By Rachel Garrahan in Los Angeles
Monique Péan's beautiful and refined jewellery is immediately recognisable for its strong, architectural shapes and use of unusual, environmentally conscious materials. Fossilized woolly mammoth and walrus ivory are mixed with diamonds and recycled gold for the last word in sustainable luxury.
She started her eponymous company more than seven years ago following the unexpected death of her 16-year-old sister Vanessa. At the time she was working as an analyst for Goldman Sachs in New York City. Her grief prompted her to reassess her priorities. "I had to take a moment and decide how I was going to lead the rest of my life," she says. So Péan decided to combine her love of art, philanthropy and business by creating a high jewellery brand that was both socially and environmentally responsible.
Using only recycled gold and sustainably mined gems, the company gives a portion of its profits to charitable organisations that support the artisan communities it works with.
Her search for rare stones allows Péan to indulge a fourth love, that of travel. Each year, she visits a new country seeking out new artisans and new materials to work with - from opals in Peru to sustainably farmed pearls in French Polynesia.
This spring she went to Svalbard in Norway, and her 2014 collection, named Rehnet after the Norse word for purity, is inspired by the country's terrain - both natural and manmade. "I was fascinated by the strong contrast between modern architecture and the natural landscape," she says, pointing to Norway's fjords, glaciers and frozen waterfalls, and to structures such as the breathtaking Aurland Lookout designed by Todd Sanders and Tommie Wilhelmsen.
Well known for her detailed research into finding sustainable gems, Péan's primary reason for visiting Svalbard was to meet with local artisans who use just a hammer and pick to mine spectrolite, a rare variety of labradorite. Although spectrolite is available in a full range of colours, she chose to use gems in stunning grey and blue tones to evoke the cool colour palette of Norway's frozen landscape.
This was the designer's first visit to the Arctic Circle since her very first trip for the company, seven years ago. It was in Alaska that she discovered the fossilized woolly mammoth that has become a brand signature, and it is exciting to think about what she might find on her next intrepid expedition.