Studio Tour: Helene Pé Hopes her Eccentric-Chic Gems Make You Laugh Out Loud

Artist and jeweler Hélène Pé proves that "cute" doesn't always mean simple. Her quirky hand-painted baubles feature clever cartoons that, as she'll tell you, have an awful lot on their minds.

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Catherine Blair Pfander/The Thread
Parisian artist Hélène Perenet—more commonly known Hélène Pé (pronounced "Pay")—relocated to New York City last year as her husband pursued a post doctorate degree at nearby Rockefeller University. "It was a perfect opportunity for me to improve my English!" exclaims Pé, who had initially set her sights on set design before giving it up to devote herself to her painting and jewelry design.
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Catherine Blair Pfander/The Thread
A view of Pé's workspace, cluttered with paint sets, succulents, and vintage charms collected at Parisian flea markets. Pé tries to replenish her stock whenever she returns to France.
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Catherine Blair Pfander/The Thread
From her irresistibly cute paintings to hand-illustrated jewelry pieces, all of Pé's work possesses a strong narrative element. "I tell myself the story of the character as I work," Pé explains. "Often, I find it's the story that changes peoples' minds about the jewelry and gets their attention." Here, a ballooner—"not such a nice guy, really"—with a baby blue bow-tie.
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Catherine Blair Pfander/The Thread
Pé's jewelry-making process begins with a found frame or charm and ends with a customized illustration inserted inside. Often the decorative beading or embellishments of the necklace determine the color-scheme of the painting. "If I used some purple beading then perhaps the Fancy Cat needs a purple bow-tie," explains Pé.
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Helene Pe
The particular "Fancy Cat" she refers to has become something of a calling card for Pé, who always represents her stylish feline clad in some kind of statement neck piece.
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Catherine Blair Pfander/The Thread
Of course, Fancy Cat has real-life origins. "This is Moustache—my muse," Pé announces proudly. Though somewhat shy, Moustache clearly understands the importance of his role in Pé's work, and will often plant himself smack in the middle of the designer's work table.
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Helene Pe
Pé's quirky-cute world is populated by an ensemble cast of repeating characters. A small fire-breathing dragon—"baby dragon," Pé corrects us—appears in a number of her charm bracelets, rings and necklaces.
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Catherine Blair Pfander/The Thread
Pé, whose peddles her wares at Williamsburg's Artists & Fleas market on the weekends, claims nothing pleases her like when people pass her table and laugh. "That's exactly what I want," she says definitively. "My work is a blend of the aesthetic but also the funny. I love for people to laugh."
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Catherine Blair Pfander/The Thread
"As a child I was always collecting things," says Pé, whose studio is filled with unusual objects of inspiration like this mustachioed sculpture.
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Catherine Blair Pfander/The Thread
"This is my very favorite box," says Pé. Her extensive collection of vintage charms and hardware ensure that no two pieces of jewelry are ever exactly alike.
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Catherine Blair Pfander/The Thread
"I got these over five years ago and it's lasted all this time," Pé says of the yellowed stacks of sheet music that serve as canvases for her hand-painted baubles.
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Catherine Blair Pfander/The Thread
Among her most important influences, Pé cites Disney pictures, the films of animator Hayao Miyazaki, and artist Camille Rose Garcia, whose slightly menacing cartoons explore a tension between cute and evil design elements.
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Catherine Blair Pfander/The Thread
A view of Pé's character sketches before they're reincarnated into her jewelry designs. To see the complete collection, visit www.helenepe.com.
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