Ian Phillips | September 12, 2013
Formerly Dior Joaillerie's artistic director and a designer for Cartier and Kenzo, Frédéric Aymes aimed for something a little different when he set up his own company, called simply Aymes. "Jewelry that would be truly inventive" is how he describes it, and his very first boutique in Paris would be equally imaginative—he initially thought about keeping a live scorpion and tarantula there to guard his precious creations. "Just like in Indiana Jones, he offers. "When you hunt for treasure, there are things that are difficult to reach." French law forbade him from having either venomous creature, as it turned out. He makes do with a snake, a 2-year-old ivory-colored ball python named Oscar who whiles away his days in a glass-fronted case. When I visited, Oscar had been busy shedding his skin and hadn't eaten for several months. He could eventually grow to be 4 feet long.
Before Oscar arrived at the Aymes boutique, designed by Jean-Marc Gady, the space was an empty 970-square-foot box tucked away in a tranquil square near the Palais Royal. In an ideal world, Gady would have preferred to dispense with the mezzanine toward the rear. "It breaks up the volume too much," he says. Aymes, however, insisted the mezzanine stay for a separate couture workshop.
Thus, Gady set about diverting attention. The primary distraction is a series of futuristic rings that emerge from the floor to draw visitors through. At diameters that progress from 15 to 9 feet, the rings are decorated with rococo plaster garlands and outlined with double strands of LEDs.
Conceptually, the arches derive from multiple sources: the arcades of French châteaus; the arbors of Paris's most famous rose garden, the Jardins de Bagatelle; and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. "It makes you think of Alice when she falls into another world," he says. Visually, he concedes a closer resemblance to 2001: A Space Odyssey: "It's a vortex that pulls you somewhere."
For Gady, such a dramatic gesture was necessary for a number of reasons. First, the lack of foot traffic in the square required a bold statement to draw the eye. "People immediately realize that something exceptional is going on inside," he says. The rings are also a response to the small number of pieces on display.
Aymes has patented a system of springs to hold together four separate jeweled elements. Assembled, they constitute an imposing necklace. Disassembled, they become a pendant, a ring, and a pair of earrings. His debut collection, consisting solely of five necklace suites based on roses, would no doubt have looked a little forlorn in less otherworldly surroundings.
A unique display presents each piece. One drapes over a white Styrofoam form that resembles a woman's back. Another is in a wall-mounted vitrine with a one-way glass front that obstructs easy viewing, enticing shoppers closer to look. A third is housed in a tall freestanding glass case, among bramble branches that Aymes picked up in Normandy and lacquered white.
Normandy is also where he found a 19th-century wrought-iron spiral staircase. It wasn't long enough, however, to connect the ground level to the mezzanine and the basement, intended to become an office. So Gady extended it with replicas at both ends and painted the whole thing white.
Accented with a dash of fuchsia, white is very much the predominant color. The floor, for example, is a glossy white resin. "It blurs people's vision by creating reflections and makes the rings look like they're emerging from a bath of milk," he says.
The whiteness could serve another purpose as far as Oscar is concerned. If he ever escapes, the environment would be a perfect camouflage.