Born and raised in Lebanon, jewellery designer Gaelle Khouri has been pioneering extravagant and sculptural jewellery since launching her eponymous high-end artistic jewellery label in 2015 in London.
Today, Khouri cultivates her authentic approach to design from the city of Beirut; she uses her love of handcrafted design to relay the story of each collection and continues to build a loyal following worldwide. The Lebanese designer talks inspiration, design process and the future of her own venture.
Tell us about yourself, including what you do and how you got there.
When I was getting my Master’s degree in New York, I started to realize that what I want to do is different from what I was doing at the time. I think it was normal as I was growing up and maturing more to develop a better understanding of myself and my real interests.
I think I always had an interest in creative and artistic fields but I had never expressed that strongly before – professionally I mean. And the transition did not happen overnight: I grew up in Tripoli, which is a city in the north of Lebanon and the perception of success there is in big part dictated by a limited number of academic fields. This has partly influenced my academic choice and led me to major in the scientific field.
My first and second steps were when I took on an internship at Oscar de la Renta and then at Elie Saab. I received job offers at both houses but wasn’t fully ready at the time to make the transition –and honestly, I think deep down I knew that I wanted to start and run my own venture.
I took extensive private jewellery lessons and developed a strong portfolio within a few months following graduation. Though I did not know at the time where I was going, my teacher pushed me to start the production. The field of production was an unknown territory to me but I took the difficult first step of giving it a try, and in spite of the many challenges that came along the way, things started to unfold and to move forward from there. It took 4 years to launch the brand because financially it was a bit of a challenge given that I am self-funded, and additionally I was keen to learn and master the extensive technical side of the work before launching.
What makes your collections unique in the industry?
Jewellery is a silent tool and tangible way of an expression – the pieces I create are my inner voice, they are a tangible form of my emotions. The metals I use include treated bronze, rhodium silver and 18 carat yellow and pink gold. All the pieces I create are handmade which means they are crafted on wax first. This process requires great craftsmanship skills which we definitely have in Beirut. The pieces are then set with diamonds and precious stones.
A key common characteristic among my pieces is the technical complexities and the movements. I am all about details and relief, and the fact that in most pieces, the visual effect from afar is quite different from what the person sees the details in the piece from up-close.
What drew you to jewellery, and more specifically, nature?
I love the creativity behind jewellery. For me, inspiration comes from within. In each piece, I create a tangible form of my emotions and thought process, and I think the ability to create something physical out of abstract and conceptual things like feelings is what drives my passion. I also enjoy translating the complexities of the human emotional range into a complex movement of the piece, while at the same time keeping it wearable and elegant to fulfil its purpose.
I think my collections and designing jewellery in general is a way for me to express myself. And it came very naturally given that I come from a very different educational and professional background; designing wasn’t forced upon me. Creating jewellery has really been a personal self-exploratory journey and I have used the design process to be inquisitive and reflective.
I have always felt an instinctive connection with nature which I try to expose and emphasis. So the first collection, The Garden of Earthly Delights, reflects upon the deep-rooted instinctive connection that exists between the woman and nature – The pieces translate the complexities of the feminine through the complexities of the universal. For instance, some designs portray provocative and appealing physical characteristics of diverse species that compare in strong ways to human psychological characteristics. Like people and emotions, I think there is something very appealing and at the same time very ugly about insects and their physiology and that’s what I’m drawn to.
What’s your jewellery philosophy?
Out of everything that is stored in my mind, I am particularly interested in strong movements and shapes – I find beauty in intricate and complex shapes that are left unfinished and unclean. I feel that pieces like that have a mix of appeal and unattractiveness that creates a particular and exotic beauty.
Visual influence aside, my reflective thinking is very much influenced by philosophical thoughts which consequently impact my creative process. I was particularly influenced by the writings of Michel de Montaigne, Hegel, and Nietzsche, who helped me develop a better understanding of life and supplied me with the strength to pursue what I really love.
What type of woman did you have in mind when designing a collection?
Any woman who doesn’t follow the pack, but goes for a daring and different style that reflects her personality – all while keeping elegance in check – would stand out for me. I think it is also important for the style to look effortless, as if it comes naturally. Sometimes you look at a woman and feel that a big amount of time and effort were invested in the look. I think that kills the style!
