Meet Elie Top, the 33-year-old designer behind Lanvin's fantastic, over-the-top jewelry. Dapper and self-effacing, Top was one of fashion’s best-kept secrets who now finds himself one of its fastest-rising stars.
In the dozen or so years since he began as an intern illustrator in Yves Saint Laurent’s atelier, Top has helped put jewelry center stage not just at Lanvin, but across the board, and his quirky tribal-industrial fall collection is a stunner—a cross between an H.G. Wells time machine and a medieval torture device (those metal chokers could do some harm!).
Add to that hand-faceted, jeweled carafe-stoppers for Baccarat, not to mention design stints for names we’re not at liberty to mention, and it’s clear why Top is coming out on top—even if his feet remain firmly on the ground. “Big rocks don’t interest me,” he says. “What interests me is character.” You can see a lot more of his character when he launches a semi-precious jewelry line of his own next year. In the meantime, here he reflects on his cosmic-grandma baubles for Monsieur Elbaz...
How did you get your start?
I met Albert Elbaz at YSL Rive Gauche [in 1997]. When I arrived in Paris at 20, and my first job was in M. Saint Laurent’s studio, mostly working on illustrations. Then Alber asked me to work on jewelry, plus some belts and bags. When Tom Ford took over, I left Rive Gauche and went to YSL couture, but also went freelance. When Alber went to Lanvin, he called me. Aside from Chanel, jewelry had no real presence. Alber totally relaunched that.
What did you learn from Yves Saint Laurent?
I learned that everything has a purpose and there is no room for useless detail. He would spend hours choosing the right black crêpe and perfecting the cut. No act was gratuitous. Alaïa works that way, too, on the body. There is a continuity, and I like that. It’s more interesting than changing every season.
What were your inspirations for fall?
It’s a tribal collection heavily influenced by an industrial theme, but it’s a bit of a cabinet of curiosities because there’s a cosmic side to it. It’s very 3-D and high volume, kind of far-out with lots of mixes, like leather and rhinestones. That was an interesting exercise, because we wanted to do massive stuff that wasn’t heavy—and I usually do stuff that’s heavy, like my cuff for the Baccarat Bouchons collection.
Tell us about your process.
Alber lets me do my thing, and then we talk about it. What’s great about Alber is that if something works, he really pushes you. He asks for a lot and it’s always interesting. For my part, I think its interesting to take something common and then do something unusual with it. For example, I like taking something that’s not directional, that’s had a previous life, like something grandma wore that you’ve had around forever. That way, it has personality—a bit like Loulou [de la Falaise].
The trap of designing is that you become enchanted with the picture, but it doesn’t always work in reality. It’s easy to get caught up in the design itself and forget reality. There’s a lot of economy in getting just the right line.