By Jill Adams
Photography by Martin Tremblay, courtesy of Caroline Néron
Caroline Néron was only 17 when she started appearing in various commercials, and she quickly landed her first roles in television and film. Originally from Boucherville, Québec, she moved to Montréal to pursue a career in acting and after a performance in the hit musical Grease, signed her first record contract.
In 2004, Néron’s decision to become an independent artist, fueled by a desire to control her own creative projects, led to the launch of Bijoux Caroline Néron Inc. The company focuses on fine jewelry for women and watches for men.
After balancing three careers, Néron recently chose to focus on the expansion of her company by opening more stores across North America and internationally, as well as an online boutique.
Earlier this month, it was announced that she will serve as the honourary president of the 16th Québec Entrepreneurship Contest, which is set to take place in June 2014. So, what are some of the things she has learned as an entrepreneur herself? Néron wasn’t shy to share her story with our readers.
JILL ADAMS: As a singer and actress, what led you to designing jewelry?
CAROLINE NÉRON: I wanted to be an artist all my life. I needed to build a company that allowed me to be creative every day. I was already a big fan of fashion and was working with a lot of designers, giving my opinion on my dresses and [being] very picky about the accessories. So I [asked myself]: “why not start a jewelry company?”
I wanted to take control of my projects creatively and to push my own creations to the consumer. So that’s why I started a jewelry company. Today, it is my [main] passion and I’m actually having trouble going back to acting because I love designing jewelry so much.
It really started with doing shows as a singer, and the accessories became important in my life. The first time I did a collection, I approached a designer and asked her to help me build 30 items. So she did and I went to see my first client, which was Les Ailes de la Mode. The year after, I was making my own jewelry. I launched a company in 2004, and by 2005 I was doing everything: the designs, the sales, the shipping — everything.
How would you describe the Bijoux Caroline Néron aesthetics?
It’s always very elegant and very feminine. I don’t build jewelry [for the sake of building jewelry], so I’m always making sure that it’s going to fall nicely or that it might complement someone’s skin, hair or eyes. It needs to bring something more, even to the clothing. Jewelry is the detail that brings out your features. I feel that way about accessories too, so next year my store will become a jewelry and accessory one.
Tell us more about the launch of the accessories line.
I’m working on purses. I also launched my first perfume, called Pure Diamond [Pur Diamant], on Oct. 15. Eventually, I want to do belts and sunglasses, but bags are definitely coming out next fall.
What makes a piece of jewelry timeless?
It starts with the quality of the product: for example, I have always used Swarovski crystals, which I find are the best crystals you can get — they are comparable to diamonds. I’m using a lot of semi-precious stones and leather — I love to mix raw materials with crystals. But it’s also the way something is finished; you have to be very conscious of the details you are putting in, the way it’s going to hang and how it’s going to attach. Anything you do needs to be precise; you need to put the same kind of time and detail into each piece.
Where do you find inspiration for your collections?
I get inspired every day, because when it’s a passion it’s always with you. You bring it with you everywhere: you can go to a restaurant, you can go shopping, or you can go on vacation — [I’m always] thinking of jewelry and accessories. I’m checking out every woman and every man for inspiration, I’m looking at the way they dress and the way they look — I think about what piece of jewelry or which accessories I would add to what they’re wearing.
What goes into designing each piece? Do you follow a certain process?
Yes, I do. I now have four designers working in my office, but the designs are really a teamwork and collaboration. They do all the research on what will be ‘in’ next season — for example, what the colour palette will be. On the other hand, I’m travelling a lot and going to parties and restaurants, writing down anything I see and might want in my collections. I always draw a few necklaces and rings, or any ideas I have, and then we brainstorm and I give projects to everyone. They know what I like as well and they usually go in that direction. So it usually takes about two months to create a line.
Once we get the samples, which is about a month after [the design process], I’m the one who says: “I don’t like this chain, it’s too big, it’s too long, it’s too short, this needs to have more work.” After correcting the first sample, we get the second sample, which is usually the Grade A or the good one. So it takes around five months to get the final product. And then we have to brainstorm to name the collection, because all of my products have a name — I’m an artist, it needs to have a story. From that name I create all of the marketing.
How do you decide which stones and metals work best together?
By seeing it — I don’t have any judgement before I see it. In my diamond line, Néron Joaillerie, I mixed leather with diamonds, which is not usually what you do; usually you’re just going with gold and diamonds. But my favourite bracelet that I always wear is an oval of diamonds, and I attach it by doing a knot on my arm with kangaroo leather. I love to mix raw materials with precious stones.
How would you describe your experiences at Montréal Fashion Week?
It was an amazing experience and I want to do it again as soon as possible. I did it for three years and when I first wanted to do a fashion show, they were kind of finding it weird that a jewelry company wanted to participate. The first year I did it I wanted to bring in everything I love, so we were doing videos on the screens behind the models, I brought some singers and some dancing, and it was more like entertainment than a fashion show.
And the first time I brought it to Toronto, they didn’t know about me as an artist, and were calling me the “Victoria’s Secret of jewelry”. Since reading it, that’s what I want to become: I hope to one day bring my fashion shows to the world and have something different than an ordinary fashion show. I hope I’ll be able to bring it to New York or Paris Fashion Week soon.
You design for other people, but how would you describe your personal style?
I like it to be feminine, but it has a masculine side as well. I would say it’s bohemian chic. I like sexy, but not too sexy; it needs to have class. And I like to wear long dresses, to the floor. I obviously put a lot of emphasis on my accessories and jewelry.
How do you balance your design career with singing and acting?
It’s funny because the first thing I said was: ‘I’m starting a company, so at one point I can produce myself and do all the movies and albums I want.’ That’s why I started it, but then it switched, because my main passion became jewelry and accessories. Every time I’m creating a new piece, I know it’s going to come to a point where I will see the final product. Sometimes as a singer and actress I was a little bit frustrated because there were so many people intervening — the final product was not really something I had control over.
I’m actually thinking of going back to singing, so I’m singing at home with one of my girlfriends who is also a singer. I’m thinking, ‘why don’t I sing in my next jewelry commercial?’ so I bring it back to what I wanted in the beginning?
I’m still hoping to do movies again, but not as often as I used to. I used to work six days a week in Toronto and Montréal, and today I have a daughter, who is four, and I realize that I’m so lucky to not have to wake up at four in the morning and leave before she wakes up. When I was acting, that was my life. I feel lucky to be able to choose my schedule and still be the artist that I want to be.
Who has supported you the most throughout your career?
My parents for sure — anything that I would choose, they would follow me. They would tell me the dangers, like when I wanted to be an actress: they didn’t know anyone in that industry, so they said, ‘continue your school, but we’re going to help find you a coach, if you want to become an actress we’ll find you a good acting school.’ My Mom brought me to a school in Montréal, which for me was a big deal. They allowed me to dream and they wouldn’t discourage me in anything I did.
Even more important was the recognition anytime I was doing something good — they would always call me and say, ‘I’m proud of you.’ This is the way I want to educate my daughter. I want her to really follow her dreams and know that I’m behind her, but that she still needs to do it on her own.