AN INTIMATE CONVERSATION BETWEEN LEGENDARY DESIGNER PALOMA PICASSO AND TIFFANY DESIGN DIRECTOR EMERITUS JOHN LORING ON HER 35TH ANNIVERSARY WITH TIFFANY & CO.
Interview by John Loring
Still life by Robin Broadbent
Above: Picasso with his daughter Paloma at the summer ceramics exhibition, Vallauris, 1951, photo by Edward Quinn©. Below, right: Pablo Picasso with his companion Françoise Gilot, Vallauris, 1951, photo by Robert Capa©.
Paloma Picasso has been a creative force since the day she was born. The daughter of artists Françoise Gilot and Pablo Picasso, she grew up in France surrounded by art and was always encouraged to create herself, which she did with abandon, first through her childhood drawings and, later, through her now-iconic jewelry collections for Tiffany.
She joined the brand in 1980, at the height of the punk movement and made a splash with her Graffiti collection, which turned gritty New York City street art motifs into chic must-haves.
With her striking features, Paloma was also a favorite subject of artists and photographers including Andy Warhol, and enjoyed close relationships with designers such as Yves Saint Laurent. She was named a member of the International Best Dressed List in 1983; and her designs are in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. and the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.
To commemorate her 35th anniversary with Tiffany, Paloma sat down for an intimate conversation with design director emeritus John Loring, a longtime friend and the man responsible for bringing her to Tiffany & Co.
JOHN LORING: When we first met in Venice at a lunch that Peggy Guggenheim gave at her palazzo on the Grand Canal, you were still a teenager. You were remarkably well dressed and wearing a necklace of orange beads of your own making. Shortly after that, we took a series of photos of you absolutely covered with gold jewelry. How did your fascination with jewelry get its start?
PALOMA PICASSO: I was always interested in my mother’s jewelry. And my father would do pieces of jewelry for her or for me or for very close friends. My mother had this really elegant cabinet in Paris where she kept her jewelry. There were lots of little drawers, and I would ask: “Can we go through your jewelry?” The idea was that she would say, “Well, maybe you can have this piece when you get older.” Even though I was very much a tomboy, I always liked jewelry. I had made this orange bead necklace because I had a pair of bright orange shoes, and I thought this was very sophisticated.
“My purpose in life is to make things more beautiful.”
Above: Paloma Picasso by John Loring.
JL: You have a highly individual style that was developed very early on. Where did the Paloma Picasso look begin?
PP: I have strong features: black hair, white skin, dark eyes. I see myself as being all about contrast. When the first color Polaroid camera came out, the image looked more like a drawing or a painting—all black, white and red. I thought: “This is the right look, and I should stick to it.” At this point I’ve given up the red lipstick, but I still design with a lot of contrast.
JL: Is design the visual expression of a personality with its loves and passions—something like an abstract self-portrait?
PP: It is for me. Obviously being born into a family of painters had an influence on me in the sense that everything that I see, I see as an image. My purpose in life is to make things more beautiful, whether it’s by designing jewelry or decorating an apartment. And it’s not superficial as some people might think. I think it’s very deep and meaningful.
JL: So your childhood surrounded by the great art of your father and your mother certainly had an influence on you.
PP: Completely. Because I was a very quiet child, I was able to actually stay next to my father for hours, and he would give me paper and pencils so that I could draw. As a child, I was always drawing, then as a teenager, I started becoming self-conscious because people talked a lot about what are you going to do when you grow up? Are you going to be a painter like your father or mother? I thought I’d better not; I’d better find something else to do with my life. I started making jewelry and realized that that’s what made me happy, and that I could make other people happy by creating things that they might like. There’s something very personal about designing jewelry. Very often jewelry is related to feelings and emotions, or it’s a gift or a family heirloom. There’s a lot of very deep connection with the people who wear the jewelry. You really become part of somebody’s life.
JL: I remember you made a remarkable belt for me that did, in fact, become a part of my life. Fashion is something that you love and are always a bit ahead of. You would never follow fashion; you always keep yourself a number of paces ahead of it. And you’ve counted as close personal friends many of the greats of the fashion world, including Yves Saint Laurent. What influence do those friends have on your work?
PP: I tend to like very voluptuous but simple shapes. Yves and I became such close friends because we recognized in each other a similarity in how we approached design and style and color. He was an amazing colorist.
JL: You were surrounded through your whole youth by extraordinarily beautiful and stylish things. Do you think that trains your eye to see what is beautiful and stylish and then reject what is not?
PP: Absolutely. I always say that the first act of creativity is actually pushing away the things that you don’t like. Then you narrow down what you like and what you want.
JL: What first made you want to design jewelry for Tiffany?
PP: The first time I came to New York and saw the Tiffany building, I thought, ‘Wow! This is really an extraordinary place.’ I saw it as a huge safe on the corner of 57th and Fifth Avenue. And I think this is very logical. To hold the most beautiful jewels in the world, you should hold them in a fabulous safe. I loved the fact that the building was very imposing; and the windows in which you could see the jewelry were so small and so well decorated that it was really magic.
JL: Your Graffiti collection, first presented in 1983, featured two boldly drawn lines crossed to form an X and a single sinuously undulated line, all transformed by you into totally original and stylish gold jewels. What inspired those now-iconic designs?
