Based in Santa Monica, California, mother-and-daughter team Jenny and Lily Monbouquette share a love of modern and contemporary art, affordable luxury and natty product design. Using these principles to guide their business model, they launched their own eponymous jewellery brand, Monbouquette, three years ago. There is, based on this simple formula, an ease to their USP which belies the technical know-how that goes into their small but intricate collections, all of which are sustainably made and playfully interactive or adaptable.
This jewellery brand is “like nothing we have seen before”, said Charlotte Diamond on Vogue. Not only does Monbouquette have patents for the functional invention of its designs, but it also has a “personal mission” to be a business that is as ethical and sustainable as possible. Indeed, most pieces can be worn two or more ways, thanks to patented mechanisms and silhouettes inspired by their love of modern art. First, of course, there is the painstaking work of prototyping, as they reshape forms until their versatile pieces seamlessly pop, drop, snap, hook and loop as they are supposed to, depending on how the wearer chooses to model them.
For example, the label’s new 1300 Reversible Snapback Necklace, inspired by an ancient treasure found last year during an archaeological dig in Northamptonshire, can be worn fully “green” with its bright, wasabi coloured enamel charms and emerald coloured lab-grown stones on show. Or it can be flipped around, so that the charms become gold coins and the pendant “turns” blue, painted with royal blue enamel and punctuated by an aquamarine stone.
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Similarly, Monbouquette’s dinky gold-plated Bubble Hatch earrings can be worn short or extended: you simply open the bottom half of the ball and out tumbles a white freshwater pearl suspended between six delicate chains. KJ Moody, Beyonce’s creative manager and stylist, featured these earrings in an editorial shoot only to discover much later on, that they were indeed transformable. He posted the discovery on Instagram which predictably got all the right people looking.
Since then, Monbouquette designs have appeared in shoots for Vogue, Rolling Stone and Goop. British actress Rebecca Hall wore the brand’s Cucumber Drop earrings on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival last year, and Gwen Stefani chose this same style for an episode of The Voice. Both women wore one earring long and the other short, for an edgy asymmetrical style.
The element of surprise
A few years ago, Jenny, who studied art and art history at Berkeley university – she still manages a sizeable collection of rare artworks by Andy Warhol, Helen Frankenthaler and Jennifer Bartlett among others – decided to enrol in a lost wax jewellery course in Los Angeles. “I needed a creative outlet since I had so many ideas percolating in my head,” she said. “I made all these pieces and I covered my friends, Lily and her friends, in my designs.”
Lily, meanwhile, was studying Liberal Arts in New York and interning with Rodarte, focusing on menswear fashion. “Experiencing Fashion Week [in New York] and seeing how designers build upon a vision… the way they actualise it into this beautiful and magical piece of art, that was something I wanted to do,” she explained. Lily and her mother share a close bond, and would talk daily over the phone, exchanging ideas about jewellery, fashion and the wider world of creativity. “We’d chat about this, that and everything, though I remember telling her about why I loved menswear so much. In many ways, it’s often more technically focused than womenswear. There would always be some innovative fabric chosen for its texture or performance qualities, or a hidden pocket sewn into a design to enhance its shape and functionality. It seemed to me that there was more going on, more playfulness and scope for experimentation.”
Soon after, mother and daughter began to collaborate on jewellery that could be transitional, interactive and changeable. “The concept of ‘day-to-night’ dressing is something you hear all the time in fashion, but less so in the world of jewellery – and this is something we decided to explore,” Lily said. “Plus, we love the element of surprise,” Jenny added. “Intrigue, understanding the layers of something and engaging with them, is what makes a great artwork, so why not try and capture this sentiment in jewellery? It’s just fun. Growing up I just loved things that were reversible and multi-functional. Even my current swimsuit is reversible.”
“Adaptable” is a term often used in the world of jewellery, but all too often, it simply means adding elements to an existing design, requiring a higher spend. Typical examples are stacking rings or charm bracelets, investments that require the consumer to “build” on, rather than a product that does all the work for you. In high jewellery, French maison Van Cleef & Arpels is a pioneer in the field of fully-convertible jewellery pieces. Its iconic Zip necklace, famously worn by the Duchess of Windsor, is a case in point: it can be worn round the neck or around the wrist as a chunky bracelet, and both versions look so seamless on, it’s impossible to know which design came first.
Similarly, Van Cleef’s gem-set pendant necklaces can become brooches and even earrings. Sometimes a bejewelled necklace can morph into an entire jewellery suite, thanks to the house’s specialised craftsmanship and enduring savoir-faire.
The power of social
In the world of fine jewellery, this is harder to achieve because of cost and time restrictions. Monbouquette, therefore, is a brave venture, because it’s putting the work in, and passionately so, with affordable designs that are tactile, versatile and striking, many inspired by the duo’s love of abstract paintings and modernist sculptures. In fact, the Snapback Collection – little gem-set enamel squares that swivel to reveal a different colour combination on rings, earrings and necklaces – look like miniature canvases and highlight their enduring dedication to the world of art. Indeed, the pair cite seminal female creatives including Fujio Yoshida, Hilma af Klint, Yayoi Kusama, Judy Chicago and Bridget Riley as direct influences.
Monbouquette pieces are all crafted in the USA, using 100% recycled sterling silver or brass with ethically mined 24-karat gold premium plating. Everything is well thought out, right down to the packaging which is plastic-free, using recycled and reusable cardboard.
Launching a great idea is one thing, but increasing turnover, productivity, and efficiency is an altogether different kettle of fish. Luckily, Lily is the driving force behind the Monbouquette financial and marketing management. “Honestly, what excites me is the business aspect,” she said. “We’ve been recently doing a lot of trunk shows which has helped us enormously to gain business and visibility. Everyone who sees our jewellery says they have never seen anything like it before, and that is key. To do something different is easy, but to recognise you’ve harnessed something that was otherwise missing is what you run with.”
And so they have. While the business has professional PR support, Lily also said that Instagram has also been invaluable as a marketing tool. “It’s amazing to see where social media can go. We connected with make-up artist Katie Jane Hughes [1.6M likes on TikTok and counting] and thanks to her support, wearing our designs, we got so many new followers and crucially, lots of orders.”
So, what’s next on the Monbouquette bucket list? A partnership with cool New York fashion brand La Ligne is in the pipeline, as well as more trunk shows around the US, plus a few “surprises”, according to Jenny.
Mother and daughter’s most recent trunk visit was to Austin, Texas, where they took time out to visit the Blanton Museum of Art noted for its famous “Austin” building by American artist Ellsworth Kelly. Perhaps one such “surprise” might be a necklace inspired by the structure’s luminous coloured glass windows, miniaturised into tiny lozenges to echo Kelly’s design? Only the Monbouquette wearable version would definitely have a few arty extras, like a flippable pendant function and reversible enamel parts. Watch this space.
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