Born and raised in Lebanon, Gaelle Khouri is a fine jewelry designer who stands out for her avant-garde and intricate designs. With a degree and a professional background in economics, she abandoned the corporate world to launch her eponymous London-based label in July 2015. Here she talks to Nouriah Al Shatti about changing career paths, starting from scratch, and carving her way through the competition.
ON TURNING DOWN WORKING FOR OSCAR DE LA RENTA AND ELIE SAAB
While studying for my master’s degree in economics at New York University, I interned at Oscar de la Renta in the International Business Development department. I got a job offer but I didn’t take it at the time. Instead, I went to work for Toyota Motors. After I moved back to Beirut, I interned at Elie Saab in the same department. And it was the same story; I got an offer and yet again I didn’t take it. A part of me felt like if I were to make the switch, it would have to be to start my own company. I worked for a regional investment bank in Beirut and that’s when I started thinking about jewelry design, and quit my job to start.
ON TAKING TIME TO LAUNCH
The whole process to launch my fine jewelry collection—learning the technical part, designing the collection, and then producing it—took four years. It took more time than it should have, because I’m self-funded and it’s an industry that really consumes a lot of money. I’m aware of the competition in this market and I really wanted to be ready. It’s not just about the product, but also to establish the corporate identity, website, campaign pictures, and logo.
ON STARTING FROM SCRATCH
First, I took intensive jewelry design courses on drawing. I used to draw, but not jewelry, however, that base gave me something to start from. Then, I went to the workshop and learned everything on set. For four years, I spent almost every day of the week with workers at the atelier. Even now, I don’t just make assignments and send them; I’m physically there throughout the whole process—especially considering that there’s a lot of complexity and movement in my designs.
ON THE INSPIRATION
Although there are many insects [in the collection], it’s not nature. It’s very much linked to my emotions and my emotional state. I use what’s external, like elements of nature, to try and make this feeling more tangible. For instance, I have a lot of spiders, like the cuff and earrings; what intrigues me are the details and the complexities of the animal or insect anatomy. I feel like there’s something very beautiful, but at the same time, something very ugly about them—which is exactly how our emotions are. There’s always this contrast between feeling good and feeling bad, and this is what interests me.
ON GETTING PICKED UP BY HARVEY NICHOLS LONDON
In August , one month after I launched, I got my first stockist—Harvey Nichols in London. I sent the lookbook to the buyer, then she got back to me and said, “If you give me the pieces now, I’ll take them.”
ON CARVING A PLACE IN THE INDUSTRY
It is very competitive. I think the fact that I don’t have a background in jewelry [design] made my thinking a bit wider. I’m not constrained by rules. Also, I feel that creativity [in the industry] is lacking. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still creativity, but I feel like the commercial aspect of things is taking over. Not just in jewelry but in fashion as well. Designers are under pressure to come up with three or four collections a year; they don’t have time to breathe. It really takes a lot of time to turn an idea into an actual piece.
I also mix metals; gold with silver and gold with bronze. This makes the price relatively affordable. The combination of craftsmanship, creativity, complexity, and price point differentiates me from what is in the market.
ON MOVING FORWARD
Our eyes are constantly absorbing other people’s work and their designs, especially across social media. I try as much as possible to disassociate myself from that because I don’t want my creativity to be limited because of what my eyes see; I try to be cautious.