Seismic global shifts can reshape individual lives. Such was the case with Lebanese jewelry designer Gaelle Khouri, who’s known by collectors and in design circles for her avant-garde, nature-inspired jewels.
The designer has had a few tough years: she struggled through Lebanon’s devastating financial collapse (which began in 2019) around the same time she and everyone around her grappled with the business and personal impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The confluence of events convinced Khouri to move from her native Beirut to the U.S., and rethink and retool her eponymous collection as a mostly direct-to-consumer brand. We talked to the designer about how she’s overcome the many challenges of the past few years, and how she hopes to position her unique collection moving forward.
The Zing Report: How did you and your family and friends in Lebanon weather the crisis, then COVID-19?
Gaelle Khouri: It was a very challenging time of course. COVID, coupled with Lebanon’s financial fallout, had severe repercussions on everyone in my country. I moved out of the country, but the business’ production is still based in Beirut. Also, Covid had a huge impact on sales. [We were in] survival mode. But the fact that we were forced to slow down, allowed for more time for us to reflect and recalculate. In retrospect, this was a healthy approach for the business. Through it I was able to find new and creative ways to go about things.
You’ve since revamped your brand—congratulations. Why did you take this step?
Thank you. A multitude of elements happened at once. The most important thing I learned from COVID-19 for the business is the importance of minimizing exposure to third parties, in our case retail shops. I admit that the wholesale channel played a crucial role in growing the business, but I also think that for any business to grow, it requires direct sales to consumers.
Direct sales are how we get to control our storytelling. Also, that’s how we learn about our customers, who they are, what they like or dislike about the product. When the bulk of the business relies on a third party, we lose the ability to communicate with the client the way we [want] to. This realization has led me to work more on the brand image, and revamp it in a way to make its identity more visible and pronounced.
Let’s talk about your brand-new collection, La Trahison de L’Objet.
The collection is about the perception of reality, and more specifically the perception of beauty in life. Is [beauty] solely driven by our visual perception and aesthetic reflection? Or does there exist other components of psychological or neurological order that impact our perception of beauty? This made me study two distinct philosophical school of thoughts, Empiricism and Innatism…And that’s the state of mind I was in at the time the collection was born.
Lots of designers are inspired by nature, but your designs feel closer to the natural world than most. How do you view nature as a player in your inspirations and aesthetic?
I don’t think I’m able to answer that question. The truth is I really don’t know. What I know is that at the time of creating, I never force myself or restrict myself, I just let whatever comes to mind and heart out. I think should I restrict myself to one source of inspiration, this would limit the creative process and, in some cases, force it.
When I create pieces that reflect nature, the end goal is not really to have a visual representation of nature. The piece always goes beyond that. I think it’s more about a feeling that the piece communicates, and the piece ends up always being an amalgamation of so many different things, like a bird ring can be more about our internal conflict or the feeling of anxiety than the bird itself. —Emili Vesilind
All photos courtesy of Gaelle Khouri