By  on October 25, 2010

LONDON — Scandinavian culture is hot, with Stieg Larsson’s best-selling novels set to be turned into Hollywood films, Copenhagen-based Noma’s nomination as the world’s best restaurant and the enduring popularity of the TV mystery “Wallander,” which returns to PBS this month.

The timing couldn’t be better for Georg Jensen, Scandinavia’s global luxury lifestyle brand, which has been streamlining operations, tweaking and updating its product and burnishing its image.

Chief executive officer Ulrik Garde Due said in an exclusive interview the Danish company is midway through a five-year plan to modernize operations and update its image as a showcase for design.

“We really want to take ownership of the luxury end of the business, enhance our market positioning and take Danish design into the next century,” he said over a Niçoise salad at a restaurant near Piccadilly. “For so long, and in so many markets outside Scandinavia, Georg Jensen was only about jewelry and watches. Our aim today is to focus on Georg Jensen as a lifestyle brand.”

The spring ad campaign features the Danish model Freja Beha Erichsen, half-naked, adorned with the brand’s jewelry and perched on a table covered in a stylized jumble of fruit, cheese, flowers — and silver Georg Jensen table ware.

In a similar vein, Garde Due said his goal with the new-generation Jensen stores, including units in Shanghai, Copenhagen Airport and Manhattan, is to create a showplace for Danish design — right down to the floors and furniture. The aim is to replace the past “museum-like” feel with a warm and homey one, he said.

In each store, Garde Due installed walls that display “must-have gifts” from the brand’s Living Collection, the stainless steel line that first launched after World War II.

Prices for the “must-have” gifts range from about $100 to $1,000. In addition, Garde Due has added a bridal registry and plans to soon refresh and relaunch the brand’s e-commerce site. Packaging has been updated, as well. Boxes now have a hand-hammered silver texture, and are embossed with the brand’s crest in silver foil.

Garde Due intends to have launched 16 new-concept stores by the end of the year, including a 3,500-square-foot flagship in Tokyo’s Nihonbashi district that opened this month. On Feb. 1, the brand will reopen its London Bond Street unit.

Eventually, Garde Due said he hopes to transfer Georg Jensen’s Scandinavian vibe to hotel interiors. The company is in talks with hotels in Scandinavia, Japan, the U.S. and the U.K.

In addition, Georg Jensen is ramping up jewelry and tableware offerings, and dipping into its recently reorganized and digitized archives. “We’ve been working more proactively with the archives after having cleaned them up,” Garde Due said. “But we haven’t lost the charm — there is still the smell of old books where the archives are kept.”

The company was founded in 1904 when the silversmith and sculptor Georg Jensen started his workshop in Copenhagen, creating jewelry, cutlery and table ware. By the time he died in 1935, the firm had developed into a brand with shops in Paris, London, Berlin and New York. There are now about 100 stores in 12 countries and wholesale accounts in Europe, Asia, the U.S., Australia and the Middle East.

The company is still famed for its design. Next month, Georg Jensen will receive the Design and Commerce Brooklyn Museum/Modernism Design Award at the opening of a show of decorative and fine arts at the Park Avenue Armory.

Georg Jensen offers a mix of updated classics as well as new designs.

Last month, at 10 Corso Como in Milan, the brand unveiled a new element in its Moonlight collection — a sterling silver ring covered in a cluster of black agate grapes. “The grape was always used by Georg Jensen as part of the design language,” Garde Due said. “And our strategy has been to tap into stores that we would not have sold to in the past.” The rings will also be sold at the brand’s flagships in London, New York, Sydney and Tokyo.

For fall, the company began rolling out a series of refashioned iconic pieces — such as the curving pitcher and tray by the silversmith Henning Koppel — in stainless steel at more accessible price points compared with the original silver.

This month, Jensen celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Fusion Collection, which is based around different colored gold jewelry that fits together like puzzle pieces. A special edition of pavé diamond jewelry marks the anniversary.

Georg Jensen is majority-owned by the Danish private equity fund Axcel, which also owns Royal Copenhagen. Sales — 75 percent comes from jewelry and watches — totaled $141.2 million last year. Garde Due said he expects that figure to grow in the double-digits this year and anticipates the company will turn a profit in 2010, reflecting rising sales and cost-cutting measures.

Last year, Garde Due closed unprofitable stores, including shop-in-shops, and, in the U.S., slashed the number of wholesale accounts to 50 from 250. He also fine-tuned the distribution, launching watches with Barneys New York and Saks Fifth Avenue, and cut costs overall by streamlining the supply chain.

At the same time, Garde Due tried to remain faithful to the traditions of the company. Georg Jensen has always worked with outside talent. The company has proposals out with Scandinavian designers. The brand has sponsored fashion designers such as Ole Yde in a bid to promote Scandinavian design in its larger sense.

Regitze Overgaard, who designs organically shaped jewelry, will come out with a gold and diamond collection for spring, while the interiors expert Ilse Crawford will create a Georg Jensen home collection using stone, wood and metals.

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