Walk the streets of Paris — paying attention to the accessories of those who cross your path — and you may spot the interlocking gold clasps of Menottes. It is the signature collection of French jeweler Dinh Van, and it has become a much-loved staple of Parisian chic since its launch in 1976.
Founder Jean Dinh Van was a French-Vietnamese designer who first made a name for himself in the mid-1950s as a designer at Cartier. After a decade with the house, working alongside then-creative director Jeanne Toussaint, Dinh Van opened his own studio in Paris in 1965.
The designer’s work put him at the vanguard of a new style of fine jewelry: minimalism. His aesthetic was rooted in his belief that “jewelry should not be showy; it should reflect the personality of the woman who wears it, because she feels like wearing it all the time, not only for special occasions.”
A brand’s name
Dinh Van soon became an iconic name in jewelry within France, but has remained underexposed globally. Its managing director, Corinne Le Foll — who also started her career at Cartier, spending 21 years at the brand — wants to change that.
“The DNA of this brand is absolutely fantastic, the creations are amazing, and we are at a stage where the developing of this brand is an exciting adventure,” says Le Foll, who gave up her role as Cartier’s managing director for France to join Dinh Van in January last year.
Six months later, Jean Dinh Van passed away at the age of 94. He had sold his brand in 1988 to a group of investors led by French businessman Frédéric Laporte, but continued to design for the house until late in his life.
The challenge of creating new lines in the spirit of his style now falls to freelance designers — particularly young talents — who Le Foll believes help Dinh Van to “capture the air du temps [zeitgeist].”
Besides Menottes, Dinh Van lines — all designed to have a genderless appeal — include Le Cube Diamant, featuring gold cubes set with round diamonds; the hammered 24-karat gold discs of Pi; and the brand’s Maillon chains.
With expansion and exposure on her mind, Le Foll’s focus is the US. The brand is already selling at about 30 stores in that market, including Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s, Ylang 23 and Hamilton Jewelers. Le Foll hopes to deepen these relationships as well as expand into new stores, with a particular focus on New York, Florida, Texas and the west coast. She has appointed a global PR firm with US offices to amp the brand’s story there — including the designer’s historic links to the country.
“Our presence in the US is quite new — we’ve been in the market for about five years — but the first presence of Dinh Van in the US dates back to the ’70s,” Le Foll relates. In the infancy of his brand, Dinh Van took part in an exhibition of promising French jewelers in Montreal, Canada, where he was spotted by executives at Cartier US — at that time a separate entity from Cartier’s Paris- and London-based businesses.
It became a distributor for his jewels, selling them at its Fifth Avenue store in New York, and later in some additional Cartier boutiques in Florida and the west coast. Dinh Van even collaborated with Cartier on some designs, and these pieces — with dual signatures — can be found on the secondary market today, as well as at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
In recent years, numerous French luxury brands that had fallen out of production, such as Vever and Oscar Massin, have had a reboot. What is it about French jewelry that’s capturing the hearts of American shoppers today?
“There’s something about effortless French luxury, which I think is interesting for our American clients,” says Le Foll. To deepen the American-French connection, she oversaw the placement of Dinh Van jewels on actress Lily Collins’s character in the third season of hit Netflix show Emily in Paris. “I would say that our creations are, at the same time, both quite minimalist and quite sophisticated.”
Image: Model wearing the Menottes necklace in 18-karat gold with diamonds. (Dinh Van)