The landscape of luxury is ever-changing, and it doesn’t necessarily just mean fancy, expensive products anymore. Going from exclusivity to inclusivity, we have seen a shift in the paradigm of what ‘luxury’ actually means.
In Highsnobiety’s New Luxury white paper, we explain how "once strictly tethered to price, craftsmanship, and traditional notions of status and wealth, luxury today is more complicated and dynamic than the acquisition of rare and expensive items that are shorthand status symbols. Once a form of de facto elitism, luxury today is more democratic. While it still comes at a cost, that cost is now more closely aligned with knowledge and access as opposed to cold, hard cash." Our zeitgeists’ collective consciousness now focuses on quality as the overarching characteristic we strive for. People want pieces that last, and what better than a quality ring or watch?
Family run, high-end jewelry brand Wempe has been in the game since 1878, making it not only a connoisseur at its craft but an established name within the retail industry. Founded by Gerhard D. Wempe in Elsfleth, Northern Germany, the business has been successfully molded and developed by members of the Wempe family for over four generations.
Opening in 1988, the Wempe store on Kurfürstendamm in West Berlin has been a landmark for the company’s unbridled success. As a pinnacle of the brand's vast impact on the luxury jewelry industry, the Kurfürstendamm store underwent an incredible expansion two years ago. Transforming into not only a retail store for its own label amongst the likes of Patek Philippe and Cartier, but a goldsmiths atelier, and showcase spot for up and coming young designers. As the only store currently with a workshop for revamping and resizing old jewelry, Wempe Kurfürstendamm is focused on giving pieces a new lease of life again, truly seeking out the beauty in the possessions we already have.
Walking into the store you instantly feel transported into a whole new realm. Material-wise, everything is extremely cohesive, with final touches and details all having been taken into close consideration. From marble countertops and a state-of-the-art bar, to a concealed cigar room and exorbitant lounge area, the two-storey emporium will have all you texture loving aficionados drooling. From gorgeous timepieces to intricately designed elegant jewelry, Wempe is a master of class and creativity, and now it’s taking it one step further.
As a business with deep roots in its field, Wempe wants to use its respected position to break down barriers in the high-end retail industry, with the final goal of making luxury accessible.
By setting aside space in the Berlin Kurfürstendamm store to be curated in collaboration with Highsnobiety, Wempe gave its platform to young, ambitious designer Nadine Ghosn, and Berlin-based creative studio a c t e™ for a first-ever multi-collaboration exposé.
Born in the US, and of Lebanese-Brazilian descent, Ghosn has spent her life between Tokyo, Paris, and New York. Currently based in London, she continues to build her eponymous label Nadine Ghosn Fine Jewelry. We caught up with Ghosn to talk about the collaboration, her process and design style, to find out just why it’s important to merge vested brands like Wempe with contemporary individual pioneers in the same field.
As an individual with a background almost entirely different from jewelry design, Ghosn’s deviation into this craft and industry didn’t stem out of nowhere. "I’ve loved jewelry since I was a kid. My sisters would ask my father for dolls or books and I would just ask for gems. When I could buy myself a present from my first job, or when I had free time on the weekends I would go to the small street fairs and check out hand-crafted pieces. It was during my management rotation with Hermes that I got the opportunity to understand it better; through working with their jewelry creative and commercial teams. That really ignited it and I felt ready to take a risk and learn something tangible, even though the likelihood of success was low" she explains.
Ghosn’s personal style and approach to jewelry design is pretty unique. "I’m a bit of a misfit, always have been and always will be. Think bold, cheeky and colorful. My approach to the conventional jewelry landscape was atypical when I started - mostly because I had no guidance on where to go and how to do it. The industry was very insular and shared learnings were often not discussed. As I had no contacts or networks I just learnt from the ground up and created my own approach." With a keen focus on craftsmanship and quality, Ghosn comments on how she personally spent time in Beirut with craftsmen who showed her the ropes of making jewelry in a way like no other. When it comes to her inspiration, she strives to make the ordinary, extraordinary. "I love the idea of taking something that most of us are familiar with and using my materials and challenging my manufacturers to create something that's fun and what people want to wear - but that also puts a smile on their face."
