Studio Visit
Regina Dabdab, Jewelry Designer

PHOTOS BY POUL OBER

“Paris is so beautiful, but it’s also way too cold,” says jewelry maker Regina Dabdab of the city she’s called home for the past six years, referring to its disposition rather than its weather. Despite generations of fashion designers adopting Parisian women as muses — Yves Saint-Laurent had Loulou de La Faliase; Balenciaga loves a classic Françoise Hardy silhouette — for Dabdab, their no-nonsense élan is far too restrained, and too much in contrast with the raw and untamed ethos of her native Brazil. It’s the latter qualities, combined with a strong sense of geometry, Dabdab tries to imbue her work with. “I don’t design for the reserved Parisian woman,” she says. “I think of home.”

Born and raised in bustling São Paulo, Dabdab spent her childhood escaping the city’s heat by combing the local beaches for treasures, or visiting her grandfather at his stone shop, which sold pyrite, amethyst, emeralds, and other rare amulets. Not only does she continue to find solace in her hometown’s melting-pot culture, returning there for inspiration three times a year, she still culls its natural materials for use in the production of her eponymous jewelry line. Her chunky bracelets and necklaces are sculpted from an eclectic mix of Brazilian driftwood, coral, shells, animal bones, semi-precious stones, and horns; some of them are so laden with uncut stones and natural curiosities that they weigh in at almost two pounds. Dabdab’s manipulation of those elements into visually harmonic compositions — what she calls “the marriage of materials” — is partly informed by the principals of Constructivism: Kinetic, non-representational shapes and geometric abstractions with a focus on spatial presence.

Sight Unseen visited Dabdab at her studio in Paris, a spacious apartment that also serves as her showroom and home. She works around the clock, aiming to make two pieces a day and designating one day each week to the arduous process of drilling holes into her sprawling collection of stones. This, she says, is the most daunting aspect of production: “I’m always having trouble with stones breaking or exploding. Surprisingly, it’s a fragile material.” She hopes to someday get into even messier creative pursuits, like sculpture or silversmithing, and has plans to eventually return to Brazil and buy a place on the beach. But for now, she’s content to focus on her line. “I need to grow up, but I don’t really want to,” Dabdab says. “I want to make jewelry forever, and I think that will keep me young.”

MG_8599

Regina Dabdab’s handmade jewelry sells at both small boutiques and large retailers, like Anthropologie and Bon Marché; Bat for Lashes’ Natasha Khan once wore Dabdab’s favorite piece — an oversize stone and turtle-bone necklace — in an issue of Grazia magazine.

MG_8514

Upon graduating from school in São Paulo, Dabdab “gave up everything” and haeded to Milan to pursue a career in accessory merchandising. It wasn’t until she moved to Paris in 2005 to study fashion at the prestigious Studio Berçot that she got the idea to start a jewelry line.

MG_8618

She now makes all of the pieces for her line in a studio inside her Paris home, which lies on a quiet side street in the 11th.

MG_8489

Its standout feature, of course, is that most of its surfaces are practically dripping with stones and other natural found materials — Dabdab is an avid collector.

MG_8593

Stones have captivated Dabdab since a young age — her grandfather owned a gem shop — and they continue to be a driving force behind most of her creations. In the studio, she sorts her collection by color and size.

MG_8596

Because the elements she works with aren't indigenous to France, she finds herself in constant flux, traveling the world for inspiration (Italy, Corsica, and her native Brazil being her favorite destinations). Pictured: A pile of black tourmaline, a semi-precious gem sourced from the Bahia region of Brazil.

MG_8522

Pieces of driftwood she collected on the beaches of Corsica.

MG_8525

A birthday card from Dabdab's friends back home in Brazil.

MG_8538

Part of the "home" portion of her home studio. “If I feel inspired, I’ll just wake up and work,” she says of her daily routine.

MG_8535

The one natural element in Dabdab's studio that's not so exotic is her collection of houseplants, only one of which is Brazilian. The rest are local finds.

MG_8606

The greenery continues on her mini rooftop garden.

MG_8509

Dabdab's dining table, which looks out onto said roof garden, also acts as an occasional workspace.

MG_8496

The rest of her work is done here, at her desk, when it's not crowded with raw materials. Dabdab's process isn't foolproof: For every ten pieces she puts together, she says she generally only keeps five. The rest get disassembled again to make way for new ideas.

MG_8601

“I don’t fall in love with every piece,” she explains. “I tend to play around and keep it cool.”

MG_8504

There's also the fragility of the stones themselves — the hardest part of her job, she insists, is making sure she doesn't break too many during her production process.

MG_8564

A portrait of Dabdab, wearing one of her own necklaces. She admits to rarely leaving the house without donning one of her creations. It's easy to see why.