As Parisian jeweller FRED opens its first boutique in Dubai we meet CEO Charles Leung and Artistic Director Valérie Samuel.
Parisian jeweller FRED recently opened its first boutique in Dubai, beginning a new chapter in the Middle East for the first time with physical points of sale. Founded by Fred Samuel in 1936 as a “Creative Modern Jeweller,” FRED offers unexpected contemporary designs that have been unique and modern yet timeless since the beginning. And while this is the first step for the brand in the region, Fred Samuel has always had a passion for the Middle East. As a keen traveller who was interested in every culture, he would scout the world for sources of inspiration. For many years he created pieces for the private collections of key figures in Middle East Royal families as well as VIP clients in the region. Many of these beautiful pieces are still thought to be with their owners in the region until now.
Today, FRED combines its elegant heritage with the ability to always create jewels that reflect the moment they are designed in. Modern yet timeless but always one step ahead, their pieces are made to be worn every day, but still feature the finest in quality. Under the leadership of its CEO Charles Leung, FRED is expanding its network and wants to share the story with the Middle East for the first time. Charles works alongside Valérie Samuel, the granddaughter of the founder as well as the Maison’s Vice President and Artistic Director. Together they are blending the history and the future of the brand for a seamless global expansion. As the brand opens its first store in the region we meet with Charles and Valérie to find out more about the plans for growth in the region and the message that the brand is trying to share today.
What can you tell us about the concept of the new FRED store in The Dubai Mall?
The most difficult thing to do in a jewellery boutique is to make clients feel relaxed. I’ve been in the business for 25 years and this is one of the things we have always asked, and it is almost impossible. But when I arrived here, I found it very easy. There is a very good vibe and people are quite at ease when they come to FRED here in Dubai. We want to make sure that this spirit stays in the store, but at the same time, we must tell the story through different elements: the creative elements of the shop but also keeping it luxurious. We can be relaxed but we want it to be a luxury experience.
Why did you decide to come to the region at this moment?
There are a lot of opportunities here. We wanted to come to Dubai and it was in the three-year plan when I first joined the company as CEO. We needed to be in the region and work on sharing the story of the brand and our collections. It was a natural expansion. Originally, we had planned to come in 2022 but we received an invitation from The Dubai Mall. It was a little be earlier than planned, but when you get an invitation like that, it’s something you can’t say no to!
Where do you aim to position the brand in the Middle East?
What is important when coming back to the Middle East is that we need to make sure people understand that we are a high jeweller, but at the same time, we might be the coolest and the most approachable. We want people to know that we have that level of quality and craftsmanship, but at the same time, our doors are open, and we are very welcoming and inclusive. All generations, all genders, it has always been like this at FRED and we want to continue with this DNA.
What challenges do you face when you are rolling out the brand in this region?
I think the challenge is to relate to the customers in the most efficient way. We are a bit late as a lot of brands are already well established here, especially in the last ten years as there was a boom of luxury in the region, and a lot of brands have done a really good job in telling their story and building a great client base. The challenge is how to catch up with that and tell our story when customers are already so overloaded with brands. They will for sure like the freshness of a new brand, but we have to be relevant and tell a story that interests them.
What do you think sets FRED apart from other brands in the market?
We have a different DNA from other brands, and we like to play with this difference. First of all, we have our founder, Fred Samuel. We must put him and his life out there because he is a real person and that makes us different. The second point is our “Riviera spirit”. This is a relaxed effortless approach. It’s very high quality but at the same time, it’s very easy. And thirdly we want to communicate on our technical audacity. It has been part of the house ever since the first bracelet was created 55 years ago. The tone of FRED is always about being “in the now”. We are not trying to share a story that happened 200 years ago or a story of the future. We are about being in the present moment.
We just faced a very difficult period – did you change anything in your strategy moving forward after the pandemic?
I think we further confirmed our strategy and positioning. That is that FRED’s jewels are for every big and small moment. Before the pandemic, we all thought that jewellery was for specific occasions – a wedding, an engagement, a dinner – but after the pandemic, I believe we have changed a lot of things. We believe that what really matters to us, might not be the so-called big deal that we thought it was. It could be just a simple coffee with friends, but we have a good laugh and a conversation, but today, that’s more important than going to any dinner or event to impress someone you might not even know. So, during this time, we have confirmed that FRED’s purpose is to bring everyday joy through our jewellery. It’s not about being pretentious. We also reinforced our digital capacity so that we can reach our customers easier and in different ways, even if there is a pandemic so that they can still find joy.
What is in the pipeline for FRED in the region?
We hope that this is just the beautiful start of our story in the region. Hopefully, because there is still a lot to explore, we will establish quickly here and progressively open in the region. We are saying, although it does depend on the developments of the shopping malls, that we are aiming to try to open a least one store per year.
What is your vision and direction to take FRED forward?
The purpose of our brand is to bring joy and we want people to think about FRED when they want to buy something that makes them happy. And I think we have already succeeded in that. We are very close to being one of the top ten pure jewellery brands in the world and after this year we will be in the top ten. And we won’t stop there!
What is one thing that you still aspire to do at FRED?
I think the aim is to succeed in bringing back our heritage in a very professional way. I think there is so much richness and so many extraordinary designs and pieces from our past that are worth sharing with a larger audience to give justice to Fred Samuel and the family. This is something we are working on, and I hope very soon it will become a reality. Of course, it’s a huge investment to do that, but I think what is great also is that we are not thinking of the short term in terms of our goals, we are thinking long term. I hope that with the help of our Artistic Director Valérie Samuel and some of the heritage team we can make this a dream come true. We would like to have an exhibition that showcases some pieces from our past and we are launching a campaign to source some of the custom- made pieces from the past.
Valérie Samuel: The most beautiful pieces from our history are here in the region for sure.
Back in those days, pieces were not signed so some people may have pieces and not know their value. So, we have the challenge of locating some of these pieces through auction houses etc. We launched the campaign two months ago and we have already had more than 130 people contact us and not only tell us that they have some of our pieces, but they want to share their stories. One lady came to us with a very beautiful watch, and she told us how Fred Samuel himself advised her to have full diamonds on the watch to celebrate her wedding anniversary. Then she finished her testimony saying, “I still have the watch and the husband thirty years later!” So, it has been a real journey for her. This is my favourite story!
How difficult is it to respect the DNA and the heritage of the brand but at the same time remain relevant to today’s customers?
Charles: I will pass this question on to Valerie…
Valérie: I think this is an easy task because our DNA and heritage are in the now. It’s not something from the past and it speaks to everyone today. Our pieces have never been designed to be kept in a safe, they are designed to be worn and they have always been so “in the now”. We have realised that relevance is one of our key values and it’s something we experience every day with our clients. So, keeping this balance is not complicated because we are just true to ourselves and true to our founder’s vision and of being a modern jewellery design and this is what we follow every day.
Charles: We have been a jeweller since the beginning and Fred’s vision was to keep everything professional and we still want to continue with this. All of our jewellery pieces have a very high standard, and we cannot accept anything less.
Valérie: We also have a lot of versatile pieces that can be worn in several ways and that is what our clients are looking for.
If you were to describe FRED in three words what would it be?
Valerie: Fred Samuel is inspiring us in everything we do so I would say; true, consistent and relevant.
We are translating his vision and our values into everything we do today and that is what you can experience in our store.