When a tutor told her ‘I have seen and taught thousands of students but I see something different in your work’ Gaelle Khouri knew it was time to quit her high-flying career in finance and devote herself full time to jewellery design and production.
We caught up with Khouri to discuss female empowerment, bejewelled creepy crawlies and her stunning debut collection, The Garden of Earthly Delights
What does this collection mean to you?
I think this collection and designing jewellery in general is a way for me to express myself – to myself first and foremost. And it came very naturally given that I come from a very different educational and professional background; designing wasn’t forced upon me. Creating the pieces has really been a personal self-exploratory journey and I have used the design process to be inquisitive and reflective.
I have always felt an instinctive connection with nature so the first collection, The Garden of Earthly Delights, reflects upon this.
What are your inspirations?
I see women as rational and emotional beings that are shaped by a random series of painful and happy shocks they experience along their lifetime and through those shocks, they build what I call a ‘pattern recognition’ that helps them overcome the next shock. So along the way, the women accumulate pain and happiness and evolve in a stronger, less vulnerable, more beautiful, but definitely more complex way. It’s the same with nature: a series of random and unexpected shocks from wind, to rain, to sun distorts the different elements of nature. Take rocks, for instance, they are changed but rather than being damaged they’re made stronger, more real, more beautiful, but more complex.
So the pieces really translate the complexities of the feminine through the complexities of the universal. For instance, some designs portray provocative and appealing physical characteristics of diverse species that compare in strong ways to human psychological characteristics.
Tell us about the materials you use and the effects they create.
The pieces are all handcrafted, made with a mixture of 18ct gold and oxidised or blackened silver, or treated bronze kept under its matte appearance. The pieces are set with diamonds and precious stones.
The first collection is divided into two carefully curated selections; Couture and Casual. The Couture collection’s innovative use of coloured stones is integral in highlighting the delicate and intricate designs. The Casual collection focuses on the primal beauty of nature’s flora and fauna. With designs such as the jewelled insects and twisted forms my goal is to create powerful pieces with a gothic edge.
You left a very successful career in economics at the top of your game. Why?
The transition didn’t happen overnight. I grew up in Tripoli where the perception of success is largely dictated by a limited number of academic fields. This has partly influenced my academic choice and led me to major in a scientific field. But when I was getting my Master’s degree in New York, I started to realise that what I wanted to do was different from what I was doing at the time. I think it was normal as I was growing up and maturing more to develop a better understanding of myself and my real interests. Also, I think having achieved myself academically – graduating on top of my class at NYU – and professionally – working with renowned companies – in the field of economics, gave me enough confidence to know what I want, say it out aloud, and pursue it.
Today, I think I am reaching a state of self-fulfilment doing what I do, that I feel I would never have reached working in any another industry, no matter how far up the ladder I would have gotten.
Then you went to intern with Oscar de la Renta. How did that lead you to jewellery?
I took on an internship at Oscar de la Renta and then at Elie Saab. I got job offers at both houses but I wanted to start and run my own venture.
I took extensive private jewellery lessons and developed a decent portfolio within a few months. My teacher pushed me to start the production which was an unknown territory to me but I invested four years into learning the technical part at the workshop every day after my day job at the bank. And only when I felt I mastered it, I launched the brand and first collection.
What would your dream commission be and for whom?
Any woman who doesn’t follow the pack, but goes for a daring and different style that truly reflects her personality – all while keeping elegance in check – would stand out for me and would love to see some of the pieces on her.
Stylish women I respect and admire including Daphne Guinness, Miroslava Duma, Pandora Sykes, and Negin Mirsaleh. They are always on point and their styles are always a true reflection of their edgy personalities. I would love to see some of my pieces worn by them, like the Bouquet Ring, Anchor Earrings, and Centipede Necklace.
The Garden Of Earthly Delights is available at the Talisman Gallery at Harvey Nichols