PARIS — Pursuing its thrust into Asia, Fred has employed a family member to help out, naming the founder’s granddaughter, Valérie Samuel, as artistic director and vice president.
It’s a rare case of a descendant returning to the fold of a family house well after its sale to a luxury conglomerate.
And perhaps even more unusual for someone who had started her working life in the business, took part in its sale, in 1995, to LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and went on to forge a career outside of the brand for two decades.
“It’s a house that I know well because it was established by my grandfather in 1936 and I was lucky to start my career with my father and grandfather…I was the ‘young helper’ of the house,” said Samuel, in an interview on an upper floor of the jeweler’s Rue de la Paix address in Paris.
Samuel is also taking on the position of interim director while the company seeks a replacement for Rachel Marouani, who is moving to the helm of another LVMH brand, Make Up For Ever, after a six-year tenure at the jewelry house.
“The first thing that Rachel had to do when she arrived was redefine and center the brand on its brand territory, define its role, its scope and then redeploy its collections, notably, Force 10 and more recently 8 degrees zero, consolidate existing markets and now we are in a phase of acceleration,” explained Samuel, referring to the label’s signature sailor cable and knot-inspired designs.
“This is our vision, for Rachel, bringing me on, and for me, accepting the challenge,” added the executive.
“We are at a turning point and now we can accelerate the development of the markets, accelerate the development of collections and to talk more about it,” she added.
Samuel studied human resources in her native France and earned a degree at the Gemological Institute in Los Angeles. She started her career in the family business in 1988, with tasks that would today be described as marketing, she explained, like presenting new collections for retailers and looking after the window displays. Her position before leaving: head of design and manufacturing.
Samuel went on to work at Lalique, the art deco glass and jewelry label, reestablishing the jewelry and watches division before becoming marketing director. At Swarovski, she served as vice president of jewelry, accessories and watches for seven years.
“I have come to write the next page…the house has developed in a spectacular way under the impetus of Rachel,” said Samuel.
“For me, it’s evolution with continuity, if you will, there won’t be a change in direction. However, my vision is really to enrich the stylistic territory of the house and continue to evolve.…I come with the codes of the business and my experience driving the collections of other houses,” added the jewelry executive.
Samuel plans to emphasize capsule collections and is working on a collection of French Riviera-inspired collection, as well, using semiprecious stones.
“I’d like it to be very summery with long necklaces, hoop earrings — easy jewelry to wear in the sunshine,” she said, noting she plans to go to Monaco at the end of the week. The house has a store on the famed Croisette Boulevard in Cannes, overlooking the Mediterranean, a source of inspiration for its founder.
To address a growing Chinese clientele, Samuel plans to use rubies in an 8 degree zero collection for China in January ahead of the Chinese New Year.
“Development in China is one of the priorities for 2018, but also in the long term, along with the historic markets of Japan and South Korea,” she said. The house opened five points of sale in China this year and plans five more next year, bringing the total number of openings to 12 in the space of 18 months, she explained. Force 10 is the bestseller in that market, she explained.
The popularity of eight degrees zero, a line with an interlocking buckle that makes the shape of a sideways symbol 8, in Asia has outpaced Europe, she added, noting the symbolism of the number eight as good luck.
While the brand has quickly gained ground in Asia, the company plans to work on increasing its notoriety in the region.
“I also saw at Swarovski, if we do things well, if we have the right codes, and listen, then they are very, very enthusiastic,” she said, referring to Asian consumers.
Does Samuel have the legitimacy, as an heir of the founding family, to introduce new pillar lines of jewelry to the house?
“Do I have the legitimacy? At any rate, I’m here for that, and I will do everything I can, of course, in keeping with the history of the house, in its roots — there are beautiful pieces and lovely stories, the challenge today is to reinvent them and renew them for the current era,” she said,
“It will take a bit of time, the circle of product development, when we want to do things well, with quality standards — it doesn’t happen in two months — there will more visibility in 2019 for new collections,” she added.