YASMINA BENAZZOU’S CREATIVE JOURNEY
After many attempts to meet in the summer (our travel schedules made that impossible), I finally met Yasmina in November. Her hair was in a chignon, she was wearing a long green wool coat and, of course, many of her incredible jewelry. She is impossibly chic, yet she is so warm and unpretentious, you just can’t help but love her. We talked a lot about her creative process for her company, Haute Victoire. For Yasmina, creativity is an emotional business, it has no formula, and the best thing you can do to channel it is to be flexible: “Rigidity and pride stops you from growing. For everything we do, there is always an exit”. And that same emotional intelligence and wisdom allowed her to quit her very successful career as Global Creative Director at Tai Ping Carpet to pursue her new path as jewelry designer. Her French Moroccan background, her need to work with her hands, and her love of travel create these amazing emotional, cultural and intellectual layers that make up who she is, and shape her beautiful work. When you look at her jewelry, you just know they are so much more than gold and precious stones. Every piece is imbued with care, craftsmanship, and soul – qualities that I personally value in all objects, especially in those I wear close to my body. I hope you enjoy the interview and that you stop by her Insta page and website to get yourself a holiday gift (don’t get me wrong: I love getting jewelry from my husband, family and friends, but I think it’s specially empowering when I buy my own). Also: she drops some good tips on an iconic NYC shop and restaurant as a nice bonus 🙂 so read on. PS: Interview has been edited to fit format and length.
Patricia Assui Reed | Founder
You had a successful career and was doing well. What made you decide to change your path and go into jewelry?
At 45, an urge for a career change and to do something more meaningful for myself pushed me to return to creating things with my hands. I enrolled in jewelry making classes and it became quickly obvious that I had found my new creative expression and I wanted to make a business and a life of it.
Where can we find your pieces?
Right now I’m keeping my reach small, selling my jewelry online through Haute Victoire’s e-commerce, trunk shows in NYC and also in a couple of retail stores in the Hamptons and in Paris.
What is your criteria in deciding where to sell?
Finding the right stores where to sell is always critical for the development of the brand. Brand positioning would be my first criteria, then the aesthetic and my affinity with the owner.
Do you have a partner or do you work alone?
A year ago while looking for a PR firm I met Celine Kaplan. We had an instant connection, which brought us to think about a partnership. She is a jewelry lover and was interested to invest time, creativity and be involved beyond just PR, which made her the perfect partner for Haute Victoire.
Celine Kaplan, Photo by Into The Gloss
How many people are in your team?
I work on a regular basis with my partner, my social media manager and finance manager. Everyone is based in NY.
You live in NY: in jewelry making and creativity in general, what do you think is the difference between NY, Paris, Morocco and other parts of the world that you have lived or spent a lot of time in?
I love New York City for its entrepreneurial friendly environment, and that motivated me to found Haute Victoire. Paris inspires me with its rich decorative arts history, galleries, museums and stores. Morocco is where I feed myself with colors and enjoy beautiful gardens and nature that speak to my imagination.
El Fenn Hotel in Marrakesh
What’s in store for you and Haute Victoire? Can you share your plans for the future?
I’m working with a new person on an Haute Victoire sales strategy with more visible trunk shows and retail stores around the US, in parallel to the ongoing direct-to-consumer sales.
If I bumped into you on any given day, what brand or style of clothing would I most likely see you wearing?
I would be wearing jewelry, a lot of jewelry! A mix of Haute Victoire and my own pieces including a watch – I love watches. My style of clothing is colorfully dressed in the evenings, casual chic in the day and always feminine.
What other creative women do you admire?
La Callas, Jeanne Toussaint, Helen Frankenthaler. ** Jeanne Toussaint was the Creative Director for Cartier for almost 50 years. If you watched the all female movie Ocean’s 8, you know that the Toussaint Necklace played an important role in the movie: it was the jewelry piece that Anne Hathaway would wear at The Met Gala, to be stolen by Debbie Ocean, played by Sandra Bullock. The famous necklace was made in 1931, designed by Jacques Cartier for the Maharaja of Nawanagar. It had the incredible “Queen of Holland” 136.25-carat diamond (!). Unfortunately, the necklace was taken apart and the diamonds were used to create other pieces. The one in the movie was a fake replica, but the original was named after Jeanne Toussaint.
Jeanne Toussaint, Creative Director for Cartier, and Anne Hathaway in Ocean’s 8 (photo from elle.com)
How do you think women feel when they wear your pieces?
I was told that my jewelry doesn’t try to change women. It belongs already to the owner and fits her personality.
How do you choose the material that goes into your pieces?