“There’s something very personal about designing jewelry. You really become part of somebody else’s life.”
Above, top to bottom: Paloma Picasso by Albert Watson. Paloma Picasso, Saint-Tropez, 1973 © The Helmut Newton Estate/Maconochie Photography.
PP: Well, the big thing at the time was graffiti. People were starting to tag subways and walls; and everybody was saying that’s outrageous! I thought well, why don’t I look at it differently and try to make something positive of those tags? I thought back to my first experience in an English-speaking country as a little girl, and finding that the girl I was staying with in England would put three X’s at the end of a letter. I had absolutely no idea what it meant and she explained they were kisses, and I thought that was very cool. It’s not cute. It’s very strong and meaningful. So the first time I did the X’s, I made them as earrings so it’s like a kiss on each ear. And then the Scribble was just a nice, happy-looking pencil mark like on your clothes, as a brooch.
JL: I remember your collection also featured bright orange fire opals that were a gemstone then completely ignored by the jewelry industry and which you suddenly popularized. Why orange and other colored gemstones?
PP: When I first joined Tiffany, I had a meeting in the boardroom. They covered the table with hundreds of different colored stones and said, ‘choose what you want.’ I was absolutely fascinated by what nature can produce. I didn’t know that we could have such extraordinary, vibrant colors. I started playing with them and putting together different colors that I felt looked great. My heart pushed me to go with the brightest of all, so of course rubellites and fire opal became favorites. I loved making interesting combinations of amethyst and tsavorite or amethyst and rubellite. I had a ball playing with all those stones and discovering there was no end to what nature provides.
JL: Along with that, there was your love of ample scale, both in gemstones and in settings. Where did that boldness originate?
PP: I think I couldn’t avoid it. It’s just what came out of me, and also it is what looks good on me. Since I’ve always seen myself as being my number one client, I thought first I’ll design for myself, and hopefully there will be other people who want it too. The first jewelry that I made was really quite bold and big in scale. It was only after I visited Japan for Tiffany that I realized some people preferred smaller scale. It was quite challenging for me because my natural inclination is to create larger pieces. It was a thoughtful progression for me to design smaller, more delicate jewelry. In the beginning I had to go through that shrinking process in my mind. But I have always loved a challenge—and I’m very happy with this creative evolution.
JL: As time went on at Tiffany, your style evolved, but you kept the Paloma Picasso look. How did you accomplish that evolution?
PP: If you design certain things and you’re happy with the result, the next day you're not going to redo the same design because you would get bored. I think there is a natural evolution that pushes you to move ahead.
“The first act of creativity is actually pushing away the things that you don’t like.”
“A sense of movement and lightBROWSE THE STORY
is very important. A piece of
hammered gold has a different
story during the day than it
does at night.”
JL: Design tends to feed on itself.
PP: Exactly. Also, I once said there is a blonde sleeping inside of me, and sometimes I have to take care of her. So I don’t only design for myself.
JL: Paloma, you bought a house in Marrakesh some years ago. And Moroccan design inspired you. What drew you to its grids and patterns?
PP: Well, my natural tendency is to design curves and circles. But once in a while I have to prove to myself that I’m able to also design with straight lines. And pure straight lines would be very boring. So I set myself a new challenge, which was ‘What can I do by combining straight lines that create interesting patterns?’ And in Morocco, I had a lot of those kinds of patterns around me.
JL: What inspires you the most today, right now?
PP: Often I work with my husband, Eric, and discuss themes. He has a wonderful eye for design and was the one to push me to do men’s jewelry. After all, why should a woman not design for men? An artist’s point of view has no sex; it’s not feminine or masculine. I’ve been quite successful at developing lines for men that both men and women actually are wearing.
JL: You and Eric have a relationship with cars and sailing that’s almost technical. Has that had any influence on your designs for men?
PP: Some of the influences for my men’s designs came from the fact that throughout the years we have done many car rallies, because the aesthetics of those old cars were very dear to me. My first car was an old Mercedes convertible; and then my father, when I was a little girl, had some American cars. But he also had his old Hispano-Suiza from the 1900s. I was always fascinated by the dashboards. And so I took all that aesthetic, mechanical information and turned it into jewelry.
JL: How do you see your style evolving, and what do you see in the future that holds the greatest fascination for you?
PP: I think there is maybe more lightness in my jewelry than in the beginning. To me a sense of movement and light is very important. A piece of hammered gold has a different story during the day than it does at night. The light makes it seem like it’s in movement. And I think movement and light are what life is.
JL: Because jewelry is always in motion.
PP: Exactly. A piece of jewelry should make you look more alive and beautiful. The tactile, sensual feeling that comes from wearing a piece of jewelry is important. It needs to feel good on the body.
L: When you think back on all the truly magnificent jewels you’ve created, which are the ones that still stand out for you or that you remain particularly fond of?
PP: I think maybe the first one that I did when I joined Tiffany, which was just big, huge beads of gold with a few diamonds spread on them, circled with a little line of white gold. And I’m very attached to my Olive Leaf bracelet that I wear all the time. But the most interesting design is the one that hasn’t come out yet. SHOP PALOMA PICASSO
Above, top to bottom: ©2016 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. © International Center of Photography/Magnum Photo. ©2016 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.