What are your favourite recent trends in the jewellery design industry?
Chandelier style earrings are having a moment now, as seen at Céline and Miu Miu’s FW’17 shows. This statement style of earring echoes the ThoughtFall and Free Dots earrings in my previous collections, but also the Arche earring from my latest collection, The Next Perspective.
Oversized pearls have also been seen across the catwalks. I love working with natural pearls and used baroque pearls in the Anchor earrings and Octopus. The Frogs earrings are also made with pearls – a particular round shaped Tahiti pearl which gives the piece a playful feel.
I love seeing these trends; however I don’t tend to follow trends when designing my collections.
Who are your favourite designers? Any names you would wish to collaborate with one day?
I would love to collaborate with another like-minded jewellery designer. I admire the work of Lydia Courteille and Bibi van der Velden – I feel our artistic direction is similar in that we offer creative designs that eschew the mainstream. Also, Lydia Courteille is from a different generation where internet and social platforms weren’t so developed so her inspiration and creativity was influenced by other elements than the ones that influence us today. Hence, I think a collaborative project would be interesting.
Name a muse or an icon, you would like to see wearing your pieces.
I admire women such as Daphne Guinness, Rihanna, Pandora Sykes, and Negin Mirsaleh, as well as Tina Leung and Yoyo Cao. I think they are always on point and their styles are always a true reflection of their edgy personalities. My pieces have been seen on a number of celebrities and personalities in the past that I love such as Ellie Goulding, Alesha Dixon, Sai Bennett and Phoebe Lettice Thompson. It’s always an amazing feeling seeing someone you admire wearing your designs.
Tell us, what was the best advice you’ve received that helped you get where you are today.
I can say personally to have a long term vision for the brand, but work it step-by-step and enjoy small achievements. But if someone is really passionate about what they are doing, their passion will lead them through it all, they won’t need any advice!
Do you have a most treasured item in your personal jewellery box?
It’s hard to pick just one piece! I have an 18ct gold handmade retro bracelet that is over 70 years old – it belonged to my great-grandmother who bought it in Turkey and it was then handed-down to my grandmother on her wedding day. The unparalleled splendour of the piece is the culmination of intricate and rigorous labour that went into creating it at a time when artisans had limited access to technology. It is a testament to the greatness of artists and the power of the human mind and craftsmanship.
I also have a pair of micro-mosaic Nada Le Cavalier earrings which were the first high-end piece of jewellery I ever bought for myself. I had my heart set on them for a while but was only able to afford them after starting my first job in New York. The design appears abstract from afar yet the griping layers of elaborate miniature flora intensify as the eye draws closer. They are made of 18ct gold and precious stones.
Do you have any advice for those hoping to break into the industry?
A lot can hang on what kind of assets people have and start with – if they have the technical knowledge and the financial ability to venture into this industry, then the way will be much smoother. Otherwise, I think it would require true passion for the field. Because only when you are passionate about what you do, will you find in you the patience, the self-control, and the composure, which will allow you not to lose motivation and keep moving forward. The path won’t be smooth, and there will be days where you go on a tough roller coaster of emotions, and it won’t be easy. Just keep thinking positively, plan short-term.
What is your favourite piece you’ve ever created – and what made it so special that you could not live without?
It’s hard to choose but I think I would have to say the Anchor earrings – they are one of the first pieces I created from The Garden of Earthly Delights Collection. Made of 18ct yellow gold and set with brown diamonds and Baroque Chinese pearls, the design has a sense of fearlessness. Pearls often communicate a romantic and feminine feel but I don’t feel this is the case with this piece – the sharp contrast and dichotomy is resonant with my divergent personality traits. This piece means a lot to me as it was created at the start of my career as a jewellery designer and it reminds me of how far I have come all that I have achieved.
What’s next for Gaelle Khouri Jewellery?
We have just launched at Sylvie Saliba in Beirut and at Browns in London, and I was recently in Paris and London to showcase the new collection, Soft Deconstruction: The Next Perspective!
By Dana Mortada