The window display is moderate in scope, the exterior is painted a lovely dark green, it almost looks black, the antique door and tiny step it rests above, do not really belie what lies within. This is the world of Lydia Courteille.
231 Rue St. Honore, 75001 Paris. It is parallel to Rue Faubourg, another iconic street, and only a few paces from L’Opera, and from, if you are fortunate enough to be staying there, the Rosewood Hotel Le Crillon. But this address, for collectors around the world of Haute Jouallerie, is as important as 31 Rue Cambon is to fashionistas.
The boutique itself is tiny, but beautifully calibrated shelves and cabinets hold treasures almost beyond imagining, jewellery from most of her recent collections, and while it may seem crowded, the fact is these beautiful pieces seem to actually expand the space. Lydia herself enters from her studio below, cordial, a touch skeptical of these people from Canada, soft-spoken and from the outset clearly a formidable intellect and artist.
All her pieces are hand-fabricated. “Most of the time what I envision is close to the result. Sometimes it is less, sometimes it is more. But the quality of the workshop is very high.” She constantly shows the yin and yang of her approach, confidence, without ever assuming success. And, above all, an amazing modesty, despite the fact that one of her best clients, and an avid early supporter, was Karl Lagerfeld.
One thing that makes Lydia unique is that she eschews designing custom pieces. Matter-of factly, she says, “I never make something for someone I don’t know. But also, I have over 700 pieces, from 54 collections, so why would I want to make one more?” She smiles at this, since there is another important point to be made. “The consumer almost never knows in advance what they really want. And I do not care if people like what I do. If you try to please everyone, nobody will want you.”
She says, “You cannot be doing this to please others. You have to be doing it to please your self, to sustain your own vision. That is what people will respect.” She pauses, and looks at me, and smiles, then very gently laughs, and says, “You are so right, my dear, and it is okay. You have to be brave.” She looks me in the eye, and then, even more directly, in the eyes of my companion, who is herself a jewellery designer. “It is about courage, and faith in yourself, right,” my companion says. And Lydia replies, “yes, always!”, her lyrical voice and gentle laugh carrying throughout the room, itself full of sublime creations that stand as mute witnesses.
Later, long after we had left the boutique, my companion would say, “She let us hold that ring from the Guatemala collection that had 3 pig’s heads at an angle, all a little different, with colourful stripes of precious gems running like racing stripes. Not something I would ever think I’d want, but damn it, I would wear that every day of the week if it were mine.” For me, that pretty much captured the somewhat rapturous response we had, holding some of Lydia’s pieces, putting on a ring here, a bracelet there, as she talked about the intricacies of each piece, how they were conceived, and how they came to life.
We reluctantly exit the shop almost two hours after entering it. This side of the street, not as sun-friendly, this time of day, nonetheless beckons us to greet the rest of the day, regardless of knowing we will not meet another artist of this calibre any time soon.
Jim Tobler is a Vancouver-based editor, author, and consultant with a robust portfolio of lifestyle and luxury lifestyle writing. A snapshot of which can be enjoyed on the MONTECRISTO and NUVO magazine websites.
This article was originally published in Folio.YVR Luxury Lifestyle Magazine Issue #4/5 July/August double issue. To receive a monthly digital link to Folio.YVR, visit Folio.YVR, choose any Issue, click DETAILS and FOLLOW.