If you are an avid reader of Fashion Foie Gras you will know that I follow Van Cleef and Arpels necklaces on red carpets, models off duty and celebrities around town like an obsessive stalker. The Alhambra necklaces have been on “saving for” list since I first saw it draped around the neck of a wealthy New Yorker while waiting to check in for a flight to London some years ago. It is rare that any high profile event takes place without a Van Cleef and Arpels piece in attendance. We’ve seen them on the necks, wrists and earlobes of Anne Hathaway, Eva Mendes, Charlize Theron, Diane Kruger and many more. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I can’t think of anyone that has any affiliation with popular culture that won’t know about Van Cleef and Arpels.
So when I was contacted by Van Cleef and Arpels last month and asked to come and visit them for a day in Paris I literally spit my Starbucks coffee all over my computer. Yes, it was one of those “cinema moments” happening in real life! Of course I immediately wrote back and told them I would be pleased to attend. I tried to act uber cool about the invite in the email, being as nonchalant as I possible like I do this sort of thing all of the time.
We were sent our itinerary the week before we were to set off from London for Paris. There were four of us in total that had been asked to attend. We were going over to Paris to take a tour of the famous Van Cleef and Arpels workshop and to visit the heralded house in action at the Biennale des Antiquaires where they were displaying their Les voyages extraordinaires for the first time.
On the morning of the big day I had butterflies in my stomach. All the panic subsided when I met my fellow travellers which included Fashion for Lunch, The Luxe Chronicles and Pop Magazine. These were girls I felt I knew before even meeting as I read their blogs already on a regular basis. We boarded the train and made ourselves comfortable in our first class Eurostar travel accommodations. Over breakfast and coffee we discussed blogging, our excitement at being invited to Van Cleef and Arpels and speculated as to what we might see upon arrival.
Now this is where I know I will have trouble finding the right words to accurately describe my experience in Paris on this day that will forever now be close to my heart. Let me first start by saying that we had an opportunity to have lunch with the UK and Global Press Team for Van Cleef and Arpels and they are an amazing group of women. In fact I would say there are very few that I have met that can compare. In my experience, the more important the brand the more likely you are to encounter a horrible stuck up woman in the press office. Van Cleef and Arpels is a mega brand. So you can imagine I expected to be confronted with the ultimate in an “entitled” PR. Nothing could have been further from the truth. These women were like cold iced tea on a hot southern summer’s day! They did not sneer at us because we were bloggers. They wanted to know everything. They wanted to hear our stories. These are women that will get calls from me the next time I am in Paris not because they work for Van Cleef and Arpels but because they are women I would love to know as individuals.
However, we’re not here to talk about the absolutely incredible PR behind Van Cleef and Arpels. The workshop at Van Cleef and Arpels was out of this world. We were taken through every step of creating a piece from the drawing stage right through to polishing the finished beauty. The amount of work that goes into crafting such elaborate pieces of art is incredible. The discipline needed for such creativity is amazing and the man hours put into each piece made me understand even more why the price tags on such items are sometimes seven digits. These are not pieces that you would buy at your local jewelry shop. In fact, you’d be lucky to see these pieces anywhere other than Van Cleef and Arpels. When Van Cleef and Arpels pieces come up for sale at Christie’s and Sotheby’s you find women queuing around the block to catch a glimpse of the items before they are once again stashed away in a private collection. They are constantly setting records for prices achieved at auction which says a great deal about the brand and its longevity in the marketplace. The pieces from Van Cleef and Arpels don’t last for just one generation. They last forever, literally forever. They are passed down and cherished from one woman to the next.
There were several occasions when pieces were brought out for us to see that I couldn’t even bring myself to touch. I was too afraid I wouldn’t be able to let go. That would probably result in a spot of trouble so it was best to let everyone else do the up close and personal moments with the jewellery. I merely admired from a safe distance.
Upon arriving at the Grand Palais I lost the power of speech. Even after ten years of living in Europe my heart still skips a beat everytime I come face to face with such imposing and impossibly beautiful pieces of architecture. However, that reaction was nothing compared to what happened as I approached the space that Van Cleef and Arpels had transformed. This is the best way I can find to describe it. Remember that scene in Wizard of Oz where Dorothy finally makes it to the castle to meet the wizard and beside her she has the Scarecrow, the Tinman and the Cowardly Lion? I felt that was us at that very moment and the Wizard was the President and CEO of Van Cleef and Arpels, Stanislas de Quercize. A velvet rope was lifted by a hefty security guard and we were given the opportunity to shake the hand of the wizard himself. Humbled isn’t even the word to use on this occasion.
We were left to explore the space on our own with our cameras at the ready and were encouraged to discover the beauty around us. One thing was definitely clear: If you can imagine it, Van Cleef and Arpels can create it. This is where words truly do fail me and I will have to let the pictures act as my voice. I hope they move you as they did me.
After I had completely exhausted every angle of every piece with my camera we were given the opportunity to meet with the President and CEO again in a round table discussion. Stanislas de Quercize sat down and the first words out of his mouth were “I want to hear about you.” So we did the introductions and explained our blogs and were then given a chance to ask him questions. I wanted to know the history of Van Cleef and Arpels as it’s the story behind a brand that always interests me the most. As Mr de Quercize spoke I couldn’t look away. I was captivated not only by his charming French accent but also by his incredible tale of Van Cleef and Arpels. Did you know, for example that Van Cleef and Arpels was formed by two people madly in love? Did you know that in their designs their roses have no thorns and their animals have no claws? In the Van Cleef and Arpels world everything is harmonious and perfect. There is no evil or harm, only love, peace and beauty.
But it was one line that stayed with me long after we had departed Paris and still stays with me today. When Stanislas de Quercize was asked why he invited bloggers to the exhibition he replied, “you are the future.” He spoke about this at great length. He, in a nutshell, said that bloggers were the only honest voices available now and we are relied upon by men and women all over the planet who require truthful advice on everything from diamonds to shoelaces. I did have to pinch myself at this point. Having Stanislas de Quercize say that was a stunning moment. It was like accepting an award only I was doing it not only for myself but for all of you, my fellow bloggers who work into the wee hours of the morning! If Van Cleef and Arpels is recognizing us, we are doing something right!
My best moment of the day, however, came when Mr. de Quercize said his goodbyes. As he shook our hands he said, “This house is your house.”
Thank you to the Van Cleef and Arpels team for a day I will carry with me for all time and thank you for believing in a media that so many other companies fear and avoid like the plague. You are champions in love, kindness and most importantly the art of fine jewelry.