- Hélène Rommelaere
“I have always been fascinated by jewellery because it’s polarised; behind it lies a story, a moment, someone. It’s like a tiny film reel with its own aesthetic, the grain of the image and a history that writes itself a little more every time the jewel is worn…"
Hélène Rommelaere, a graduate of the Berçot Studio in Paris, took her first professional steps in design at Vivienne Westwood and then at Saint Laurent as a jewellery designer. These enriching experiences inspired her to develop her own project, launched in December 2019: LAH (an anagram of her own and her children’s initials). LAH creates sustainable jewellery made from recycled silver and vermeil, both RJC-certified materials.
1. Could you tell us about your origins and your creative journey?
I was born and brought up in Dunkerque in a family of teachers. The light in Dunkerque is very particular; a changeable play of half-tones… the beaches stretch for miles and are surrounded by wild dunes. When I am there, those colours and that horizon still fill me with a strong sense of liberty. During the weekends, my mother would make me clothes on her sewing machine. I think that’s where my taste for the handmade came from. I studied engineering - my parents didn’t think it was possible to make a living from a creative career. And so I spent 4 years working as a computer engineer. At 28, I realised my career wasn’t aligned with my true self and I decided to stop engineering and instead to study at the Bercot studio, a fashion design school in Paris. The years I spent at Bercot were wonderful; the hours flew by. It’s there that I discovered what I wanted to do with my life and who I really was.
2. What was the first piece of jewellery you created? What does it mean to you?
The first piece of jewellery I created came to me when I was still studying to be a fashion designer and before Lah had even been founded. It was a pair of wristbands in porcelain with the texture of lace that encircled the wrists in the shape of knots. They were at the same time dynamic and trapped in their medium. They were voluminous and unwearable! The combination of porcelain and lacy texture created a contrast that I liked a lot. But most importantly, the first jewellery I made woke something up in me; from that moment on, it was clear to me that my path lay in creating jewellery.
3. Your jewellery symbolises the ties that unite us. Can you tell us more about this?
We live in a world where we have cultivated a culture of the ego, personal development and the culture of the mind. I think that at a profound level we are intrinsically connected. Either in terms of our hearts, or to nature and the seasons, or to our environment - even to the universe. These connections are physical, emotional, concrete.
And I believe that they are completely compatible with personal development. I have always been fascinated by jewellery because it’s polarised; behind it lies a story, a moment, someone. It’s like a tiny film reel with its own aesthetic, the grain of the image and a history that writes itself a little more every time the jewel is worn… Lah jewellery speaks of those things: the bonds of our hearts and lives.
4. What are your sources of inspiration?
I have many. I love delving into books on antique jewellery and I am completely fascinated by the culture of jewelllery, which is several millennia old. I can spend entire afternoons looking at books on jewellery, time comes to a standstill when I’m gripped. Women jewellers like Line Vautrin, Viviana Torun and Jeanne Toussaint are little known to the general public and yet have had a big impact on contemporary jewellery. The aesthetic of certain films strongly influenced me, like Small Daisies by Vera Chytilova and Jacques Tati’s films, like Playtime. I also work listening to music: Flavien Berger, the Blaze, Sault, Rosalia, November Ultra, Léonie Pernet, and Gabriels, among others, are daily companions in my work. Observing nature soothes and inspires me and also nourishes me a lot.
5. Ethical gold, production to order, customization… Your brand is resolutely modern and wants to be sustainable. Why is that commitment important to you?
I think that today it is a responsibility for every brand creator to take into consideration current environmental and human issues. At Lah Paris, we do our best to communicate on our products transparently and we are constantly evolving on this issue - it’s a work in progress. It is important to make this clear because if we place ourselves in a posture of perfection we can never question ourselves or progress. Today we manufacture all our silver, vermeil and gold lines nearTours, with a master craftsman. The fact of working with a specific craftsman and not a factory allows us to work our way, that is to say providing him with the metal, in this case silver. This allows us to choose the quality of the silver and especially its traceability. So we can be sure our silver comes from Italy and is RJC and COC and 100% recycled. This is very rare in the case of silver and today the majority of factories work with non-recycled silver whose origin is not traceable. The galvanizing is done in Paris, at a company that uses 70% recycled gold and is 100% labeled.
There is still a way to go in the field of jewellery when you compare the progress that’s been made in ready-to-wear. I am thinking in particular of labels, which are barely present; yet they go hand in handwith traceability. For example, it is still very difficult to work with recycled brass and today it remains impossible to know the exact composition of the galvanizing baths, which contain 1% of metals of which it is impossible to know the origin. The culture of secrecy is still so present in the field of jewellery. We can only move forwards at the same pace as the sector itself.
6. You like to put forward certain artists by working with them. Do you have any dream collaborations?
Annabel Faustin, who has already represented one of our jewels on her paintings.
7. Who are your favourite artists?
8. Are you personally attached to any one jewel? If so, which one and why?
I love the birth ring I bought for my daughter at WHITEbIRD! It is a Charlotte Chesnais ring in gold with gradient stones on the sides- a detail you only see when you look at the ring face-on. I love the hidden detail. I have a very happy memory of the time I spent at WB and the sense of fulfilment I felt at the arrival of my daughter Louisiane, my second and last child. I tried on various amazing creations; I remember hesitating a lot over a Cathy Waterman ring.
9. What would you say to a young designer who’s starting out?
Keeping your dreams at the forefront of your mind, taking the plunge, being afraid and making mistakes… all of this is part of the adventure… Do not let anyone turn off the light if you deeply feel that this path is made for you. And above all listen to your inner voice. Listen to good advice and surround yourself with the right people, because you can’t master all the professions involved in creating a jewellery brand.
10. How do you see the evolution of the world of jewellery?
I am impatient by nature and find that things aren’t changing quickly enough and that a change of mentality in the world of jewellery is there but a little feeble. I would like the big players in the jewellery world to take a more active interest in environmental and human issues. Still, there is progress: for example, more and more ateliers are relocating to France, to the extent that it has actually become difficult for a small brand to find a manufacturer in France.
11. Chinese mini-portrait:
If I were…
A stone: a pebble smoothed by waves
A flower: a peony
A dish: spaghetti alle vongole
A work of art: I would be Milky Way by Peter Doig
A book: I would be Chéri by Colette
A country: I would be Italy
An animal: I would be a killer whale