The Graff Green Lady first appeared in the 1990s when Laurence Graff, founder of Graff, built an advertising campaign – unexpectedly – around a deep, resonant shade of forest or “hunter” green. The advertisements were so successful they continued into the millennium, with the Graff Green Lady appearing variously in a green evening gown or military-style jacket, set against vibrant palm fronds or staring out from the page with piercing green eyes. 

Laurence Graff, now 85, recalls where his obsession with the colour started. “My first memory, so hazy I sometimes think I dreamt it, is of being in a large, green room,” he says. “I couldn’t have been more than one, but I distinctly remember the colour. When I started my own company (in 1960), without thinking about it, I chose a green background for the promotions of my jewellery. I’m sure it was planted deep in my subconscious from that time.”

The campaign was a dramatic departure for Graff campaigns. In the ’60s, when Graff had just one boutique in Knightsbridge, adverts reflected “Swinging’ London”; a military costume campaign from 1982 was inspired by Graff’s purchase of the historic Emperor Maximilian diamond. The Green Lady was instantly recognisable, but was also very love-it-or-hate-it. Laurence’s son Francois Graff, now CEO, recalls that he had doubts about how she would be received, even if he was “passionate” about the concept.

A 1990 Graff advertisement
A 1990 Graff advertisement

“[I was] concerned that she could feel a little alien-like due to the bright green filter,” he says. “But we received overwhelmingly positive feedback, and it proved incredibly successful. Sometimes you don’t realise just how successful a campaign is until you stop.”

Today, the Green Lady is returning, re-imagined in a 21st-century techno-fantasy. The new campaign casts Dutch supermodel Rianne Van Rompaey in the role of Galaxia, an avatar-like celestial character drifting against a green night sky. She wears creations from the latest high-jewellery collection, showcasing rare gemstones – emeralds, rubies, yellow and white diamonds. It’s otherworldly. Says Francois: “We seek perfection in everything we do.”

Graff emerald and white-diamond necklace, earrings, ring and bracelets, all POA
Graff emerald and white-diamond necklace, earrings, ring and bracelets, all POA © Mikael Jansson for Graff

The images also pay homage to the so-called Green Lady painting by Russian-born artist Vladimir Tretchikoff (1913-2006). Originally painted in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1952, it became the biggest-selling poster in history, decorating the walls of millions of 1950s and ’60s homes. Officially named Chinese Girl, the painting depicted the 17-year-old Monika Sing-Lee (later Monika Pon-su-san) dressed in a Chinese robe with an embroidered yellow silk collar (that belonged to Tretchikoff’s wife). The model had been working in her uncle’s laundrette in Cape Town when she was asked by the artist to sit for him.

Chinese Girl, 1952, by Vladimir Tretchikoff
Chinese Girl, 1952, by Vladimir Tretchikoff

If Laurence Graff’s predilection for green was already well-established, he was perhaps inevitably drawn towards the Tretchikoff print. “It was the first piece of art that made an impact on me,” he continues, “and I believe ignited my interest and passion for art.” He has since built up a renowned, significant collection, including Warhol, Picasso, Basquiat and Twombly. In 2013, Laurence bought Tretchikoff’s painting for almost £1mn at auction. “You can imagine my surprise to have learned of the sale of the original painting and, of course, my decision to buy it was immediate.”

Laurence installed the painting, on public display, in his Delaire Graff Estate, near Stellenbosch, South Africa. Monika Pon-su-san was invited to the unveiling in 2013 along with her partner, daughter and granddaughter. Today, visitors can still go and see the original Green Lady in Delaire, no appointment required.

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