Jewelry Designer Ligia Dias Is Comme-Approved

Ligia Dias started out in ready-to-wear and worked for a time at Lanvin before detouring into jewelry and winning the Andam prize for Young French Design in 2009. No sooner did Rei Kawakubo get a load of her povera approach—i.e. mounting humble washers and grapplers on grosgrain to render them haute, and mixing bourgeois pearls with run-of-the-mill chains or hand-painted wood—than she ordered a pile of pieces exclusively for the Comme des Garçons boutique in Tokyo.

Speaking of Japan, Dias is headed to Kyoto with her trusty tools for a six-month artist’s residency. Not surprisingly, her next collection will marry her industrial signature with an artisanal Japanese aesthetic. (Plus, as she notes, her ribbons are already from Mokuba.)

We caught up with the quick-moving designer…

What made you switch from fashion to jewelry?
After three years working for Alber Elbaz at Lanvin, I considered doing my own ready-to-wear collection. As luck and chance would have it, following a first show in Paris and support from my friend Cyril Rahon, a buyer at Galeries Lafayette, Comme des Garçons was my first big client. I’ve had my seat on the Fashion Express ever since.

What’s it like seeing your work spread all over the first floor of Colette?
For me, Colette represents audacity and luxury combined. Sarah and Colette have supported my work since the first collections. I love it when I can work with clients over the long term because that signifies that my work has meaning, a style and value, even though I am just a tiny brand in a sea of others. And they really get marketing. Not all the merchandise is on the floor. Costume jewelry like mine is shown on mannequins wearing YSL, Lanvin, etc. There is no snobbery, even though it’s so Parisian. When you are being sold at Colette, it means you’re a part of a bigger fashion story being told.

What about your inspirations for next season, the wooden blocks and flowers?
For spring I wanted to tackle something I’m not usually drawn to: flowers! I like flowers when they’re natural, drawn, painted, photographed. But their representation in fashion is always so sad and literal: the Poiret rose here, the Chanel camellia there. I don’t like the romantic image that is automatically associated with flowers. On the other hand, I love mixing things up and putting things together that otherwise never would have been, like the minimalism and grace of Madame Vionnet’s work with something concrete, like the industrial dimension of Max Bill’s work. All of a sudden it seemed to me an obvious way to counterbalance the romanticism. Later, as I was creating my pieces, Monet’s garden at Giverny became the fashion-meets-art framework.

For you, what’s behind the celebrated French touch?
I think that style is a question of habit. Maybe the Parisienne’s special touch is a mix of bourgeois snobbery and soixante-huitard [a reference to the student uprising of May 1968] negligence. She loves luxury but also what is cheap, a Chanel jacket thrown over a pair of raggedy jeans. But I’m not convinced there exists a typically Parisian style. With globalization, brands increasingly export everywhere and a New Yorker can just as easily wear Louis Vuitton or Isabel Marant.

So where do you like to shop?
For my materials, I’ve worked with the same suppliers for a long time. But I love dropping in at Weber Métaux [in the Marais] to rummage through the drawers. Believe me, it’s a great privilege. For myself, I mostly shop at press sales. That’s where I can finally afford the stuff I love. And even if that means I am a season or two behind the trend, a well-cut jacket from Yojhi Yamamoto or a simple Comme des Garçons dress are timeless. I like fashion that never goes out of style.

And if you were not a jewelry designer?
I would be a chef or a food critic, the Mata Hari of the food world.