Rarely acknowledged as one of the most influential figures of jewelry design in the early 20th century, Paul Iribe is arguably Art Deco’s unsung hero. His creative genius pervaded numerous areas of the Paris art scene, ranging from theatre and fashion to poster art and film. However, his most important contribution in design was in jewelry.
Born Paul Iribarnegaray in Angoulême, France in 1883, Iribe began his foray into the art world at the École des Beaux-Arts and the College Rollin in Paris, where he studied prior to his first apprenticeship as a printer at Le Temps newspaper. His talent in illustration and design gained the attention of numerous Parisian journals and daily papers, who helped Iribe make is mark by constantly publishing his colorful illustrations. Together with a group of avant-garde artists, Iribe created the satirical journal Le Temoin in 1906.
Fortuitously, the publication’s illustrations caught the attention of fashion designer Paul Poiret, whose fashion forward design aesthetic matched Iribe’s modernist style. Poiret would later commission Iribe to illustrate his first major dress collection in a 1908 portfolio entitled Les Robes de Paul Poiret. “This limited edition publication (250 copies) was innovative in its use of vivid fauvist colors and the simplified lines and flattened planes of Japanese prints. To create the plates, Iribe utilized a hand-coloring process called pochoir, in which bronze or zinc stencils are used to build up layers of color gradually. This publication, and others that followed, anticipated a revival of the fashion plate in a modernist style to reflect a newer, more streamlined fashionable silhouette.” (source)
Les Robes de Paul Poiret, illustrated by Paul Iribe, 1908 (Source)
With a flair for fashion, Iribe continued to contribute to style journals such as La Gazette du Bon Ton, creating charming vignettes of the latest fashions from couturiers’ designs. In 1911, Iribe expanded his creative spirit to jewelry design, fashioning a spectacular collection of eleven pieces. Executed by French jeweler Robert Linzeler, the jewels embraced Iribe’s prevalence toward using fluid forms and his penchant for fantastical whimsy. The collection was largely influenced by Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes and its exoticism, even paying homage to the movement by presenting the pieces on silk cushions and turbans.
Pages from a catalogue featuring jewels from Paul Iribe’s 1911 collection produced by Robert Linzeler. Photos courtesy of HPrints.
The most important piece of the collection was the Mughal Emerald Aigrette, which features a large carved emerald stone with a characteristic sunburst effect. In this brooch, one can see that seeds of Art Deco jewelry design had been planted. “In an interview with Vogue fourteen years later, Linzeler noted Iribe’s penchant for large stones and a highly decorative approach with unrestrained splendour.” (source)
“Writing of the 1925 Exposition des Arts Décoratifs, [fellow famed illustrator] George Barbier declared: ‘The influence of Paul Iribe on contemporary decorative arts, and especially jewelry, is certainly not emphasized as it should be.’ Iribe was one of the first to propose large cabochons mounted as rings, and his jewelry was among the earliest made in platinum and iridium. Above all, he influenced contemporary artists in their choice of motifs…Iribe’s rose motif appeared in jewelry with black enamel contours by Boucheron and LaCloche.” (source)
Years later, Iribe’s work in jewelry design led to an important collaboration with fashion designer Coco Chanel in 1932. Chanel’s love of jewelry was reawakened in 1911 by Iribe’s ground-breaking collection. In 1932 the International Guild of Diamond Merchants commission Chanel to design a collection of diamonds set in platinum called Bijoux de Diamants.
Having only previously designed costume jewelry, Chanel declared that diamonds were an investment and turned to Iribe for help in designing her first foray into fine jewelry. Together both in business and in personal life, Iribe and Chanel set out to create a collection that inspired several of Chanel’s hallmark symbols: Iribe’s designs of real diamond shooting stars, bow-knots and feathers were exhibited in Chanel’s apartment in Paris.
In 1935, Iribe suffered a heart attack and sadly died at the age of 52, stealing one of the art and design world’s most brilliant minds too soon. His impact in the world of fashion and jewelry design before, during and after the Art Deco era remains everlasting, even if often unrecognized.