Fred Samuel is a bold and passionate believer in his own destiny, leading him to found his jewellery brand, Maison FRED, in Paris in 1936, audaciously upending traditional jewellery conventions with joyful and creative designs. Since then, his jewellery has become the trademark of a new, informal glamour and relaxed elegance, its uniqueness making it the first jewellery brand to be acquired by LVMH back in 1996. A passionate traveller who embraced every culture, Fred Samuel took his greatest inspiration from the world around him, and built unique links between FRED and clients from different parts of the world, including the Middle East. Today, Maison FRED returns to this part of the world to open its first boutique in Dubai, a dreamy oasis of French Riviera style. In this interview we had the opportunity to talk to Charles Leung, the CEO of Maison FRED, who shares his aspirations for the brand in the Middle East, and talks about his challenges and hopes for the future.
How has the heritage of Maison FRED shaped the brand into what it is today?
If you see the brand today, it’s colourful and joyful, and there is a lot of Mediterranean symbolism, reminding us the sun and the sea, which all comes from the brand’s heritage. It is Fred Samuel ’s story, and the combination of the three values and that “Modern Jeweller” identity that Fred Samuel had engraved on his business card. The Riviera style is luxurious, but at the same time relaxed and effortlessly chic, and the traditions left by 85 years of know-how and craftsmanship survive until the present day.
Fred Samuel embraced innovation in his time. Was this the reason why the brand was pioneering ahead of gother traditional jewellery brands?
I think each brand had its own magic, position, and role in the industry, but we are different because of Fred Samuel ’s idea of being a creator and being original. When he started his brand, he wanted to make a name for himself even though the notion of branding wasn’t very strong in the jewellery industry back then. As a young person, he started to think about putting a name on his jewellery, and because he started later in life, he wanted to stand out among his competitors and attract new clients through innovation and creativity. For example, he brought in cultured pearls at a time when everyone was using naturally derived ones.
FRED uses cutting-edge digital technology that goes in line with the brand’s dynamic avant-garde vision. What is the future for the jewellery-making industry in your opinion?
The funny thing about jewellery is that you can’t go too out-there without considering tradition. Innovation could involve using new materials, so even though we continue using older, traditional materials, we can try certain new ones like titanium. Innovation could also be in the way we wear pieces, or perhaps widening the clientele to be more inclusive and genderless, such as men wearing a wider variety of designs.
After having conquered China, catering to its young customers, are you planning to conquer Arabia and what is your path to success in the region?
We are trying to introduce the brand to different clientele, and we need to work hard so that people can understand the brand perfectly and fall in love with it. The first step was in China and now it is time to explore further, with wider clientele. The Middle East is our new battlefield for sure, because we know that clients in this region know a lot about jewellery as it’s part of their culture and lifestyle. Since all jewellery pieces have different meanings, we want to be different from the other brands in the market. Our angle is to show that FRED is more relevant than others, by highlighting our uniqueness and showing our originality. It’s a very special brand because we have that French Riviera style.
What lessons have you learned from the pandemic and how will you incorporate them in the brand’s future strategies?
We must stay relevant to the customers by focusing on them. We have to appreciate people more and not take things for granted. During the pandemic, people thought nobody needed jewellery when there were no weddings or celebrations happening, but we changed the tone of our social media campaigns. We tried to imagine what people could do day to day when it was impossible to go out for more than one hour, and then we showcased the jewellery based on that. You can enjoy wearing a simple bracelet or pendant while you are hanging out with a friend, laughing and having fun in nature. That resonated a lot with people so they saw our brand as friendly, human and joyful.
As long as there is love and hope, there will be jewellery. You don’t need a piece of jewellery; if you buy a piece, it’s a bit of self-indulgence and to please the people we care about. FRED can be for everyday appreciation - the enjoyment of our pieces isn’t not limited to a certain once-in-a-life experience, but rather living in the moment.
Another lesson is to take calculated risks and don’t be afraid. I was also thinking what Fred Samuel would have done if he was in my place - he took risks, he joined the army and got captured, he faced an economic crisis, and yet he always stayed strong. He also had a very big heart, so we always try to contribute positively to humanity. We motivate the whole team to help others, such as donating 10% of our steel buckle online sales to the Special Olympics association and supporting others charities. I learned that it's always important to do our best to think about our social responsibility and donate a portion of our profits.
You are in a city that is aiming to become a leading destination of the future. As a brand, how can you relate to this ambition?
We are very happy to be in Dubai. It is a major, worldwide hub which attracts lots of different people to visit and to invest in business opportunities. That’s why our first store in the Middle East is here, and it might not be the only one. I know that the countries in this region are very ambitious, and there is a big market for high luxury, so hopefully in the coming years we will gradually enlarge and invest in our network.
What do you expect from the Middle Eastern market?
We expect to rediscover the glory we once had here. Fred Samuel and his family used to come here, and had a sizable business. . Middle Eastern clients are very mobile and international, so we also hope to see them elsewhere in the world when travelling becomes safer.
In your opinion, what differentiates the customers in the Middle East from the rest of the world?
Middle eastern customers are very used to jewellery as it’s a part of their culture from the moment they are born, whereas in Asia it is reserved for weddings and other special occasions. In this region, jewellery is an essential part of self-expression, as well as making a statement with the traditional ways of dressing. For example, we have various designs that are different to the ones in other countries that are perfect for garments like abayas.
How are you preparing yourself to meet the expectations of the clientele in the region? Is there a collection in the pipeline designed especially for the region?
We will be thinking of pieces that will fit and be workable for the traditional clothing of the customers in this region. I have also realized that women here love stacking different pieces of jewellery together, so we will continue working on more designs that are suitable for that. I will have to learn more from the customers as we go, and if there is a special story to tell we will consider designing a special collection; we used to have a lot of special orders for Middle Eastern clients and we will continue catering to their taste.
According to you, FRED enjoyed growth in the “nice single digits” in 2020. That’s quite a performance, so what does 2022 hold for the brand and how do you think the market in this region will contribute to that?
Following an impressive period of growth in 2021, despite the pandemic, 2022 will be continuing in this direction. We have just one store in the region, and we have arrived at a time when other established brands have been here for 15 years, but we hope our store will be among the top 10 stores in the world. With the continued support of LVMH our growth will accelerate, I have no doubt about that. We also have major global projects in the making which were delayed because of the pandemic, and which are due to be released in 2022.