family jewels: meeting gaia repossi
The first female designer to run her family’s century-old jewelry house, Gaia Repossi says women know what women want.
Jean wears Ring Repossi Antifer Ring in Pink Gold Fully Set with Diamonds. coat Céline. Top Saint Laurent.
Gaia Repossi grew up in Monaco and was handed the family jewels when she turned 21. Or, at least, the creative direction of her Italian family's jewelry house. "My father always loved anything controversial, so anything I'd bring along he was excited about. He's very much a yes-man," she smiles when we meet in her optical white office on rue Saint Honoré, between haute couture shows in July. She's not kidding. The night before, she re-launched the Place Vendôme store her father, Alberto Repossi, opened in 1985, the year before she was born. Partnering with OMA's Rem Koolhaas, she radically redesigned it to fit her own modernist vision for the family empire, founded by her grandfather Constantino Repossi in Turin in 1920. Before, the store had the subdued, somewhat stuffy elegance of a jazzed-up bank vault — now its hi-tech walls, metallic ceilings, and floral vines twisted along the spiral staircase cement Gaia's Repossi era. It's minimalism over opulence, intellectual references, and a constant tension between feminine glamour and masculine restraint. "A reduced aesthetic," she calls it.
"Rem questions how we live in a society that alienates through spaces and forces us to go to empty, ugly spaces like the supermarket. He thought the same of the jewelry world. He said, 'It looks sad, so let's change it'." Gaia is elfin and beautiful, discreet and muted in an expensive Parisian way. She speaks consistently under her breath, going between a hushed Nicole Kidman whisper and a sensual Marilyn Monroe purr. (She does Thai boxing for anti-frustration, yoga for Zen.) But don't be fooled by her soft-spoken reticence. Gaia doesn't go with the flow. When she was handed the reins to the business at 21, she didn't waste time losing herself in the Repossi archives. "You kind of want to search your own identity. I don't know, I wasn't interested in it," she shrugs, straight-faced. After finishing a Fine Art degree in Paris, she made her entry into the company, starting with the image department. "I thought they weren't working with the right people," she notes.
While earning an MA in Archaeology and Anthropology from La Sarbonne, Gaia envisioned Repossi's new identity: androgynous modernism by way of ancient tribal jewelry — although she insists it wasn't as thought-through as that. "No, there's no brand strategy. This was a family house. My father worked the same way, except he's not a woman. It's all very intuitive." She got her fearlessness from her father and her love of modernism from her grandfather. "He was very driven by Art Deco. Before designing jewelry he was designing cars, and at the time that was a very trendy job — this is Italy in the 40s." Hardly as trendy, though, as the position in which Gaia now finds herself: young, rich, and beautiful, at just 30 she's built quite the presence for herself in the fashion industry where it's not uncommon to see her front row at shows. She's impossibly chic. "You know my old love for Céline," she sighs, but at the moment she's really into Demna Gvasalia's work. Did she buy anything from his debut Balenciaga collection? "A little bit," she whispers mischievously.
"I know exactly what is me and what I feel comfortable in. Maybe except for shoes." She's got around 320 pairs of them, split between her Donald Judd-draped home in Paris and her artist boyfriend Jeremy Everett's homes in New York and Los Angeles. For an old soul, who grew up reading Ancient Greek philosophy and refused to wear makeup, fashion and its temptations wouldn't seem your obvious choice of vocation. "But I have a mother who's very elegant, so she taught me it's very important what you wear, and in the right way. I got dragged into caring about it when I was young." In the ritzy confines of tiny Monaco, wasn't it easy to get carried away? "I grew up anti all of that. I liked to study and I was in a very French school where you want to be an intellectual woman. Mind first. When you grow up with a French background and a French education it tortures you," Gaia says, referring to the Monaco lifestyle, "because they tell you to be different. So it confirms that a lot." What's it like growing up in a millionaires' paradise, then? "It's upsetting!" she laughs. "Except for the ocean."
When it came to fashion, however, there were things even a bookish teenage girl couldn't resist. "My first pair of heels were Nicolas Ghesquière, when I was sixteen." Approaching fashion from an academic point of view, Gaia felt magnetized by its freedom of expression, "which I was sensitive to, growing up. I wanted to go to Paris all the time and find the right jeans and the right sweater." An avid French Vogue reader from an early age, she started buying i-D at Colette, getting into Raf Simons, and forming the persona that now represents her Repossi brand. It's a self-confidence and brazen acceptance of personal branding, which epitomizes a new generation of female designers raised on the restrained sophistication of Phoebe Philo. You are the woman you design for. "It relates to the house's personality," Gaia says, talking about the way she presents herself and Repossi. "We don't show too much, but we definitely show a point of view." As far as being a woman at the top of fashion amongst the suits — last year she orchestrated a minority sale of Repossi to the LVMH conglomerate — she seems carefree.
"I think it's better. Women are very careful to detail. Being a woman now, vulnerability becomes important, comfort becomes important, because you can't just design something that's beautiful to look at. It has to be beautiful on you. Because you wear them you know what a woman expect from them." Gaia is more worried about the current financial situation in France. "If an economy collapses and you're selling jewelry, you're a little bit concerned. It's been scary in Paris." But it isn't stopping her exploring even more exclusive territory: opulence, which is a step out of the comfort zone for a modernist jewelry designer, who looks wary when the interviewer asks her if she owns a copy of Elizabeth Taylor's My Love Affair with Jewelry, that bible of opulence. (She does not.) "Opulence is part of the DNA of the house so I'm trying to find the right way to offer some options," she explains, looking at her own rings: three discreet Repossi gold numbers in rose and black. Does she sleep in her jewelry? "I barely wear any during the day."
Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Amy Troost
Fashion Director Alastair McKimm
Hair Cim Mahony at Lala Land Artists. Make-up Lucy Burt at Bryant Artists using Chanel Le Rouge - Collection No.1 and Le Lift V-Flash. Nail technician Miss Moji at Backstage Agency using Chanel. Photography assistance Henry Lopez, Marion Parez. Digital technician Louis Cusy. Styling assistance Lauren Davis, Sydney Rose Thomas, Louise Mast. Production Eric Vincent and Margot Geitner at V+E Production. Production assistance Caroline Daniaud. Casting director Angus Munro at AM Casting (Streeters NY). Model Jean Campbell at Viva.