Robert Goossens, the iconoclastic, even anarchistic, jewelry-maker best known for creating rock crystal sautoirs and Byzantine cuffs, as well as objects and furniture for Gabrielle Chanel, has passed away in Paris. He was 88.
Born into a family of foundry men, Goossens started his career as a 15-year-old apprentice, crafting small objects for Parisian jewelry houses, such as snuffboxes for Mellerio and pieces for Cartier lighters. But his true love was jewelry, particularly primitive, medieval, and Renaissance styles, which he considered an antidote to traditional jewelry. At age 25, he began creating what became known as “couture jewelry” for houses including Schiaparelli, Chanel, Rochas, and Balenciaga. In fact, Cristóbal Balenciaga was the first to commission from Goossens a Byzantine-style cross necklace in rock crystal for an haute couture presentation.
But if Goossens became known as “Monsieur Bijou,” it was mostly thanks to his collaboration with Gabrielle Chanel, whose demands were so great Goossens finally rigged up an atelier in his truck. In a 1998 interview, he recounted the first time he made a piece for the grande dame of the Rue Cambon: In the early ’50s, he took her a finished brooch in gold with three pearls and a diamond she had given him. Chanel looked at it, put it on, and went on talking about something else. Finally, the young artisan asked what she thought. Chanel replied: “If I didn’t think it was good, I wouldn’t have worn it.” Goossens never asked her opinion again.
Goossens continued to elevate “the true nature of faux” in the years following Chanel’s death, first with Madame Grès, then Marc Bohan at Christian Dior. In the mid-’70s, he embarked on what would become his second defining collaboration, this time with Yves Saint Laurent, for whom, at the suggestion of Loulou de la Falaise, he created collections of African inspiration. Eventually, Goossens created everything from hand mirrors for the YSL beauty institute to limited-edition perfume bottles. Their association lasted until Saint Laurent closed his couture house in 2002; Goossens signed the jewelry for the couturier’s final fashion show. In 2005, Goossens was acquired by Chanel’s Métiers d’Art division.
Robert Goossens is survived by his son, Patrick, and his daughter, Martine, who oversee the artistic direction of Goossens jewelry and objects, respectively.
A Goossens bejeweled Coco Chanel, 1964. (Photographed by Cartier-Bresson / Courtesy of Chanel)