It’s a very instinctive process as I work with what I find, what is available, there are no plans or trends I follow. I met a Japanese pearl dealer that led me to design the Blanc Nocturne collection, and during my travels I find the material or the vintage pieces that I incorporate into a new jewelry design. When it comes to gold, 18k yellow is my go-to alloy. Sometimes I design based on the stones, and other times I focus on a shape and look for the stones to make it come to life.
What is the most difficult part of making jewelry?
Crafting jewelry requires such an expertise that it takes a lifetime to master. I feel like I am constantly learning.
What is the part of designing and making jewelry that gives you the most pleasure?
The concept, design and the engineering of a piece is what excites me the most and can keep me awake late into the evening.
What are the most important things you have to have to be a jewelry designer and business owner?
Beyond being creative you need to be extremely detail oriented and structured, as well as have a unique vision and a strategic plan for your brand. Knowing the right people, having a good network and choosing who to work with are also key.
How do you describe your professional work style?
As a small entrepreneur I have to wear many hats all the time. So I feel flexibility would be my work style and knowing how to use both parts of my brain: the creative and the operational parts.
Can you nominate a few other women that you would like Matriark to feature?
I like the work Martina Mondadori does with her magazine Cabana, JJ Martin who is behind La Double J., Helen Downie who is behind Unskilledworker, and Racil Chalhoub behind Racil.
Your photos on IG are gorgeous. Do you style and plan them yourself?
During my previous career I used to work with mood bards all the time, direct photo shoots and curate marketing brochures. As I also love photography, I attended several workshops to understand it better. All this experience comes together to help me as I style and plan my IG.
You donate 3% of your sales to the LESGC’s Art School. What made you choose that organization?
I was introduced to the LESGC almost 10 years ago and I have known people working there since. I love the amazing work they are doing with girls from underprivileged backgrounds. I decided that as soon as I launched Haute Victoire I would support this organization.
What has been has been difficult and what has been amazing about being an entrepreneur?
Learning something new everyday and meeting interesting people have been the most amazing aspects of starting my own business. At the same time starting my first business as an independent entrepreneur leaves me with many unknowns and difficulties.
Was it hard for you to start selling your pieces? Do you think it would be different if you were a man?
I have been lucky to have a few women who love my jewelry and therefore I never felt that I was not selling a piece but that I was sharing my creativity and sense of style with them. Being a woman and having my style is actually helping me sell my jewelry.
Yasmina, photographed last summer in the Hamptons
What is you favorite place on earth? What is your bucket list?
My favorite place on earth is a place I have never been to. Though I have already traveled a lot my bucket list continues to grow: India, Japan, Tanzania, Brazil, Seychelles…
What do you love to do when you are not making jewelry?
I love to travel, to decorate my apartment, to make clothes, to see and buy art and watch indie movies.
Favorite restaurant in NYC? Or in Paris?
Photo by Raoul’s
De Vera store, photo via Pinterest
Any book recommendation?
“La Panthère” by Stephanie des Horts, which tells the fabulous story of Jeanne Toussaint the director of Cartier Joaillerie. But I think you need to read French as it not yet translated in English.
You just got married, what your idea of a perfect date?
Someone you want to see again the next day.
“A la Nuit” from Serge Lutens.
What were you like as a child?
I was a happy child, I liked to play tricks on people. I was already creative and was doing a lot with my hands.
What is one strange habit you have?
The French part of me likes to have cigarettes around but being in NY I do not smoke them.
Biggest mistake in life?
I have trusted some wrong people but it pushed me in directions that were positive at the end.
Who has been the biggest influence in life and why?
My parents have been the biggest influence in my life with their differences in cultures, my father being Moroccan and my mother French. And their shared values of tolerance, hard work and integrity.
A gorgeous pink door, photographed by Yasmina in Morocco.
Yasmina, I know we just met but you seem to be comfortable in your own skin. What quality do you have and value? Something that has helped you along the way, maybe a trait that helped you during your career transition.
I think I am a flexible person. I like when things happen naturally. Working with people is the hardest part because everyone is different. So I think you have to really listen, and to be flexible. Rigidity and pride stop you from growing. For everything we do, there is always an exit. I think that helped me in my life.
You mentioned that it is hard to work with people. I think in the end it does come down to chemistry, no?
Yes, I agree. Sometimes you immediately connect with someone, and you realize you share their values, or that you have the same sense of humor etc. And sometimes things just don’t work. It’s not easy to navigate all the different personalities.
Well, I enjoyed getting to know you, and I think we share a lot of the same values. Thank you so much for spending time with me, it was such a pleasure to finally meet you!
Thank you Patricia, I really enjoyed meeting you too. Let’s meet again at my studio soon!