Fantastical, interactive, and dare we say, almost touchable? There is something rather liberating about 'Set in Style', which bears the opposite traits to the customary jewellery exhibition, where things are kept at arms length, encased in deep glass cabinets, far from prying hands. No prizes for guessing then, that French designer Patrick Jouin had his conceptual hand in the installation for this heritage jewellery brand's New York showcase.
Holding court within the historical confines of the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, the exhibition is a veritable cross-section of the Van Cleef & Arpels brand. A tempting offering of the Maison's important creations are set within clever concepts such as 3-D holograms (the nifty contraptions allow for 360-degree viewing and amplification of jewellery details, ideal for visitors who want to take in every crevice and cut) and specially-commissioned minimally meditative music by American composer Nicolas Jaar.
Jouin and his partner Sanjit Manku of Jouin Manku studio have been sympathetic towards the space - an early 20th century former private mansion, rich with woodwork and carvings - bringing out the building's past through things like the opulently jewel-drenched dining table, and bringing in modern touches like the bubble-style glass dome containers.
The interactive element is an important one here. 'Strangely enough, although there are a lot of platforms where you can see art, architecture and design, jewellery isn’t always very accessible,' says Nicolas Bos, creative director of Van Cleef & Arpels. A lot is private collection based and jewellery over the last decade has suffered from not being shown anymore. There is so much more to it than just big stones and expensive pieces. It's important to show how the craftsmanship and designs have developed along the centuries'.
Wallpaper* caught up with Patrick Jouin to discover the vision behind the project:
What was the idea behind your conception for the space?

For it to be a platform for people to be able to appreciate and understand the work of Van Cleef & Arpels. Jewellery is so small, you can just pass by and not be aware of it. The idea of the architecture of the space is to create this special emotion for people to be surprised, to look and notice. Carnegie Mansion is one of the most beautiful houses in New York, and the aesthetic of the house is so strong. It’s like I’ve asked the house to do the design - almost like the house has whispered in my ear about what we’re supposed to do.
There seems to be a big focus on multi-sensory-driven features, like the 3-D holograms and the specially-commissioned music for each room. What was it that you wished to convey through these elements?
I wanted to create an element of surprise. The hologram of the jewellery is a simple magical trick – you can almost touch it! Most visitors can’t buy the pieces, so on top of there being the ‘fun’ element, it was also important that there wasn’t any barrier between visitor and jewellery.
What were the biggest challenges you faced?

There are 300 pieces! With so many items, I had to set things out so visitors keep a good pace and rhythm when they move in the space.
What particular elements of Van Cleef & Arpels did you wish to draw out through your installation?

Fantasy. Van Cleef & Arpels is inspired by nature and the ethereal, so I wanted to play with scale. I didn’t want to put the jewellery in boxes and pieces of 20mm-thick plexiglas that you can’t break with a hammer. I decided to make bubble-like structures that encase the pieces, so you can almost go all the way round the jewellery and see it from all angles.
You’re known for your modern, functional and minimal approach to design. How did you marry a contemporary aesthetic with the historic spaces of the museum and the intricateness of Van Cleef & Arpels’ pieces?

In France we have so many old things so, as an interior architect and designer I am used to this tension between the historical and the modern. I am never afraid of the past and its beauty. So I think it’s even easier when you’re in a beautiful historical space – there’s always a strong connection and tension. Context is important in everything I do. In this case, the context is a grand old house, so I tried to speak to it.