From Town & Country
Olivia Cheng is delusional. That’s how the founder of the label Dauphinette describes her design mission, though she laughs that it’s maybe “not the word you want to put in print.” (Oops.)
The New York designer means that her work is about the transmutation of the ordinary into the exquisite. It’s a high-wire act, but when she gets it right, the results are one-of-a-kind curios that test the limits of artisanal craftsmanship. Such is the case with a series of earrings, revealed soon after Daupinette launched in 2018, featuring flowers, fruits (a spring-summer 2020 addition), and other natural fragments preserved in resin that are Instagram’s latest obsession. Her botanic bijoux also happen to look delicious.
“You feel it burning inside your soul and mind and gut,” she says.
Status produce has appeared in jewelry for millennia—the Ancient Egyptians strung fruit-shaped beads into necklaces, and the Greeks are credited for inventing the flower crown—but in the modern era, the 19th century Arts and Crafts Movement ushered in a fruity revival. Interest in horticultural motifs is still going strong to this day. In 2015, a palm-size pomegranate, encrusted with gems instead of seeds, designed by Verdura for the late Bunny Mellon sold for $221,000.
Cheng attributes the more recent success of her two-year-old, and more affordable, brand not just to the appetizing charm of her creations, but to the values behind them. She partners with artisans and eco-conscious producers to make her fanciful wares, and often they bring her ideas she hadn’t thought technically possible. A Thai orchid sanctuary introduced her to the delicate preservation of butterfly wings, a practice that is now one of the elements of her fall collection, which Cheng promises will use fruits and petals in ways she “never would have never dreamed.”
The self-taught 22-year-old is among a handful of young fashion designers like Collina Strada and Emily Bode who put a premium on sustainability and the repurposing of found materials. Cheng launched Dauphinette when she was a sophomore at New York University in 2018 as a custom outerwear label that repurposed vintage coats, but has since expanded to create other kinds of upcycled pieces, like feather-drenched handbags and dreamy organza tops (decorated with real pressed flowers, naturally).
Even as she’s sourcing raw materials from around the globe, Cheng also finds inspiration closer to home. Earlier this year while in lockdown with her parents in Brooklyn, Cheng just looked outside to her family garden. Her mother, Jing Fen, insisted on picking Korean pear blossoms at the ideal time of day (at night, before the petals close) that they then pressed and dried before Cheng coated them with resin.
The designer is not unschooled in the fine arts of social media marketing—Dauphinette has close to 80,000 followers on Instagram, counts Kaitlyn Dever and Lena Dunham as fans, and relies on its site for a vast majority of sales. But Cheng credits her mother as her most trusted influencer, both a sounding board and connoisseur of colors and textures. She even served as a last-minute model once for a presentation. “She was thrilled,” Cheng says.
Somehow, in the past year of global upheaval, Dauphinette’s floral designs have broken through the clutter of fashion offerings online. Cheng doesn’t quite know why that is, but she suspects that it’s because her customers are buying into the story these whimsical objets tell about dedication and handwork.
It can’t hurt that we could all use some wearable bliss these days. “Even in the times when I cannot give myself joy,” Cheng says, “I hope that I can give it to somebody else.”
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