In her sophisticated and sleek jewelry, Deborah Pagani fuses a romance of the past with modern whimsy, to fantastic effect. Pagani, who first launched her Deco-rock jewelry collection in Paris five years ago and now lives in New York, is known for creating standalone pieces that are as elegant and modern as they are delicate and dramatic. For many women, Pagani – a self-professed emerging-designer – is a secret they would rather keep for themselves. But since winning the prestigious Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation Award earlier this year, enabling her to show during New York Fashion Week, Pagani has naturally gained greater exposure.
Like any eclectic artist, Pagani derives her inspiration from multiple sources, and instead of adopting just one muse for each collection, Pagani picks two – “So I can blend their styles, personalities and personas,” she explained. For her latest collection, American Geisha, her dual inspiration came from Tina Chow, the late model and style icon, and Anna May Wong, Hollywood’s first Asian American starlet. “I always admired that Tina was not only known for her style, but for her attitude and personality . . . Anna too, had incredible style, but obviously of a much different vein.” While exploring their ethnic backgrounds, Pagani discovered the bold geometric designs in Asian architecture and fashion – like the colors in traditional Japanese kimonos. “Those color combinations can be found throughout the collection,” she said, “in the Amethysts, Rubies, colored diamonds and other brightly colored stones.” Latest Revival, already enthralled in this month’s Venice Biennale opening weekend, caught up with the designer to discover the secrets behind Pagani’s decadent pieces, which often weave the rich hues, bold geometric shapes, and lavish ornamentation found in some of Art Deco’s most famous works of art and architecture.
How did you break into jewelry design, coming from a colorist background?
Jewelry design was always a passion, but breaking into the industry as a designer with an established business is a different story. Starting a business is difficult, but the slow transition was a must. Once I launched my collection in Paris and had the support of a few retailers it was, from there, a pretty seamless transition between the two. Of course, working in the luxury beauty industry gave me great insights into the luxury market and helped me identify my clients’ needs, while still developing my own aesthetic.
You are known for your bold Art Deco pieces, does art have any influence on this overarching signature style?
Of course. While I don’t only cite Art Deco as my style inﬂuence I am constantly looking at Art Deco across all platforms. Whether in architecture, ﬁne art, furniture or fashion, I have always been drawn to the geometric and symmetrical styles found in the Art Deco movement, which lends itself well to jewelry. Whenever I am designing a new piece, I always want to bring the past and present into the piece, which I think represents what women are looking for when buying new jewelry – if they wanted to buy an authentic Art Deco piece, for example, they are going to buy vintage. So with that said, it is important to always add a degree of modernity to my pieces.
Which artists inspire you the most?
It would be impossible to name them individually, but I certainly look at both new and old artists for inspiration. I think it is important to recognize that the value in something new can be as much as something that is more widely known because of its history. This is something I want to translate into my own work as well, because over time I have truly realized that the value of something new is equal to the timeless qualities it must possess, especially with ﬁne jewelry.
Can you take us through your design process? What tools do you use when creating each masterpiece?
Every piece begins with a muse. I usually become intrigued with a particular woman, sometimes even ﬁctional ones, and then ﬁnd her counterpart, who is usually from another era. I think the fusion of two different styles, personalities and personas can create the most spectacular pieces. Architecture plays a big role in my design process, so I am always trying to explore new places, but I always come back to New York City as the best canvas.
What stones are your favorite to work with, and why?
Diamonds are a mainstay in my collections, but I really will use anything from an agate to an emerald and everything in between. I gravitate towards color more than texture so if I had to choose, my favorites would be emeralds and anything purple.
What kind of woman do you design for?
Glamorous ones – or at least women with an interest to be glamorous.
When you’re not working on a collection, how do you spend your down time?
I am such a New York woman. I am currently expecting twins in the fall, so more recently my time away from work has been spent either chasing my four-year-old daughter or catching up on sleep. But I really never stop exploring new things. I love art, fashion, and the culture of New York City more than anything else.
Photo Credits: Main Slide – bottom left: Chrysler Building, www.skyscrapercity.com; top right: NYC, commons.wikimedia.org; Small Slide – Tina Chow, fashioneditoratlarge.blogspot.com; Waldor-Astoria, www.hostoftheworld.com; Chrysler Building, decoarchitecture.tumblr.com