Tuesday 20 December 2016

Focus on Gaelle Khouri

I love statement jewellery. You know, the kind you can really see on the wearer and makes you go wow. The kind that makes you move closer to see more. So it was a real treat when Gaelle first showed me her work. Her collections are a unique and playful look at nature. Beautifully wearable centipedes in gold, silver with diamonds and emeralds, frogs set with diamonds and pearls, gold and sapphire thorns. Roots fashioned into rings, eels into bracelets, fish necklaces and octopus earrings. Her work truly is a 'Garden of Earthly Delights'

Here is Gaelles' story

D: Tell me about yourself and your journey in jewellery design so far.

G: I started my jewellery design journey five years ago. At the time, I was working as a senior economist at one of the top financial institutions in the MENA region. As much as the transition from the science to the design world seems unusual, it was the most natural step forward in my case and led me to launch my eponymous jewellery brand ‘Gaelle Khouri’ in July 2015. It has rapidly received an great response from the industry with press features in the Financial Times, Telegraph, The Times, Elle.. We are currently stocked at the Talisman Gallery Harvey Nichols London who were the first to stock the debut collection, we are also carried at Stanley Korshak in Texas and Qirdala Boutique Kuwait. We are also launching next month on Auverture.com.

My professional development started shortly after obtaining a BA in Economics and a minor in Mathematics from the American University of Beirut (AUB) and completing a Master’s degree in Economics at New York University (NYU). Following my graduation, I worked for Toyota Motors as an economic consultant in NYC, and as a senior economist with Blominvest, a regional investment bank in Beirut.

The transition from economics and finance to design did not happen overnight. I always had an interest in the creative and artistic disciplines but I had not been able to openly express it before due to circumstance at the time.

I grew up in Tripoli, a city in the North of Lebanon where the perception of success is largely dictated by a handful of academic fields such as medicine, engineering, law and economics. This perception partly influenced my academic choice and led me to major in the scientific field. It was during my time in New York as a graduate student and professional economist however that I started to realize that what I want to do was different. A better understanding of my aspirations, passion and identity then started to form and the notion of design was very central to it. I took the first step when I interned at Oscar de la Renta in New York and then at Elie Saab in Beirut. My role at both institutions focused on strategic expansion and business development but contributed significantly to my understanding of the design aspect of the business. I was fortunate to be offered full-time positions at both houses, although I decided to opt against it as I was already taken by an entrepreneurial drive to start my own venture.

When I moved back to Beirut I immediately sought and undertook extensive private jewellery lessons with renowned Lebanese painter, Bernard Renno and worked extensively on developing my first portfolio within a few months.

Jewellery design - as opposed to fashion - was a more natural choice for me as it offered some flexibility whilst I continued to work full-time at Blominvest. Moreover, I found that designing jewellery satisfied my thirst for exploring and expressing the creative side of my personality that had long been suppressed. Afterwards, I was faced with the challenging but fascinating world of production.

The jewellery industry in Lebanon is notoriously secretive and closed - it is privately controlled by a small number of families, making it very hard for an outsider to penetrate. This proved to be a difficult obstacle, though over the past five years I soon developed a solid network of highly competent artisans and trustworthy stone suppliers that continue to assist in the creation of my intricate designs.

I would go to the workshop every day after work to sit with artisans, absorb their knowledge and skills, and learn about the various metals and precious stones to develop a holistic understanding of the industry. I then started work on producing my first collection, The Garden of Earthly Delights, and building the brand identity which included shooting the product and building my website. As I am self-funded, this process took just over three years to fully launch the brand, and I am now in a position to look forward to expanding internationally.

D: When you start thinking about a new collection what is your creative process?

G: It is actually quite difficult for me to describe the design process as ideas and figures of potential pieces will come to me quite often randomly in my head - mostly when I go to sleep and my mind starts to wander. I have a very active imagination and so always keep a pen and paper on the bedside table so I can quickly sketch out an idea when I see something. If I didn’t do this, I would forget what I saw in the morning! Creativity for me stems from the inside, not outside. Inspiration does not relate to what I see, but to what I experience emotionally. The pieces I created are sort of my inner voice, they are a tangible form of my emotions. What is outside, like nature for instance, is simply “raw products” to help translate the emotions and put them into the “final product” which is the actual piece.

D: What is your favourite part of your job?

G: I honestly love everything about it! Definitely the creative part is what I enjoy the most. From creating and designing to crafting, a challenging thing to do - to turn an idea into a tangible piece and make all the detailed intricacies in my head fall into a wearable piece. But I enjoy every bit of that challenge! I also enjoy the business aspect of the work. I love the amount of strategic thinking it needs to create the right image for the brand, find the right positioning, and grow the brand.

D: Who or what inspires you?

G: I think we are all constantly influenced by everything that surrounds us such as music, stories, random shapes and forms. The amount of information we have access to is growing even more due to various social media platforms. With such information and material now made so easily accessible, we are subconsciously storing the things that we are exposed to in our memory and, for designers such as myself, everything we are exposed to influences our work whether we actively seek it or not.

Out of everything that inspires me and is stored in my mind and thought process I am particularly interested in strong movements and shapes.  I find beauty in intricate and complex forms that are left unfinished and impure; I feel that such pieces with a contrasting fusion of appeal and unattractiveness create a particular and exotic beauty.

 The Italian architect, Renzo Piano for example, has such complexities in his work – there are so many different perspectives in one piece when you look at it from a number of angles. Similarly, Jean Tinguely’s sculptures are very relatable to my own designs and what inspires me to create, as his work focuses on movement and technical challenges – something that triggers my own personal interests when designing.

Visual influence aside, my reflective thinking is very much influenced by philosophical thoughts which consequently impact my creative process. I have always been greatly inspired by the writings of Michel de Montaigne, Hegel, and Nietzsche, each of them providing me with the strength to pursue my love for jewellery design and endowing me with the emotional depth that I work to translate in my designs.

D: Describe your own personal style.

G: I like to mix and match contrasting pieces that wouldn’t normally work together, like vintage pieces and modern ones. Also, I love to mix couture pieces with embroidery and a fine feel, with more basic fabric like plain white t-shirt. The cut is a key though to make it work! I would say my style is a bit edgy with a boho feel, it is a bit of everything! I love oversized shirts and do a lot of layering in Winter and try to stay away from black as much as possible as I have a tendency to always pick that color! But because of the nature of my work, and the time I spent running around at the workshop, I don’t always have the luxury to wear what I want, sometimes comfort clothes takes over taste! 

D: Tell me something surprising about yourself. 

G: - I was national champion at swimming in Lebanon when I was 15 years old!

  I won the Fabriano competition at school.

  When in an elevator and someone is approaching to get in, I enjoy closing the automatic door and keep them out!
Thank you to Rosewood London for looking after us and allowing us to to use one of your beautiful suites for the shoot. And to Push PR for letting me set up and shoot the stop motion film.

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