Elie Top: Jeweller Extraordinaire

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Illustration by Elie Top

Lanvin's Accessories Designer discusses going it alone on his new, brilliantly mechanical jewellery line

There is something a touch anachronistic about the French born jeweller Elie Top – with his dandified moustache and three piece suits, he could be a throwback to an earlier, more glamorous age. But the jewellery he creates – first at the house of Lanvin where he has been accessories director for nearly 15 years – and for his recently launched eponymous line, is defiantly strong and modern. He says, "Even if I start with something very simple or something very abstract, it's always the way that we are going to make it that excites me. To make it modern and something really relevant for now, it’s kind of an exercise."

On working with Saint Laurent and Alber Elbaz...
Growing up in a small town in the northern French region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Top moved to Paris to intern at Dior and Lacroix before landing at Yves Saint Laurent in the final years of the master working there. Bearing more than a passing resemblance to Saint Laurent’s doomed lover, Jacques de Bascher himself, he recalls his time there with fascination, “It was like being in a novel for me – as all the people working there were very strong characters. It was like a religion, they would take it very seriously but in a light way.” It was at YSL he would meet the inspirational muse Loulou De La Falaise (“her taste was always a bit borderline but on her it was perfect”) and the man who would become something of a mentor to him, Alber Elbaz. Meeting Elbaz aged 21, he started off designing accessories for him at YSL before jumping ship to Lanvin when Elbaz moved over in 2001. “There is a lot of trust and admiration I have for his work,” muses Top. “It was a relationship similar to that between a teacher and student where he gave me a lot of freedom. I had worked so close to Alber, it took me a long time to find my identity as a designer, and from there creating my own brand was the natural best step.”

On going it alone...
Elbaz also gave his blessing when Top announced his desires to start his own line of fine jewellery – the fruits of which were unveiled during the last Paris Couture Week. Titled Mécaniques Célestes, Top was inspired when he came across a catalogue of an exhibition of astronomical clocks and celestial measuring instruments from the 17th and 18th centuries. "I realised I wanted my work to be bold and futuristic but tell a story at the same time", states Top of the intricately constructed armillary spheres each made up of articulated compartments and interlocking cages that open and close to reveal a centrepiece set with pavé diamonds. While hints of Art Deco, Despres, Fouquet, and the jewellery houses of Boivin and Belperron hover in his work, in a way it brought him back to his youth, drawing detailed pictures of castles and churches. "I realised that the essence of my work is about architecture and mechanics."

On opening a salon...
He sees a clear distinction between his own work and the costume jewellery he creates for Lanvin: "With Alber, it is always starting from the silhouette and the clothes themselves. For myself, I didn’t work that way at all, because there are no clothes in my collection - I wanted my jewellery to be more of an object within themselves, as they were not supported by the silhouette so I thought it needed to be a lot more precious. Also the techniques are completely different so they lead you to something new, they led me to something I didn’t know." Recasting his aesthetic through the prism of haute jewellery meant for the first time exploring new technologies like 3-D printing as well as working with unusual stones and metals like gold and silver. Top has also opened a salon to receive clients and design exclusive pieces, relishing the intimate connection he develops with his customers. “I thought I needed to make it intimate and also for the women I wanted to create an environment where you could spend two or three hours. I have realised a lot of women just want the jewellery for them, a gift for themselves.” That’s Monsieur Top then – a dandy on a very modern mission.