rush. You can wear it, live with it (all objects can be commissioned) and absorb it into your cells like advanced osmosis – Azagury-Partridge fragrance Stoned is laced with microscopic granules of diamond dust.
The creative conjures objects of fascination that are imbued with their own subtle myths – exactly what you want from a piece of hardcore jewellery (or Ballcrusher fringed table, for that matter). Designing since the 90s, her offerings have not just reframed the bigger picture, they’ve enameled over it in bright colour – to say her work is influential is an understatement. Whilst fine jewellery has historically been wild and fantastic, the climate during her ascendence was restrained. Azagury-Partridge opened a window on Place Vendôme and let in a magic breeze. Literally, steering the French house of Boucheron from 2001–2004.
Now we can legitimately get in on the action with her first men’s fine jewellery collection, Alpha, as photographed on Otis Partridge, Solange’s son, here. Think huge Villain emeralds, Viper and Love Drug rings – everything is solid gold, but blackened. Or you could bowl in and challenge Solange to an entirely bespoke piece, undoubtedly she will rise to the challenge.
Dean Mayo Davies: Alpha is your first men’s collection. Why now?
Solange Azagury-Partridge: I think I’ve said it before that there’s never a right time to do anything, is there? There’s never a right time to have a baby, so you’ve just got to go for it. I meant to do a men’s collection for a long time but never really got around to doing it, a few things kind of propelled towards it so I just did it.
DMD: Have you had a lot of feedback from men requesting special orders?
SA-P: Yes I have, and it’s nice. I never expected it to be one of my best sellers but it’s just something that is going to be there and always available. It’s just so that guys can think of me if they want something special made.
DMD: Have you seen men’s attitude change regarding jewellery?
SA-P: I think there’s guys who wear jewellery and guys who don’t, I think that’s always been the case. But I think men are definitely able to wear it more and more, my son [Otis Partridge] wears jewellery on every available arm and finger.
DMD: Has he influenced the collection at all?
SA-P: Definitely I look for his opinion, I want to know what his thoughts are and whether he would wear it. So yeah, I got the seal of approval. He has worked in the company but he’s been training to do his gemology studies. So he’s done diamonds and coloured gemstones and now he’s starting at Sotheby’s, to find out more about it all. If he’s serious about it then it’s good that it does it in a really comprehensive way, because it’s quite a profound subject, although you wouldn’t think it at first. It’s got quite a lot of depth to it.
DMD: I can imagine. Do you have any favourite pieces from the collection?
SA-P: I really love the Samson and Delilah bracelet because I think that is super personalised and very discreet. So if you’re a guy then you have a woman’s strand of hair. It’s Delilah I suppose, and if you’re a woman you wear Samson’s hair. A lock of hair. I also love the Villain ring, maybe because it has an emerald and I love emeralds.
DMD: What do you think is the key to wearing it well?
SA-P: Well I think you have to wear it with confidence, and not feel like it’s wearing you. It must never be the jewellery wearing you. And guys who wear it well? I think my son wears it well, who else?
DMD: Mark Ruffalo was in your film…
SA-P: Yeah Mark wears it well, I’ve got a whole group of guy friends who are pretty Alpha but they’ll wear a bracelet or a chain, maybe not a ring. So it’s not necessarily meant to be all worn together.
DMD: I guess it is a similar story to wearing perfume – you have a signature scent, it becomes part of you and you forget all about it. What about your philosophy? There’s a lot of magic, the cosmic in what you do.
SA-P: I just find those subjects quite fascinating and endless. So I can keep on mining the same themes or different aspects of it, and interpret it in different ways. there’s always new ways of interpreting things, in a different form of metal, or gemstone, or material. I can interpret these subject matters. And I think they fascinate everybody, not just me. They are eternal subjects.
DMD: The eternal is a perfect subject for fine jewellery. Mind-blowing concepts celebrated with materials that the earth has produced over a mind-blowingly long period is really satisfying.
SA-P: It is, I always think of finding a piece of jewellery in the sand, it has happened to me before. I just love the idea that you could lose something, and whilst you would be very sad, someone else might find it and think, ‘Wow, whose was this? Who did it belong to?’ I just like all those aspects of it.
DMD: Your pieces could one day be dug up – like when people find Roman jewellery.
SA-P: Yeah, maybe, who knows. That would be nice.
DMD: What about art? I heard Caravaggio is one of your favourites.
SA-P: I love Caravaggio, but all those ancient artists used to love the Bible and I think that’s an endless seem of inspiration as well. Nature obviously. It’s so hard to do better than nature, so that’s always a challenge.
DMD: It’s bigger than all of us, isn’t it?
SA-P: You can never, ever make something as beautiful as the real thing, but you can keep on trying.
DMD: Do you have any favourite stones or materials which you like to work with?
SA-P: I love emeralds, and I like playing with all the colours I can achieve with enamel. I suppose those are my favourites.
DMD: What got you into jewellery?
SA-P: Well I always had a visual sense, which I slightly suppressed during school and college. And then I got a job at Butler and Wilson and thought “Ooh, I like jewellery.” Then I worked in an antique jewellery shop, I saw lots of 20th century jewellery, like Cartier and Van Cleef and Arpels. And then a job in an antique dealers, before I designed my engagement ring.
DMD: It must be great to have that background, really have that grounding through history.
