OUT OF ITS SHELL
Khuroum Ali Bukhari
Most will have heard of Faberg? the jeweller whose decorative eggs became a favourite of Russian tsars. Created between 1885 and 1916, the eggs came to define Faberg?s reputation for opulent designs and intricate detailing.
But all this came to an end when Faberg?s ateliers were seized by the Bolsheviks, after the Romanov dynasty were removed from power during the 1917 Russian Revolution. Fleeing Russia, the house's founder Peter Carl Faberg?died three years later in Switzerland.
Over the years, his family lost the rights to the Faberg?brand. In 1989 it was purchased for US$1.55 billion by British-Dutch multinational Unilever, which allowed it to be licensed indiscriminately, selling items far removed from its roots in fine jewellery.
Now backed by a South African mining company and with Peter Carl's descendants on board, Faberg?is aiming to once again become a bijoux powerhouse in the world of fine jewellery.
Heading up its revival is creative director Katharina Flohr, along with Sarah and Tatiana Faberg? great-great-granddaughters of Peter Carl. Since it was acquired in 2007 by Pallinghurst Resources and launched in 2009, Flohr has been involved in repositioning the Faberg?name so that it is once again perceived as a luxury brand.
'The first and most important question was, what is Faberg?going to mean today? How can we make it relevant?' she says. 'Appealing to more youthful tastes is perhaps one approach.'
But figuring out how to make Faberg?modern has meant learning about the magic of its past. Sarah and Tatiana, who are on the brand's Heritage Council, have been establishing an archive bank with stories and anecdotes to increase knowledge of the brand's history and inform its design decisions. And there's a lot to work with: Faberg?s workshops once produced more than 200,000 items of jewellery, tableware and accessories.
It's a carefully managed approach to the brand that Flohr feels works best with the company DNA and the future of Faberg? 'We don't want to be a marketing-driven brand,' she says. 'We feel there's a niche for beautifully made bespoke items and becoming the family jeweller once again; the shop where you buy your first egg pendant to celebrate a special occasion. We feel it embodies what Faberg?needs to be: both true to itself and able to differentiate itself in an overcrowded world.'
With a brand once renowned for its delicacy of craftsmanship, finding the right workshop to deliver the required exquisite work must have been challenging. Flohr laughs as she looks over a Ribbon Egg, an elaborate piece inspired by Russian textiles and set in 18-carat white, pink and yellow gold withan array of diamonds, sapphires and emeralds.
'We've done it with sheer perseverance, kindness, good design and a great name,' says Flohr, recalling renowned French jewellery artist Frederic Zaavy. 'He said: 'I don't need you, but I am intrigued since it's Faberg?.'
Flohr is cautious, but would like to expand the current offering from fine jewellery to watches and art de la table, so that they're covering similar bases that Peter Carl did during his heyday. 'The future is open to all sorts of collaborations with all sorts of craftspeople,' she says.
And what would Peter Carl Faberg?say about all of this? 'He always thought the revolution was a blip. He thought he was going back. It was very sad; he died a broken man after leaving Russia for Switzerland,' says Sarah Faberg?
'But he'd be having a wry smile, wherever he is on his cloud, thinking: how wonderful, the girls are taking it forward.'
Faberg?is available at Lane Crawford, Hong Kong
Appealing to a younger audience, but staying true to their roots, Faberg? will launch a black-and-white advertising campaign for its latest line of jewellery in spring 2012.
The campaign was put together by the dream team of photographer Mario Testino, stylist (and former French Vogue editor-in-chief) Carine Roitfeld, make-up artist Charlotte Tilbury and producer Katherine Flohr. The shoot was modelled by Josh Faberg? a descendent of the family, alongside his contemporaries M?lanie de Pouqueville, Nina Flohr and Sophia Flohr. This has allowed the brand to tread that fine line between Russian and western cultures, both past and present.
Late last year Faberg?opened a shop in Mayfair, and in spring this year it will open a new shop on Madison Avenue.