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Gagosian Quarterly

October 20, 2020

fashion and art:Sabina Belli

The CEO of Milanese jewelry company Pomellato speaks with the Quarterly about the role of art in the company’s design process, the importance of establishing a core DNA, and the Pomellato for Women campaign, a social initiative she founded in 2017.

Sabina Belli, CEO of Pomellato Group

Sabina Belli, CEO of Pomellato Group

gagosian quarterlyAre there particular artists, museums, or art movements that have been a source of inspiration either for you in your life or for the design team at Pomellato?

Sabina BelliThat’s a wonderful question, because it’s really at the heart of our daily conversations. Vincenzo Castaldo, our creative director, and I always discuss how a jewel is like the tiniest canvas. If you think of a ring or a bracelet or even a necklace, in terms of surface, it’s probably one of the smallest sites of expression that is available to an artisan or an artist to imagine something and then create it in three dimensions.

The second thing is that being in Italy, we are fueled by Beauty with a capital B. We are surrounded by art: the architecture, the monuments, the plans of the city. With architecture, for example, you can look at the shape of a town square, the pavements of these beautiful palazzos, the cupola of a church, and then you can reproduce these grand geometrical shapes within a very small piece of jewelry.

And then, of course, there are certain artists, particularly abstract artists, who have been influential. Pomellato has always been drawn to an organic shape, very sensual, very round, very tactile. I cannot avoid talking about Constantin Brancusi; he’s the prime example of an artist whose work encompasses both geometric, constructed shapes and very sensual ones.

Last but not least, this jewelry belongs to the long tradition of adorning the body; it goes back millennia to when human beings first chose to decorate the body, whether for hunting or to mimic nature using feathers or shells or stones. Even in the earliest cultures, you see this tendency to transform an object into something that would add preciousness to the body. In jewelry created by modern artists like Alexander Calder or Man Ray or Niki de Saint-Phalle, there are often traces of folkloristic and prehistoric arts.

Every single piece by Pomellato is handmade. The most fascinating thing is to see one of our goldsmiths take a sketch on a piece of paper and realize it in three dimensions, transforming a concept into a piece of art.

GQCould you share more about the process— from gathering inspiration to sketching to working on prototypes—behind each collection?

SBIn order to create a collection, you have to have a very strong starting point. This could be a sign or a very simple code upon which the creator starts developing a whole set of products.

The designer selects a certain shape as the main visual element of the collection, and then they take it and create the first piece. When you then see the whole collection—the rings next to the necklace next to the earrings, etcetera—there is an incredible harmony and consistency. It becomes like the artist’s signature. If you look at Picasso, for instance, and the many different periods in his career, each one is recognizably Picasso but still very different. We are inspired by this approach; it’s like different expressions of the same DNA. This is not easy.

Fashion and Art: Sabina Belli

Preparatory drawings for Sabbia necklace with Tahiti pearls, La Gioia di Pomellato

GQNo, certainly not. These expressions aren’t literal either. They have an abstract, suggestive, poetic quality.

It’d be lovely to speak a bit about the Pomellato for Women campaign, which you started in 2017.

SBYes.

GQMoving outside the normal commerce of an industry to an engagement with the broader world—it’s a way to use the platform and the core DNA of a brand or institution to make a concrete, material difference. Could you speak about where the idea came from and how it has developed?

SBIt’s really the convergence of a few different observations that I made with my team. We realized that the brand was born in 1967, more than fifty years ago, here in Milan. Historically, 1967 was an important year in terms of sociology and politics. That was the very beginning of a major cultural and social change in Europe. You probably heard about May ’68 in France, so it was the year leading up to it. You had the Beatles, the first rock bands. The youth were looking for freedom, for something different; they wanted to express themselves more freely, colorfully.

In that same time, ready-to-wear was launched as an alternative to high fashion or haute couture. Many more women could go into any store and get an outfit off the rack without having to go to a seamstress or to an atelier. And so all of a sudden, fashion became more affordable. It was also a time of social progress: many more women started working and earning money for themselves.

All these different stimuli resonated in the mind of our founder, Pino Rabolini, who realized that, all of a sudden, there were profound cultural changes, even in jewelry. That image of the jewels that one might inherit from one’s grandmother, that were sitting in a vault in the bank, that women would wear with that little black dress to go out to the opera house or to a fancy dinner—that was becoming less and less relevant. Women were looking for more joyful and simple and easy daily jewelry. The founder launched these very modern pieces, and he started showing them to his Milanese friends from the avant-garde and they loved them. They started wearing the designs during the day with outfits that were much more free than the conventional formalwear associated with jewelry. It became the brand of those autonomous, liberated, independent, intelligent women who would buy jewelry for themselves.

When I was appointed CEO of the company in 2016, somebody came to me and said, “You know, only 5% of CEOs in the world are women.” And I was like, “What!?” So I started putting together these two ideas. One, this is a brand that was created in a very revolutionary moment, in 1967, when a large swath of women won new freedoms, and two, in 2017, when I looked around at CEOs, women were still not able to access professional positions, not because of their value but because of—

GQGatekeepers and obstacles and discrimination.

Fashion and Art: Sabina Belli

Archival image from Pomellato’s Since 1967 publication

SBExactly. I felt like we needed to scream out loud that we are the brand that wants to empower women and to listen to women in this quest for equal opportunities and for inclusiveness. We created this #PomellatoForWomen hashtag and started talking about this. We were grateful to have advocates for this initiative, like Jane Fonda and Anjelica Huston, who came on board early on. We started creating this community. And then for my part, I’m very active in the fight against domestic violence against women. So we started giving financial as well as psychological support to all sorts of associations working on this urgent problem of domestic violence.

When you look at the luxury brands and the immense visibility we have on social media, on digital platforms, with just one post we can reach millions of people, so it was a channel of communication that we decided to use beyond our commercial objective. It’s rewarding to see that when you do things in a very legitimate way with authenticity, and if you really express your concern with actions, people just follow you with so much engagement because they believe it’s a good thing to be part of.

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