“I am a strong believer that wearing a unique color-happy piece of jewelry can change your outlook,” says New York-based French designer Virginie Millefiori on her website. I first saw her work at an arts fair in Brooklyn and fell in love with the vibrant geometric shapes of her pieces. I bought a pair of earrings from her, two intersecting silver triangles coated with mint-colored enamel, and have been a big fan ever since.
“Whimsical” is a word many people have used to describe her designs, which feature Popsicles, hearts, and girls jumping rope, but the term belies Millefiori’s scrupulous business model. To minimize her carbon footprint, all her suppliers and subcontractors are local, and all the metal she uses is recycled. Every gemstone is ethically sourced—that means it is cultured or, if naturally occurring, it is procured from conflict-free zones. “So far in my collections, I have used small diamonds that were lab-grown,” she tells InStyle. “But if I were to source bigger diamonds for a custom piece, those would have to have Kimberley Process Certification.” Even her business cards and gift boxes are made of 100 percent recycled paper. And Millefiori doesn’t stop there: She donates a portion of her proceeds to nonprofit organizations including the Natural Resources Defense Council.
To celebrate Earth Day, whose theme this year is environmental and climate literacy, we caught up with the eco-conscious designer to chat about some of the inspirations behind her work and her dedication to environmental causes.
What is your favorite fashion era? By far the 1960s—I dream to have lived then! I am obsessed with André Courrèges’s dresses, his sense of modernism and whimsical yet simple elegance, and also the geometric shapes and irreverence of that era. This was the time of Les Demoiselles de Rochefort in France and Breakfast at Tiffany’s in the U.S.—such a fantastic and colorful fashion period. I remember during my early years in Paris, when I was attending engineering school, I found this incredible vintage neon orange Courrèges-looking coat, and so many people would stop me on the street to say, “Your outfit is hurting my eyes,” or conversely, "I love that you are daring enough to wear these colors—they make me so happy.”
A lot of American fashion magazines talk about French style and achieving the “Parisian look.” How does the way Frenchwomen dress and wear jewelry differ from what you see here? I have seen very different styles on both sides of the ocean, but if I’m allowed to caricature a bit, I’d say that Frenchwomen have more a sense of their own style and what suits them best; they are less likely to adopt new trends quickly. They tend to be more discreet—they like understated elegance and tend to be loyal to their favorite brands. American women are more daring and bold in their choices of outfits and accessories. Fashion trends tend to be adopted fairly quickly here from what I have seen. When I first heard the expression “statement jewelry,” I had to look it up because it made no sense to me that you’d want to affirm something by wearing an accessory!
As someone who wears a lot of black and gray, I like your designs because they help me incorporate a pop of color into my outfit. Is that the idea behind coating your jewelry with colored enamel rather than keeping the metal plain? I think you are very French in the way you dress! Frenchwomen like to wear a good classic in neutral colors and then bring in a touch of color with their accessories. I have always been fascinated by color combinations and the way they make us feel, so it was natural for me to have colors in my jewelry. I must also say that the use of enamel in jewelry is far more widespread in France for some reason than it is in the U.S. My jewelry is very French in that way.
Many of your designs are based on the natural world—the Monstera plant, stars, the sun and moon, eclipses. How do you come up with your ideas? I am always in awe of nature’s patterns, geometry, and colors. I really don’t have an organic touch and feel in my jewelry. I like a clean design, so I don’t often go for the literal reproduction of nature but rather a simplified approach to what creates harmony and visual appeal.
One of your latest collections is called Monstera, after the so-called Swiss cheese plant Monstera deliciosa whose leaves develop holes as they get older. How did you get into this plant? Like a lot of people, I am a Pinterest addict and use the platform as a giant brand mood board. I believe I first came across the plant when I was browsing through interior-design images. I fell in love with the heart-shaped leaves and their beautiful cutouts. Soon enough I adopted one for my studio, and it deserves the name Monstera because it grows so big!
What made you decide to donate a portion of your sales to the NRDC? [Fifteen percent of all sales on the Monstera collection go to the nonprofit organization.] I wanted my business to be part of something bigger than my own survival as a designer, and the NRDC’s initiatives are aligned with my personal values for nature’s preservation. Even though my contributions are modest, I know that they help better the lives of people, protect endangered species, and tackle the climate challenges we are faced with today. Earlier I talked about how I liked the holes in Monstera leaves—in the plants’ native tropical environment, these generous cutouts give the other plants growing under them access to sunlight and rain, so it felt like a natural fit that this would be the collection I’d use for the contributions.
To read more about Millefiori and check out her latest designs, visit her website and blog.