By Michelle Graff
Marissa Collections sat down with the seasoned globetrotter about her passion for prehistoric treasures and philanthropy.
A retailer of fine jewelry and high fashion in Naples, Fla., Marissa Collections has begun conducting Q&As with new designers as the store adds them, and shares these with National Jeweler exclusively before posting the interviews on its jewelry blog at

Marissa Collections: Describe your transition from finance to jewelry design.
Monique Pean: While working in finance, my younger sister Vanessa passed away in a car accident at the age of 16. At that moment, I realized it was necessary to reevaluate what I wanted to do with my life. I decided to pursue a career that allowed me to combine my passions for design, art, travel and philanthropy.

MC: Did any of your former skills apply to the next phase?
MP: Very much so. I was able to use my financial skills to pursue an entrepreneurial path and properly establish and grow my brand.

MC: What’s a typical day like?
MP: Between designing, traveling for personal appearances and all of the other aspects that go into running a business, I find that each day is completely different. I love that I get to meet people with different backgrounds and experience so many new places.

MC: Which came first, your love of travel or jewelry design?
MP: I’ve loved both from a young age. My grandmother has an incredible Art Deco jewelry collection, and she always encouraged me to explore her jewelry box as a child and experiment with wearing multiple rings and bracelets at once. My father worked in economic development, so I was lucky enough to accompany him to over 40 countries, which got me hooked on travel.

MC: Since travel is such a major component of your work, how does it affect your design process?
MP: Each year I take a trip to a new destination to find sustainable materials and partner with local artisans to develop new collections. The geography and indigenous art of these areas are my core inspirations along with modern artistic movements and architecture. I’m working with artisans in the Arctic Circle, French Polynesia, Peru, Guatemala, Colombia and the Philippines.

MC: What are some of your favorite destinations?
MP: I keep returning to Japan, where I’ve collected many comfortable, sculptural pieces over the years. Others are Brazil, Egypt, Antarctica, Guatemala and South Africa.

MC: Where haven’t you been that you’d like to visit?
MP: Madagascar for its culture and unique ecosystems; more than 90 percent of its wildlife is endemic.

MC: What are some other signature traits of your work?
MP: I’m known for distinctive and sustainable materials, most notably fossilized woolly mammoth, fossilized walrus ivory and fossilized dinosaur bone, as well as designs that have a modern influence. I would love for collectors to view my pieces as art, history, nature, luxury and fashion all in one. I aim to create heirloom pieces as wearable works of art that can be passed down for generations.

MC: Which material would you like to experiment with?
MP: My favorite part about being a designer is finding new rare materials like fossilized dinosaur bone, which hails from the Late Jurassic Age in the Colorado Plateau, the only source for agatized, fossilized dinosaur bone. This material is extremely rare because it has been petrified, which preserves the dinosaur’s original cell structure. Due to impurities in surrounding sediment, colors range from lavender to black with red, yellow, brown and blue. Their intricate patterns resemble abstract art.

MC: When was your first big break?
MP: Accepting a 2009 CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) Vogue Fashion Fund award from Alber Elbaz. The support of the CFDA, Vogue and Anna Wintour has been invaluable.

MC: What’s one of your proudest moments as a designer?
MP: I’m honored that Michelle Obama and Natalie Portman have worn my jewelry. They’re not only beautiful, but admirable for their professional achievements. I appreciate their commitment to raising awareness of important global environmental and social issues. I would love to see them wear my jewelry again for a momentous occasion.

MC: What do you hear most from customers about your designs?
MP: My collection has been very popular with contemporary and modern art collectors. People with an artistic sensibility are drawn to my collection because they appreciate each piece’s craftsmanship, sustainability and unique materials and nature.

MC: Since you’re so dedicated to eco-friendly design, how has that niche evolved since you started?
MP: When I began, there were very few sustainable fashion lines. Sustainability wasn’t closely associated with luxury. It took a while for attitudes to change, but the green movement has made enormous strides in the fashion world and environmentally friendly and sustainable luxury options are becoming more readily accessible. It’s exciting to see the shift in the consumer’s mindset. Our collectors greatly appreciate that we work to provide clean drinking water and basic sanitation to developing communities through the sale of each piece of jewelry.

MC: What’s new regarding your philanthropy?
MP: Proceeds from our 2013 jewelry sales are funding the construction of a clean water well and purification system in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region, as well as a water purification system in Nepal.

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