Made in SoWal: La Vie Est Belle
August 3, 2012 by SoWal Staff
South Walton is known for many wonderful things. Our sugary beaches and emerald gulf waters are stunning. Our coastal dune lakes are like rare pearls. Nature's best is on full display every day. But perhaps best of all is that SoWal is such a warm and inviting place with a small-town atmosphere and relaxed sophistication.
Over time, leather and pearl jewelry has become something of a trademark for the South Walton beach life. And there are no finer examples of such jewelry than those created by Wendy Mignot of La Vie Est Belle in Seaside. She started the trend way back when and continues to innovate.
“La Vie Est Belle translates to 'Life is Beautiful' and that's always been my philosophy," Wendy says.
Wendy has been making jewelry nearly her entire life. As a young woman she made and sold her jewelry while sailing through the Caribbean. It was while living on the island of St. Thomas when she met, eventually married, and began a family with her soul mate Jean-Noel.
“He's an artist also, and his family has been designing jewelry for decades. His parents live in St. Barth's and his siblings can be found in exotic spots in Mexico, St. Tropez, and Bora Bora,” says Wendy.
After meeting and falling in love, Wendy and Jean-Noel continued to sail the Caribbean while joyfully making and selling their jewelry at whichever port they landed.
The adventure continued with their two children, Zak and Violetta, both born in Panama. After traveling near and far they met with a sailing accident off the coast of North Carolina which destroyed their boat. They found themselves at a crossroads.
As luck would have it, Jean-Noel's parents were visiting Seaside at the time. It was a perfect opportunity for the family to reunite. After landing in South Walton, it wasn't long before Wendy and Jean-Noel decided to make Seaside their home and sink roots to raise their kids.
The first business they opened was Le Petite Cafe in Seaside's Ruskin Place artist colony, where they sold gourmet coffees and fine wines alongside Wendy's jewelry. Business was good so they decided to open the wine and tapas bar, Cafe Rendez-Vous on the central square in Seaside. The joint was jumping and was a ton of fun, and one of the main attractions was Wendy's pearls!
With the popularity of Wendy's jewelry rising, it was time to open her flagship store and gallery, La Vie Est Belle and focus on what she does best!
“I found that people visiting the area were faithful collectors and would return to us time and time again to find new pieces of jewelry to acquire,” says Wendy.
Since Wendy introduced her jewelry to Seaside some ten years ago, her designs are still fresh and evolving. Her passion for the sea and all things beautiful and organic are her constant inspiration.
Her jewelry is made with the finest Tahitian Pearls, South Seas Pearls, and Fresh Water Pearls. All of her designs are made with luxurious leather which Jean-Noel handcrafts. He is also responsible for drilling each and every pearl incorporated into her designs.
Wendy's love for the organic and natural extends beyond her adoration of pearls. She also incorporates shells, sea glass, stones, turquoise and rare gems. She refers to these items as her treasures, and she's always collecting items in all of the exotic locations she visits.
Several years ago, Wendy collaborated with her old and dear friend, Danny Edwards, a shipwreck salvager and treasure hunter as well as an expert in rare and ancient coins. Wendy began incorporating the special coins into her work.
“It seemed natural to have a Tahitian Pearl from the bottom of the sea paired with and ancient shipwreck coin,” Wendy says. “Other rare coins we use are Greek and Roman dating as far back as the 4th Century B.C. All coins are graded very fine and are accompanied by certification of authenticity. We also use Venetian, Byzantine, and Holy Land Coins. It's like wearing a piece of history.”
It is her innovation and commitment to quality that sets her apart and keeps her customers coming back for more.
Wendy has invested herself in the SoWal community, and consistently supports youth charities, is a member of the Walton County Chamber of Commerce, the Cultural Art Association of Walton County, and the Coastal Conservation Association.
La Vie Est Belle is located at 25 Central Square in Seaside. You can find them on the web at www.JNWMignot.com and on Facebook. If you are out of town and would like to place an order call 850-231-4692 and ask for Aimee.
Text by Aimee Alderson, additional photos by Dawn C Whitty.