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- K'Atun Collection Grey fossilized dinosaur bone oval cabochon ring, $11,570
- K'Atun Collection Light sunburst fossilized walrus ivory geometric oval bracelet, $69,540
Tu'Til Collection White, champagne and black ombré diamond open ring, $6,170
Bijou Collection Opal slice stud earrings with white diamond pavé, $6,260
A material as unique as fossilized wooly mammoth tusk or fossilized stegosaurus bone deserves some attention—and of course, commands a hefty price tag. But when it comes to Monique Péan, jewelry fiends will gladly shell out for her one-of-a-kind, storied, and sustainable designs. A recipient of the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Award in 2009, Péan is innovating through the use of 18 carat recycled gold (one conventionally-sourced wedding band creates up to twenty tons of waste), fossilized materials (10,000 to 156 million years old), fair trade stones, and conflict-free diamonds. Péan emphasizes the philanthropic element of her business as well, working with charity:water and Partners in Health to provide drinking water in Malawi, Mozambique, Haiti, Ethiopia, and Nepal.
Earlier this year, the Michelle Obama-approved designer set her up collections at Louis, offering fans the chance to explore her distinctive work in person. Signature detailing of the dainty pieces includes various natural colorings, rugged yet petite diamond embellishment, and organic geometric shapes. Here we discuss the challenges of sustainable design and how the CFDA accomodates it.
We read that your CFDA mentor Michael Kowalski from Tiffany & Co. helps find some of the sustainable materials you work with. Is that ever a challenge?
Completely. Sometimes I fall in love with a material and think it's so pretty, then I learn about where it came from, where they got it and how many chemicals went into the environment, and decide I won't design with it. When you're able to find something that's completely organic, sustainable, natural, and it's beautiful, it's really exciting. I am really enamored by the materials I design with, such as the fossilized dinosaur bone. You can actually see the cellular structure.
Any particularly meaningful collections?
I started my first collection after my younger sister passed away in a car accident. At that moment, I realized it was necessary for me to reevaluate what I wanted to do with my life and I decided that I wanted to find a career that allowed me to combine my passions for design, art, travel and philanthropy. My Atelier collection came about when I was getting married. I wanted to know that the jewelry I was going to wear on my wedding day would be sustainable and eco-friendly. I love the fact that with antique diamonds each piece has a little bit of a story and they are all unique.
What lessons have you learned about the business?
Funny enough, I didn't personally wear or design a lot of earrings when I started. I was more of a necklace, ring, and bracelet person, mostly because you can see those things and I always wear my hair down. Once my collection was in stores, I realized that most people buy earrings and now I love wearing earrings every day.
Does the CFDA have any programming or focus planned for sustainable design?
The CFDA actually just created a sustainability panel. When I started designing sustainability was not synonymous with luxury in any way, and that's changing now. Collectors are much more conscious about slow design and wanting to know where things come from.
Are there any fellow designers working in sustainable, innovative ways that are inspirational to you?
I really appreciate how Stella McCartney has been able to build a large business that's also focused on sustainability. It's challenging to do that and have a global business. Her vegan leather really does look like leather, and there is a lot of work that went into them. It's really impressive.
What in your career has been the biggest challenge? Biggest platform for you to succeed?
The biggest challenge is that fine jewelry is so expensive to develop into a sustainable process. The biggest opportunity and launchpad that I've had has definitely been winning one of the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund awards and having Anna Wintour's support. The CFDA and Vogue have been amazing about creating a platform for young designers to succeed. Even looking around the room [at Louis], Proenza Schouler was the first winner in 2004 and they have a huge section in this store. Jason Wu was one of the finalists. And Phillip Lim, Derek Lam—there are a lot of us.
You must get to travel a lot. Do you often explore where the materials come from?
I'm always going to new countries and working with artisans to find new sustainable materials. That part is amazing—to learn from them, see their process, employ them, and then to give back to them.
· Monique Péan [Official Site]