“We choose to wear certain pieces because we see a part of us in them”, says Justine Menard. And isn’t this one of the keys to self-expression? Focusing on identity and creating pieces to which she can relate, the stylist-turned-jeweller is constantly looking for ways to express herself, as the most sincere creations come from introspection and acute sensitivity.
Now mainly jeweller, Justine wants to avoid labels and limitations. “I don’t want to be restricted to only one area; I think it puts limits on the power of expression and creation”, she says in the following interview. Her website is an example of that – she defines it as an “open rough draft”. By creating a dreamlike world where nostalgia plays an important role, she haunts the viewers. Today, exclusively for METAL, she presents Éteint Celle Qui Porte-Bonheur, an editorial in collaboration with photographer Célia Cotelle.
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How is it to be a young entrepreneur jeweller? Tell us more about what pushed you to jewellery-making and creation, your early start and desires.
I started as a stylist; I liked to create visual stories. It’s more of a thought where I can have an overview, from clothing to photography. In jewellery creation, I found a meticulous and detailed work that I couldn’t find working as a stylist. I feel that combining these two make a balance because I’m expressing ideas in different ways and I don’t feel limited by one category or the other. I think it’s kind of hard to be a young jeweller these days because the industry is currently experiencing a boom. But for me, it’s just a way of expressing something.
You studied fashion in Paris and then jewellery in San Francisco. Do you think having studied fashion has helped you somehow?
Yes, I think fashion was a natural way of expressing myself. Studying fashion in Paris was a grail for my vision because it’s such a rich and inspiring city. I wasn’t aware of that until I moved to San Francisco, where I lived a completely opposite experience compared to the way of living in Paris. I realized about the impact of being born in a capital in Europe, and more especially, in Paris, and how it’s shaped my vision and path.
Pearls, velvet, silk brocade, plaster; introduce us a bit to the materials you use and the processes of jewel-making.
My creations always come from a thought, a feeling, a word or a visual reference. From there, I’m inspired by everything that reminds me of this idea. When I have the ideas, the materials and forms, I begin by making all these elements talk to each other; it’s like finding all the pieces of a puzzle. Using these materials is a reminder of a dramatic and theatrical feeling that I want to explore.
I feel like creating is a conversation between three elements: there’s you and your desire to do something; the material, which has its own past (from where you sourced it or bought it); and then, there is the creation itself, which is born for the former two – the fusion between you and the material. This third element is always there waiting to be incarnated into something.
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Your works and even some of your Instagram pictures take us to past times (Baroque, mostly, but also Byzantine, for example). What age/period of history is the most inspiring for you? What do you find in it that you’re missing nowadays?
I think I’ve always been inspired by past times in general because we have so much information and it’s easier to make comparisons. Baroque is such a rich period and it’s still active today somehow. I think it’s very interesting to see how a movement or aesthetic can be unlimitedly reused and reinterpreted over time. I like Baroque because it had this huge impact close to the grotesque, but it’s still impressive today technically speaking.
You are currently living between London and Paris. What do you get from each city and how do you feel these two locations help you to create?
I feel like living in two different cities and going back and forth has helped me to be more open to changes and to the different vibes of each city. I felt inspired in London because it has this raw energy that I couldn’t find in Paris. Now, I’m based in Paris only, but honestly, I think I’m just here to get grounded; it’s just a matter of time, I will leave again somewhere else. I miss being in another country with another culture. It helps me to go beyond my creative limits and see things.
As seen on your website, you don’t settle in an only determined area. In addition to jewellery, you work as a stylist and consultant. How do you feel these different disciplines complement each other?
I don’t want to be restricted to only one area; I think it puts limits on the power of expression and creation. Defining myself as a stylist or as a jeweller means labelling myself. I’m just those words because I’ve only found those ways of expressing what I want to express.
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Éteint Celle Qui Porte Bonheur is the black-and-white intimate series of photos made in collaboration with photographer Célia Cotelle that you’re presenting now. The images have this fragile, even nostalgic touch to it, as if they were a dream. I perceive them as romantic, in addition to nostalgic. How important is it to you to create a strong brand identity/image in order to convey your values?
I think having a clear brand image or identity seems to be the most important thing these days. Indeed, it’s important because it’s key for communication, but we also need to be careful about creating ‘fast products’. Sometimes, putting too much effort or attention into the brand identity makes you forget about the product. I don’t really think of brand image as a strategy, I’m just trying to communicate through images where I can find a bit of myself.
I wanted to work with Célia because, firstly, she’s my friend, and secondly, I think that our works come together in some points or aspects. I’m trying to work on nostalgia by finding old objects, whereas she finds nostalgia in photographing empty spaces or landscapes. I think we’ve found a good balance working together.
In this series, we find the reflexion on the role of the jewel-object, the soul connecting to the jewel as a reflection of this and finding a really deep feeling with the piece. Do you feel like jewels are sort of extensions of ourselves?
Everything we have in our lives, from jewellery to other objects, is a part and extension of ourselves. There is a language that doesn’t need words but feelings. I believe our emotions connect us to them, to these jewels and objects. In the past, every jewel was created for a reason, it was intentionally given to or because of something. Today, I think this still exists; when we buy a piece of jewellery, it’s a gift for ourselves or for someone else.
What’s your lucky charm?
There are two rings that I always wear together. One is a present from my mum, and the other is from my grandma. I think they are lucky charms in a sense, I need to wear them together, otherwise, it doesn’t make sense for me. A lucky charm is just here to comfort us in our personal story.
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At À la recherche de la Grâce, a photoshoot in London’s streets that includes the Réflexion sur la Grâce, you talk about the exchange of identity through style, gender and grace. You end the reflexion with the question, ‘Can we create an expression of gracious body language and identity through the intimate decisions of style?’ In your opinion, can we?
I think we are going back to the conversation of the extension of ourselves through clothing. We choose to wear certain pieces because we see a part of us in them. All the combined clothes create a style, an expression of ourselves, with our history, past, feelings, fears, etc. We kind of say who we are by choosing and also by not choosing. This intimate decision that we make every day gives us the possibility to create our entire identity and, more importantly, to affirm it.
You’ve collaborated with vintage brands too like Nothing Special. Creation is about offering something new, unique and special. How does this coexist with the idea of remake? Do you feel it’s important to reuse?
This idea of remake is not new, I think it’s as old as humans. It’s something we can see through art but also in fashion – in the phenomenon of cyclic and reused ideas. Creation is unlimited and we need to choose from where and how we want to create. This is a question that everyone needs to ask themselves, but the choice is purely personal.
If you could be a piece of jewellery, what would you be?
I would be a piece of night blue glass, which will be the idea for my next jewellery project.
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