Cartier’s panther has been adorning
the watch faces, bracelets, brooches, pins and bestial parures of this most
luxurious of French jewellers since 1918. The sleek, feral aloofness of this
most languid of beasts was perfectly in keeping with the shift from the foliate
forms of Art Nouveau into the sexy wild, Jazz Age geometrics and exoticism of
Art Deco. But the panther really took off with the arrival of Jeanne Toussaint
at Cartier; über-chic, slinky and wild, she was appointed Director of Jewellery
in 1933 and remained there until her retirement in 1968.
Notoriously ritzy, Jeanne’s
apartment overflowed with animal print and exotica; she loved to dress in long
strands of pearls, turbans and silk pyjamas. She was also the mistress of Louis
Cartier, one of the three brothers who inherited the luxury house from their
father Louis-François who founded the company in 1847. Louis would never marry
Jeanne, bowing to pressure from family and the conformity of the era, instead
they remained close all their lives; Jeanne learning the business of hautejoallerie from her lover and applying everything she learned to a
succession of spectacular and highly acclaimed collections for Cartier.
Jeanne Toussaint’s nickname
(from Louis) was La Panthère and she designed
imaginative and exquisitely constructed pieces showcasing her namesake in gold,
diamonds, sapphires and emeralds. Arguably the piece that put the panther on
the map as it were was the 1948 brooch for Wallis Simpson, a very striking and
relatively simple golden panther atop a square cut cabochon emerald. This was
the first of many pieces bought by the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, often
designed in collaboration with Jeanne. The famous panther & cabochon
sapphire brooch is a dazzling piece of jewellery. The sapphire is 152.44 carats
and found its way home to Cartier as they bought it back at the extraordinary
auction of her jewels in 1987. My favourite piece is the flexible panther
bracelet that wraps around the wrist as if the little silver beast is asleep or
guarding your bones.
I have always adored
this atmospheric perfume, it has a strange demanding aroma of the now,
something edgy and hidden from view, masked and potentially dangerous; yet
simultaneously radiating violet-dusted hours of yesteryear, a longing for love
and rosy skin upon which to lay a weary head.
I bought Galliano’s
debut eau de parfum the week it was released in Harrods in 2008. Our old head
office used to be in lovely Beauchamp Place in London, around the corner from
Harrods, which made shopping rather irresistible. The distinctive Joel
Desgrippes bottle wasn’t hard to spot and I was kinda obsessed with the Mondino
campaign fronted by the compelling amphibian-faced model Guinevere van Seenus.
Now, this piece will
not be any kind of apologist prose poem for the actions of Galliano. But I was and
still am an enormous fan of his couture; he was an extraordinary fashion
visionary who understood the extravagance and magnificence of the past and
succeeded in translating that into a modern vision of couture transcendence.
That this talent was fucked to pieces in one appalling evening of drunken,
anti-Semitic ranting is tragic and probably inevitable considering the
spiralling horror of his personal and high octane work lives.