Throughout her almost 50-year tenure at Cartier, Director of Fine Jewelry Jeanne Toussaint (1887–1978) played an important role in molding the famous maison into the luxurious establishment it is today. A fashion icon and an intrepid woman of taste and vision, her creations (some of which are on display in Brilliant: Cartier in the 20th Century at the Denver Art Museum) greatly influenced twentieth-century jewelry design. Though she didn't draw herself, under her leadership, Cartier moved from Art Deco’s abstract geometrical forms to a whimsical figural style, featuring exotic plants and animals. Striking birds, colorful flowers, and unusual insects are among the forms that characterized her designs.
Jeanne Toussaint’s jewelry design responded to (and indeed shaped) the style of the 1930s. Socialites Barbara Hutton and Nina Dyer, the Princess Aga Khan, and the Duchess of Windsor were among those who popularized Toussaint’s designs. The Duchess, in particular, had a very close working relationship with Toussaint. Under Toussaint’s direction, and working closely with the Duke and Duchess, Cartier designed and created an extensive collection for the American divorcée.
Toussaint’s signature motif was her panther jewelry, which the Duchess of Windsor often sported. The elegant cat first appeared in Cartier jewelry before World War I, though Toussaint further developed it into the icon that people still associate with Cartier. Today, Cartier even has its own “La Panthère” fragrance. Toussaint’s companion, Louis Cartier, is credited with giving her the nickname “La Panthère,” because of her obvious affection for panthers and for her independent spirit.
In 1955, Toussaint was awarded the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor by the French government in recognition of her leadership in modern design–a much-deserved acknowledgement of her long-lasting influence on women’s fashion.
Image credit: Jeanne Toussaint posing for a style shoot in the 1920s. Toussaint was not only a talented designer, but also a style icon. She was known for her unusual and modern style, often featuring pearls, turbans, and oriental silks. Private Collection © Cartier.