I don't think I've ever been to a monograhic exhibition solely dedicated to one singular jewellery designer, let alone one that has only been creating jewellery for five years. Then again, Delfina Delettrez isn't exactly yer' average jewellery designer. Fendi lineage aside, Delettrez' jewellery has been a game-changer, taking the technical know-how of Italian metal and gem craftsmen and fusing that with imagery spawned from Delettrez' unique and combined sense of the surreal, the familiar and the dreamlike. Early pieces like the skeleton bracelet have earned the word iconic and in turn were quickly acquired by museums shortly after their debut. Her longtime fascination with anatomy and animalia have spawned a new genre of jewellery, both fine and costume that deal with those themes. Therefore, a retrspective, which has just opened up at the Antonella Villanova in Florence, not too far from the Italian craftsmen that Delettrez works with, seems completely timely and appropriate.
The exhibition is curated by Emanuela Nobile Mino and features pieces from the ten collections that Delettrez has created in the last five years as well as a special new piece made in honour of the exhibition. I've only recently started attending Delettrez' otherworldly presentations in Paris during fashion week but longtime Delettrez followers will know that she is famed for creating site-specific installations that incorporate her jewellery. She's not one to bung a ring on a velvet cushion and be done with it as her past installations have included stuffed animals from a Parisian house of curiosity, Giorgio De Chirico-inspired columns, plexiglass globes and Italian opera wigs. The exhibition partially removes these environments from her past presentations and recontextualises the jewellery but it also gives us an overview of the complete vision from initial casting to final unveiling, which makes Delettrez' work so distinctive.
The centrepiece of the exhibition is this 1950s factory assembly line taken from her "Roll-in-Stone" collection, where circular motion (pearls and gems rolling around in metal) is explored). It's a mesmerising and slightly creepy contraption to look at. Fairground music that winds down into a broken discordant mess needs to be in the background.
"Love is in the Hair" was one of the collections that I did get to see in person in Paris and the image of eyes and beas set into dramatic coloured opera wigs remains etched into memory.
"Metaphysics" is the latest collection, which celebrates the architecture of churches and palaces in Delettrez' hometown Rome hence why marble and red, black and white combos frequently pop up. The highlight of the collection is undoubtedly a lipstick holder ring with an attached mirror.
Delettrez is probably best known for her "Anatomik" collection, which was her first proper full collection presented two years ago. Rome once again provides the structures to display the jewellery on, as columns are plaster casted with surreal eyes, hands and ears.
This bracelet is a special piece created for the exhibition and features the turtle – a prehistoric creature that has been attributed with longevity and strength as well as healing or divinatory powers. The turtle has Florentine significance what with four of these creatures holding up the two marble obelisks on Santa Maria Novella. You can also find a statue of Morgante (a dwarf serving in the court of Cosimo I de Medici) dressed as Bacchus, riding astride a large tortoise in the Palazzo Pitti, in the Boboli Gardens.
For animal shock factor, there were three plexiglass globes in the outer courtyard, which plays tribute to Delettrez' obsession with the machinations of animals. One globe holds a beehive accompanied by Delettrez' golden bees and honeycomb pieces.
Another holds a "sally lightfoot crab" and an "albino salamander" alongside Delettrez' eight legged creatures. I say those names in quotation marks because I wouldn't have had a clue what they were had it not been for Leah of Fashionista informing me with the utmost of authority.
The final globe held a menagerie of frogs, both real and precious, and it surprisingly difficult to tell which were the jewels and which were the critters that were gonna jump up and down. Delettrez had clearly been inspired by the true and vivid colours of the more exotic species.
Even the drinks at the exhibition opening weren't of the conventional kind as we glugged down blackberry flavoured test tubes from Delettrez' lab coated waitresses. Long may the Delfina Delettrez jewellery laboratory flourish.