This showcase with Wempe sees Ghosn display three of her most prolific collections. 'Too Cool for School', takes inspiration from everyday academic life, leading us on a trip down memory lane with a collection that teems with pencils, paperclips, and protractors. This nostalgic line teleports these objects into a new dimension in a charming ode to our childhood. Through the globally relatable form of Lego pieces, 'Building Blocks' nods towards the constant assembling and reassembling of different parts of our lives. Reminding us that we are able to overcome challenges step-by-step, this collection focuses on collectiveness and growth. Finally, 'Bare & Vie' explores the habitual symbols and motifs we come across daily. From text and headphones to hamburgers and charging batteries, this collection has an underlying playful persona, typical of Ghosn’s unique style and perspective.
"I try to push the boundaries of what exists and the code of conduct within the industry. I have no jewelry background, and although that was seen as a weakness, it actually put me at quite an advantage as it allowed me to develop my own out of the box thinking and translate it into art form through precious metals and stones. The burgers for example are emblematic of me breaking the status quo, challenging manufacturers and retailers who were not used to having seven rings be sold as one. I love this democratization of jewelry."
Instead of merely purchasing a product, consumers are now buying into the designer, the lifestyle and the community. "My customers are buying into my vision. There's this openness, yet people tend to ask me, "what's the age range?" and I say, "there isn’t one." I have people of all ages wanting bits, I just made earrings for a 70 year old. You know what I mean?"
a c t e™ also pushed the boat out when it came to creating the display environments for Ghosn’s pieces to shine. The creative studio drew inspiration from the magical and uncanny beauty of the surrealist movement to build a dialogue with Ghosn’s unconventional work, showcasing her expertise. Creating a juxtaposition between the imperfection of surrealist objects, and the perfection of high-quality jewelry, a c t e™ has assembled abstract sculptures that awaken curiosity and invite you deeper into the collection. From oversized broken pencils and melting brick blocks, to a landscape composed of a tongue and twisted pliers, a c t e™ plays with the dichotomy between mysticism and traditionalism pushing our senses into another world.
When it came to working with Wempe, Ghosn voiced how the family-run aspect of the business was something that drew her in from the start. "I’m an old soul and Wempe always have their eye on longevity and creativity, which is what really matters. Between us there is a clear palpable passion for the trade and I think we both have a lot to learn from one another. The fact that we have shared values also helps us speak the same language and understand our different perspectives."
In a day and age where everything and everyone is moving at such a fast pace and wanting the next new thing, Wempe is stepping back and really focusing on what is important - attention to detail and building foundations for successful partnerships. "I definitely didn't want the cash cow kind of retailer dynamic where I push on something and then it's done," explains Nadine. "There’s an element of time that we both give, so if the collection doesn't work the first season, I don't think it's done. It's giving people that time to get acclimated to the pieces, to become familiar, and to get curious. I believe that by taking me on and including me in its selection, Wempe is making quite a bold statement. First by supporting a young designer, and second, by leveraging its platform and introducing new unconventional designs. Through its actions, it's showing its will to keep innovating and elevating the industry. To many, it might seem like a marriage of paradoxes, but really it is a step into the future."
With a desire to weave and tell stories, and to really build personal connections, Wempe’s focus on people is what really makes it stand out. Through this collaboration with Highsnobiety, Wempe is building a platform and facilitating a space for young, ambitious designers to grow and gain exposure. Wempe’s focus on interconnectedness in our current cultural sphere is not only enriching the jewelry industry, but creating a symbiotic relationship between luxury, art, design, and fashion - all the while maintaining an undying appreciation for the product and craftsmanship.
Book an appointment here to see the exposé at the Wempe Kurfürstendamm store.