SA-P: Very important, I think it is vital. And it’s really nice to go see the V&A jewellery department, or the one in Paris, the Musée des Arts Decoratifs. Just look through what’s been done before. And everything has been done before actually, and sometimes a lot better. That’s another, not only nature, but the past. That’s what I’m in competition with.
DMD: Did you find that the establishment in the world of fine jewellery were reticent when you began? Because your designs have really shifted the world of fine jewellery forward I feel. And with anything that has a massive influence, some people don’t get it.
SA-P: Yeah, definitely, I think fine jewellery used to exist in some kind of sphere all on its own. Without taking into consideration fashion, the zeitgeist, anything. But if you think, it’s a woman who is going to be wearing this stuff, who’s living in this century, living the life she lives, then that’s how you design jewellery. You have to design with all those things in mind, it can’t just be something ‘other’. So that’s how I view it really and I think everyone’s come to that conclusion.
DMD: How does it feel to have your work in permanent collections in museums across the world?
SA-P: It’s really fabulous, very nice, very comforting. Very calming actually, it makes me have confidence in what I do.
DMD: In terms of them collecting or acquiring pieces, are you aware of what they would like to have?
SA-P: Yes, they would have to get in touch with me if they want anything, but I think most museums are very happy to have donations made, I think that’s how it works actually [laughing].
DMD: You’ve got a very ‘total’ vision, from the jewellery to the context, the interiors and furniture, mirrors, neons, lots of special objets. And the ‘unwearable jewellery’ pieces as well, which are brilliant. In this room, it’s like we’re sitting in a piece of jewellery right now.
SA-P: [laughing] Yeah, well I just think that life is beautiful and that everything can be jewellery. You can apply the same level of concentration and design and effort in everything that you create, and lots of jewellery is so tiny so if you want to honour it, it needs to be in a lovely environment that makes the jewellery and the people and everybody look and feel marvellous.
DMD: I’m into that. So Mark Ruffalo is your men’s idol in the film and you’ve worked with Thandie Newton and Sam Taylor-Wood before on films. These short movies seem quite an important part of your world.
SA-P: Yeah, because jewellery is so static when it’s displayed, and yet when it’s worn, it takes on a whole new aspect. And that’s why I like the film way of doing things, we just show it on a living, breathing person and tell little stories.
DMD: You were very involved with the Alpha film – did you write the story?
SA-P: I did it with the director. It’s kind of, this collection is alpha-male, alpha-female. It is a men’s collection but it could be worn by a woman also, there’s that whole unisex thing and in the story he’s an alpha guy, telling this beautiful poem. Then it turns out that the wife has gone alpha on him and kicked him out [laughing]. It just kind of evolved on the day. [The wife] was my voice in the end, actually.
DMD: With the dot com boom, influential people who’ve established hugely successful companies like Google, Tumblr, Facebook, not to mention hit apps, are likely knocking about in sweatpants and Nikes. Is that part of the reason why jewellery is more appealing than ever? Because it’s now more essential to have a sense of gravitas in your look, a signature which anchors your clothes?
SA-P: I think so, I think it says a lot about you. Clothes are important and they say something about you, but jewellery can elevate sweatpants in the way nothing else can. Not a bag, or shoes or anything can. A piece of jewellery makes all alright.
DMD: Has London informed your attitude?
SA-P: Definitely, I think there’s a real thing about being a Londoner and being a Brit, in that being a Brit and being a Londoner is not necessarily about being English. And all the influences which come in from everywhere.
DMD: Have there been any unexpected moments where you’ve seen someone wearing one of your pieces?
SA-P: I can’t pinpoint anything specifically. But it really is lovely to see people wearing my jewellery, it makes me feel like I’m not wasting my life [laughing].
DMD: Do people’s reactions to pieces differ globally because of superstitions or local culture? I’m interested, with your different stores, whether certain pieces are popular in specific regions…
SA-P: I think it’s universal, they are universal things.
DMD: That’s great.
SA-P: It’s amazing when somebody in Hong Kong and somebody in Saudi Arabia are buying the same pieces of jewellery, it just shows how it is so universal. We are all people, and it’s all [clicks fingers], and that’s how it should be.
DMD: What’s the biggest myth or misconception about the world of fine jewellery?
SA-P: Erm… [thinks for a long time].
DMD: Do you not see yourself as part of that world?
SA-P: I suppose I slightly feel like that whole impostor/outsider, I think everyone feels that really. And I just keep myself to myself and I just do my thing and…
DMD: That mindset goes for anyone who is doing anything exciting…
SA-P: Well you have to keep yourself… I don’t think one should see what the market wants. You have to see what your market wants, but not the wider market, everyone else’s market. Because you can’t please everybody. That’s why I don’t provide every single thing that you can have in your jewellery wardrobe, because there’s other people who can do it better than me. I do what I do and they do what they do.
DMD: Have you ever thought ‘That’s a bit much’ when you’ve designed something? Or is too much never enough?
SA-P: No, too much is never enough. I’ve probably made some mistakes, my Metamorphosis are like total follies but I just had to do them, I had to express that idea and I had a couple of bespoke commissions from them, so I’m very pleased about that.
DMD: You have to dream…
SA-P: I think so.
SOLANGE AZAGURY-PARTRIDGE / PORTRAIT OTIS PARTRIDGE
TEXT DEAN MAYO DAVIES
PHOTOGRAPHY PANI PAUL
HERO 12, WINTER/SPRING 2014/15