February 21, 2014 7:05 pm

Fashion conversation: Solange Azagury-Partridge talks to Tom Dixon

Tom Dixon and Solange Azagury-Partridge
Tom Dixon and Solange Azagury-Partridge©AJ Levy

Tom Dixon and Solange Azagury-Partridge at Azagury-Partridge’s Mayfair store

Solange Azagury-Partridge is founder and owner of her eponymous jewellery label, which has stores in London and New York. The former creative director of French jewellery house Boucheron, she has a celebrity following that includes Thandie Newton, Emma Watson and Sienna Miller. Born in London to parents of Moroccan descent, she lives in west London with her husband, the screenwriter Murray Partridge, and their two children.

Tom Dixon OBE is the former creative director of Habitat. London-based, he was born in Tunisia to a French mother and English father and is now creative director of his own brand, Tom Dixon, specialising in lighting, furniture and accessories, as well as Design Research Studio, an interior and architectural design studio.

. . .

How we met

Dixon The first time we met is lost in the mists of time. It’s all a blur.

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Azagury-Partridge It has been nearly 30 years. You DJ’d at my wedding. I think you were going out with Marie-Hélène [de Taillac, the French jewellery designer], who I was working with at the time. There was that French connection. Also we discovered that we both have north-African roots.

Dixon And were both brought up bilingual. I think we have a dual sense of humour, too.

Azagury-Partridge We speak franglais to each other.

Dixon It wasn’t just social. When I was at Habitat I commissioned some objects from you. You came up with a fabulous safe, which was the perfect crossover between our two worlds.

. . .

Creative differences

Dixon People always ask me what advice I would give a young designer and I always say that the most difficult thing to do now is to have a unique design personality. You have that.

Azagury-Partridge What I love about your work is that you have a really strong point of view but you have always wanted that to be for everybody. You are always experimenting with materials that are innovative and trying to do them in a mass way. Sometimes I know exactly how you have come to an idea because I feel that our creativity crosses over.

Dixon Yeah. We share some references, like psychedelia, mathematics . . . 

Azagury-Partridge . . . the 1970s, geometry. That’s what makes me feel so close to your work. For me it is like jewellery for the home.

Dixon The other thing we share is that our work is about creating a whole universe. We are both happy to turn our hand to a variety of things, from perfume to film to music. That is a very British trait – being the enthusiastic amateur.

Azagury-Partridge I am a typical Brit in the way that I’m not 100 per cent English. I am English but my parents are immigrants and I think that is a very British thing – to bring something “other” to the mix.

. . .

Technology and craft

Solange Azagury-Partridge ring

A Solange Azagury-Partridge ring

Dixon If there is anything that ties it all together for me it’s that I’m really interested in factories and techniques. I love nothing more than going to a factory in India or Poland or Newcastle and seeing how people are making things and thinking, “What if we did something in a different way?” It is always about making stuff. My real pleasure has always been the physical connection with the materials or the new tool that I’ve just bought.

Azagury-Partridge I do think there needs to be a visceral reaction to things. If you don’t get that, it’s just meaningless. That’s what I think is the missing link with a lot of computer-generated design.

Dixon I’m absolutely not anti-technology – I find it fascinating; it is another tool in the toolkit. I think what has changed is that there are so many more people engaged in design now. If something is interesting, then it is broadcast round the world in such a way that it becomes public property almost immediately. So it is harder and harder for young designers to find the space to develop unique stuff.

Azagury-Partridge I started with just a typewriter, and then we were so excited when we got a fax machine. And then we got a computer and were even more excited. It all feels like pre-history! Now I see students in their first year at college working in a way that probably took me five years to get to.

Dixon We should be careful of sounding like old gits.

Azagury-Partridge I am an old git! But when it comes to a certain style you just have to say, this is the way I do it, this is my vision. I design in quite a traditional way. I like to draw my designs, draw them from several angles, and then we’ll make a maquette [model] . . . because even if you see it in 3D on the computer, something is missing, it can be very empty. Jewellery is very tactile. I suppose you don’t know how you are going to feel about a piece of jewellery until you hold it in your hand. I’ve got my two shops – soon to be three, when Paris opens – and they give me a connection with the people who buy my things. When I had investors I got to the point that I was opening lots of shops and producing lots of stuff, and that was one of the things I swore to myself I wouldn’t do – I wouldn’t become a production-line jewellery designer. Doing what I do, you just can’t pump it out.

Dixon I’m the opposite of you – it interests me to mass distribute what I design. We are wholesaling to 60 countries all over the world and it has got to a scale where it suddenly all makes sense.

Azagury-Partridge It is massive, what you do.

Dixon I’ve always been jealous of you as a jeweller. You can do a trunk show and just turn up with a suitcase and have enough in that suitcase to really make a living. I’m amazed by the tininess of it all. I don’t know how you do it.

Azagury-Partridge Well, I don’t do it personally but you should see the fingers of these guys that do; they are twice the size of mine. To be a craftsperson at that level you have to have a certain kind of Zen. It’s like meditation. That’s not my forte.

Dixon You are impatient like me.

Azagury-Partridge Yes. But that’s what fuels me, keeps me going.

. . .

Ambitions

Dixon Where do you begin? I’ve just started doing architecture for a client of ours. I’ve never designed a washing machine, I’ve never done audio, transport . . . fashion or civil engineering. Maybe I could do some jewellery just to wind you up?

Azagury-Partridge What I’d like to do is to turn technology into jewellery. Your telephone should be a pair of earrings – beautiful earrings that nobody knows are something practical too.

Dixon You are not just going to hang a couple of Nokias off your ears are you? We are doing a lot of interiors now and what is great is that you get to surround the objects you create with a sensibility. That’s what is so brilliant about this space [Azagury-Partridge’s Mayfair store]. What you have managed to do is to make the jewellery box so much bigger, you get absorbed into this magic kingdom that you’ve created.

For more fashion conversations, go to ft.com/styleconversations

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