You could say Victoire de Castellane began her jewelry designing career at age 5 when she took a pair of pliers to her grandmother's bracelet. "I had earrings in mind," she says with a shrug. With such an early start, it makes sense that the collection of fine jewelry de Castellane has designed for Christian Dior since 1999 is a huge hit-raking in more profit than even the high-profile haute-couture collections and experiencing 35% growth since last year alone. "She has dusted down the Place Vendôme,"says Dior CEO Sidney Toledano. Toledano is particularly proud of de Castellane's latest collection, Belladone Island, which has a starting price of 150,000 euros and was sold out in two days. Never mind that her faithful clients include A-listers like Gwen Stefani and France's First Lady, Cécilia Sarkozy. De Castellane herself has been something of an A-lister in the fashion business ever since she burst onto the scene at Chanel, creating accessories for Karl Lagerfeld for 14 years before being handpicked by Dior owner and LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault to kick-start a fine-jewelry division for Dior.
Exuberant and aristocratic her ancestors include a knight of the first Crusade and a notorious Edwardian dandy de Castellane's Penelope Tree look and eye-popping costume jewelry have always been her signature. Yet privately de Castellane was known for her passion for real jewelry. Chanel co-workers remember her compiling a necklace by buying a baroque pearl per month. Once at Dior, de Castellane set about imprinting the house's jewels with her flair for the flamboyant. "I knew women were loyal to certain jewelers and that I had to grab their attention by being different," she says. So she created Les Incroyables knuckle-dusters featuring bright tourmalines, peridots and aquamarines. The collection's instant success proved de Castellane's philosophy that real doesn't have to be boring.