Estelle Lagarde's journey began as a Van Cleef & Arpels intern, where she discovered her love for gouache art. Her unexpected path led her to become a gouache artist at the company. After demonstrating incredible resilience to overcome challenges, she founded her own brand, LAGARDE, driven by her personal growth and values. Estelle's goal is to revive human craftsmanship in jewelry and educate customers about the production process. She emphasizes the importance of curiosity in fostering creativity and holds the motto "Les rêves appartiennent à la réalité" (Dreams belong to reality) as a testament to her belief in realizing dreams through dedication.
Vendôm Talents - You started your career as an intern at Van Cleef & Arpels. How did that influence your vision of your professional journey? Did your internship significantly alter your 'planned' career as you had imagined it?
Estelle Lagarde - Exactly. It's very simple. The day I arrived at the design studio, I immediately understood that this was what I wanted to do with my life. Gouache painting!
I remember, during my internship, I heard that they were looking for a gouache artist but couldn't find anyone because most people wanted to do design as well.
And they said to me, "Doesn't that interest you, Estelle, by any chance?"
And let me tell you... It was like fireworks going off in my head! Of course, it interested me; it was my dream! At that time, I wasn't interested in design at all, so it was perfect.
They said, "Okay, when do you finish?" I said, "This summer." Then they said, "Well, when you finish your studies, write to us, we'll take you!"
I left work in the evening to take the subway. I doubted myself so much that I didn't even know if I had really heard what they had said.
And the end of my studies arrived. They kept their word! That's when everything started for me professionally.
I loved that experience. It was short, but I learned so much from them!
They passed on so much to me, especially Catherine! My trainer at the time. She was talented and generously shared all her knowledge with me! It was precious.
V.T. - What prompted you to move away from working in a prestigious luxury Maison and start your own business?
E.L. - Unfortunately, I experienced a burnout followed by a severe depression a little over 4 years ago now. That's what destroyed me and made me come alive again at the same time.
It's very paradoxical, but I believe that's truly what happened.
It wasn't my mind that decided to leave. It was my body.
It abandoned my mind. I think it put me in "survival mode."
Sadly, I was diagnosed with burnout six months after my arrival in Switzerland. And for me, it was impossible to accept.
So, I pretended it was just a passing flu... When they told me about it, I didn't take it seriously. I was shocked, but I thought they were mistaking...
I went into denial and took a two-week sick leave. Of course, I returned to work and dug myself into a deeper and deeper hole. I dragged it along for 4 years...
Believe me, four years of hell is a long time.
Until one day, when I came home feeling completely exhausted. I couldn't go on anymore. Physically and mentally, I felt drained. I felt like I couldn't survive another day.
And on that day, I realized that I had gone too far and needed help. I needed to get out of all of it!
In addition to that, I was also experiencing harassment.
I couldn't take it anymore... I was dying, burning out from every angle, and I no longer understood why I was subjecting myself to so much pain.
Then, the day my body stopped; it actually saved my life! It was killing off the version of Estelle that shouldn't have existed within me anymore, making way for the better one!4
V.T. - And what a beautiful renaissance, Estelle! How would you define LAGARDE? What sets you apart in this niche market?
E.L. - That's an excellent question! We are at the beginning of LAGARDE's story. So, I don't feel like I can fully give it an identity yet because this brand is constantly evolving within me. The fortunate thing is that I have found myself personally, and I believe that was essential before being able to create this project! I want to be aligned with what I stand for. Today, I feel like I wear two diametrically opposed hats simultaneously—the artist and the entrepreneur. But I want to prove that both can harmoniously come together to create something amazing!
I definitely don't want my entrepreneurial ambition to overshadow my values. My identity is not fixed, but I know where I want to go. I know the end goal that would make me incredibly proud! That's what drives me—to be able to create something I can truly be proud of.
I have my personal values, my journey, and my experiences that greatly influence how I want to move forward with this brand. I can't forget where I come from, what I've lived through, and what I've seen in this industry.
Above all, I am passionate, and I hope to never forget that! So, my dearest wish is to bring back the human touch to jewelry, the human values. That, for me, is the true luxury of tomorrow. In what becomes rare, and we become that rarity.
In the age of digital, technology, and artificial intelligence, it seems to me that there is a real urgency to highlight what we can do with our hands as human beings. It holds tremendous value. No machine can deliver the same emotion and warmth that a human being can create with their own hands.
It is crucial to raise awareness among customers about how the pieces are produced. They should understand the entire process, the stages of creation. There is a great lack of knowledge in this regard, and it's a shame because the journey is so rich!
We must unveil the behind-the-scenes of our industry. I know hundreds of people who wake up early every morning to create and shape the most beautiful pieces for major brands — whether they are jewelry or watchmaking brands, by the way.
V.T. - According to you, how important is education in the field of design? Is it as essential as internships and professional experience?
E.L. - I completely neglected that aspect after my studies. I struggled with creating, and I think it was because I wasn't interested in things. I wasn't very open-minded, curious, a bit stubborn, closed off, and I was afraid of differences. I wasn't eager to learn more either.
Truly, I was very, very different from who I am today. I don't know how I had this breakthrough. I believe it came naturally. That burnout and depression, they woke me up!
Taking an interest in things, in people, allows you to open up your creativity. I understood that not long ago. And the more you understand it, the more you realize how infinite the field of creation is!
So, to answer your question, I don't think education is essential in the field of design, but I do believe it offers a tremendous creative perspective! Creativity knows no bounds; the only limit we impose on it is our own knowledge. Now, I swear, I take an interest in and question everything! I'm less and less afraid of uniqueness, and I think that will allow me to embrace who I am even more. It will be reflected in my creations. It's also a true personal journey and very liberating.
V.T. - What would you like to say to the young talents of tomorrow who are interested (even those who are not interested) in the design profession?
E.L. - I would say it's a fantastic playground for self-expression! You can be who you are in your creations. It's a personal birthing process. At least, that's how it is for me.
I have never felt so comfortable and true to myself since I gained the freedom to create, express myself, and do what I want! I'm soaring like a bird right now. It has an incredible flavor to it!
V.T. - As an entrepreneur, what is your driving force on a daily basis? Do you have an inspiring motto, a phrase, or even a person who inspires you?
E.L. - My driving force comes from the past, from my teenage dreams that I want to fulfill. I never forget where I come from. That, too, is my strength.
But this energy also comes from the present and my ambition that I want to carry on my shoulders! Deep down inside, I'm so afraid that everything will come to a halt and that I'll relive what I've experienced before. That fear gives me incredible strength to move forward. And then there are the people I love, who support me and uplift me... I need them.
Above all, I believe it's the passion and heart that come into play. If I didn't love what I do, believe me, I would have given up a long time ago. It requires a tremendous amount of work and personal investment.
I feel like a child with this project. I move forward naively without really knowing what to expect. It's incredibly unsettling, but I believe it's also a strength because if someone had presented to me all the difficulties I would face since the beginning of this adventure on paper, I don't know if I would have taken the leap! I think I would have had a major anxiety crisis!
Now, I am constantly surprised. It demands managing constant instability and emotional turmoil, which is very challenging to live with, but I am getting better at handling it!
In fact, stability now makes me anxious. I live and progress day by day. I let myself be carried along, and to manage the unexpected in daily life, I get a positive boost!
My motto has become the slogan of my brand: "Dreams belong to reality." I believe that all dreams are achievable. The only thing that gives us the illusion otherwise is the distance we have to travel for them to become reality.