The feather creations by the French artist Nelly Saunier are the most stunning art made by nature material, the colourful feathers of all kinds of different birds. For the latest PIAGET high jewellery collection, “SUNNY SIDE OF LIFE” she collaborated with their goldsmiths and created hand cuffs bejewelled with feathers which not only makes you dream but wants you to find out more about Nelly´s relationship to birds. IRMA meets Nelly Saunier, in a lush garden in the courtyard of the Hôtel Potocki behind the busy Avenue de Friedland in Paris during the Haute Joaillerie shows.
IRMA: When was the initial point in your life when you developed a passion for birds?
NELLY SAUNIER: When I was a child we lived outside of Paris and I guess I spend most of my childhood hanging around trees. I loved the beauty of the light when the trees moved in the wind and the sounds around me, different birds make so many different sounds.
IRMA: What can a feather tell about a bird?
NELLY SAUNIER: It is like with human hair, nails and skin because it is made of Keratin.
If birds have been poisoned, their feathers look dull and lifeless. And of course in warm, exotic places the colour of the feathers adopts to the region and they inherit the lush, bright colour scheme.
IRMA: Do you find bright feathers, like you have used to create the SWIMMING POOL or the LIFE IS A PARTY cuff in Paris?
NELLY SAUNIER: Actually for my mock up I used some feathers of my budgerigar, his name was Kikounet. Unfortunately, he died. It is kind of a sad story.
IRMA: Tell me about it.
NELLY SAUNIER: Well, in general I do not like the idea of putting birds in cages but I got Kikounet from a friend of mine as a present. I really fell in love with him and he could leave his cage whenever he wanted. He spent all day with me in the Atelier and started to talk to me, sitting on my shoulder. You know birds become like humans when they live in solitude without other birds.
IRMA: How did your collaboration with PIAGET started?
NELLY SAUNIER: I work on many different artistic projects and my cooperation with PIAGET is a wonderful frame for my art work. I work together with very talented goldsmiths. The brand creates a theme, like for example “The sunny side of Life”, and we can design a piece of beautiful jewellery together. Two different craftsmanship’s combined to create something fabulous and different.
PIAGET is well known for their artistic uniqueness; I am not the only artist who creates something with their craftsmanship.
IRMA: In 2014 the French Ministry of culture honoured you with the title “Maître d’Art”, a program inspired by the “National Living Treasures” of Japan. What did that mean to you?
NELLY SAUNIER: I am very honoured and it is a wonderful award to receive after spending more than thirty years developing my skills and working with the art of feathering. It is great that old craftsmanship is honoured in France and also delivered to the next generation, which I used to teach in my atelier. This is part of my duty as a member of l’Association des Maitres d’Art.
IRMA: How did you create the swimming pool cuff?
NELLY SAUNIER: When I know the theme and the general design of the piece of jewellery I look for the material which suits the piece and the topic. I collect feathers in my feather sketchbook and simultaneously I work on mock-ups and patterns. Then I select the feathers and start to cut them so they fit into my design. The feathers are glued onto the piece with a natural wood glue around the precious stones.
In the LIFE IS A PARTY cuff you can take the feather clip away and wear the jewellery without the feathers.
IRMA: You created feather designs for Couture houses like Givenchy, Chanel and a special collaboration for Jean Paul Gaultier. Is it always a new discovery to work on different designs with the same medium?
NELLY SAUNIER: I used to do a lot of fashion projects and I still do but I want to develop my skills further put them into different scales and dimensions. I did faces for watches, the cuffs of the PIAGET “SUNNY SIDE OF LIFE” collection and I am working on a tree project and I am going to learn the art of weaving from a Japanese artist soon.
IRMA: Where is your favourite place in Paris?
NELLY SAUNIER: I like to be at the Parc Montsouris which has so many birds and beautiful trees. I would love to hang out in the trees but as an adult you can no longer do that in a public garden, people would look at you strangely. I love to be close to trees where the birds hang out and Paris has a lot of different birds. You probably do not notice that when you are not aware of them but I always see and hear them, some of them make very strange noises which most people think are terrible, but I love to hear them.
IRMA: What will be your next travel related to your art?
NELLY SAUNIER: I will be part of an exhibition at the Tokyo Modern Art Museum in 2017 together with fifteen other French artists who all hold the title Maître d’Art.
I am looking forward to this and I would even travel more if I would have the time. Just imagine the birds (and feathers) you would find in Papua New Guinea or in Australia.