Pursuit of luxury by La Dona marries lust and light

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Pursuit of luxury by La Dona marries lust and light

Cartier, the world famous jeweler, has once more dipped into its archive to create a new collection. Last year it offered the Panther Collection inspired by the sleek black cats featured in an original 1949 piece made for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. This year the inspiration is the glamorous life of Mexican diva Maria Felix, who died on her 88th birthday on April 8, 2002.

The collection, “La Dona Cartier,” was launched in Korea on Oct. 24 at the Seoul Grand Hyatt. The first task for Cartier was to make Maria Felix accessible to the audience. The lighting for the show resembled a 1950s movie set and a narrator chronicled the life of the legendary diva, while 140 invitation-only guests sipped glasses of Chateauneuf du Pape.
Felix earned iconic status as the Marilyn Monroe of Mexico, or “La Dona” ― after playing a character in the movie “Dona Barbara” in 1943. She was famous for her fashion sense and jet-setting image as well as her vast collection of fine jewelry, with signature items including snakes, lizards and a belt adorned with gold coins and quirky baubles custom-made at Cartier.
The story goes that Felix walked into a Cartier store one day with a couple of baby crocodiles and, according to Philippe Galtie, the new chief executive of Cartier Korea, she asked to have a large necklace made modeled after the animals. “This gave the Cartier designers a dilemma because making such exquisite pieces usually took months, but they had to work very fast ―before the baby crocodiles grew,” Mr. Galtie said, pointing at an image of the magnificent necklace at the event.

The famous piece, since copied by costume jewelers countless times, has two baby crocodiles entwined at their tails and necks. It was made with gold, emeralds and diamonds, and is now a permanent exhibit in the Cartier Collection in Paris.
Ms. Felix’s hobby of collecting custom jewelry designs may have been peculiar and expensive but such special orders allowed exclusive jewelry makers to amass fame and fortune ― and a vast archive of astounding works of art. Another piece ordered from Cartier by Felix based upon her pet snake was the highlight of the jeweler’s exhibition, “Treasures of the Titans: 1950 ― Present” at the Forbes Gallery in New York City earlier this year.
For Korea, La Dona Cartier is a collection of sleek modern pieces, including watches, necklaces, pendants, rings and hand bags, inspired by amphibian motifs once favored by the Mexican star.
The event at the Hyatt also marked the first official event for the soft-spoken Mr. Galtie, who recently replaced Laurent Gaborit, becoming the chief executive for Cartier Korea. Mr. Galtie, 46, came here after working for Cartier in Singapore for one year and for three years in Tokyo. He worked with LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Henessy) for four years before joining Cartier International in 2000. The IHT-JoongAng Daily spoke with Mr. Galtie in his office in southern Seoul.

Q.What drove you to work in the luxury industry?
A. I was born in Nigeria where my father worked in the oil drilling business. I grew up in the south of France and moved to Paris and started my career there. I’ve moved up the ladder through different products, from food, whiskey, cognac, champagne to fine jewelry.

It’s a rewarding experience to sell beautiful creations and work with their creators. In marketing, you’re confronted with the challenge of making your tactics invisible to the public, because people don’t buy marketing; they buy real products and emotions.
Working for Cartier, I realized our challenge is to create timeless pieces, or new classics, which have a twist of extravaganza and excitement, but are also something that can be handed down from generation to generation.

What is luxury to you?
Creativity doesn’t come from nothing, and it keeps on evolving. The etymology of the word “luxury” is revealing. It comes from a Latin word, luxus, which means light. There is another meaning, in French, luxurie, which means lust in Old English. These are two sides to luxury. Luxury involves enlightenment, part of culture, so it is about being intellectual, not just being wealthy. But, it also embraces pleasure; you can indulge in the sensibility that luxury offers. You must be knowledgeable because beauty doesn’t speak for itself; and once you know about true luxury it only becomes more desirable.

What are your goals in Korea?
My main focus is to develop excellent services for customers who are becoming more demanding, and there are more competitors.
There are about 1,000 masterpieces in the Cartier archive. I organized an ambitious Cartier exhibition at the National Museum of Singapore, which ended last month. While I’m here, I hope I will be able to bring masterpieces like these to Korea.

by Ines Cho
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