Jordanian jeweller Lama Hourani opens boutique in Shanghai
Lama Hourani's cleverly constructed pieces are creating a stir in Asia. We take a tour of her new Shanghai showroom
With her striking, sculpted silver range of jewellery decorating austere white vases along a wall and on a table, Jordanian designer Lama Hourani's new Shanghai showroom looks more like an art gallery or museum than a fashion boutique. A celebrity designer in the Arab world, Hourani has a clientele that extends beyond royalty or socialites to even the pope.
Hourani has exquisite taste, from her personal style to the apartment she shares with her husband (already featured in several Chinese glossies). The just-opened showroom on the ground floor of a French Concession lane house features custom-made, architecturally complex gold and marble plinths, a deep sapphire blue carpet, designer armchairs, black and white photography of ethnic minority tribes, elegant plants and stylish mirrors. It's basically a fitting place for a style maven and her treasures.
"The showroom is exclusive, and visits are by appointment only," Shanghai-based Hourani says. "So there's that discovery aspect, too. I opened it because people in China were just so curious. It was amazing. The handmade aspect is special, and it's a major plus for me to have a proper presence here."
Those who have met Hourani quickly realise she isn't just another trend-flipping fashion victim. Today her hair is pulled back into a knot, she's looking chic in a dusky pink outfit by Vivienne Tam, big eyes shining with excitement and exhaustion over finally finishing renovations and fittings.
After several trunk shows and pop-ups in Shanghai and Hong Kong (she's a frequent visitor), this opening also coincides with her launch of fine jewellery using 18-carat gold, precious and semi-precious stones, and the growth of her Chinese business.
"The major difference between the two lines is that silver is super-extravagant and the fine jewellery is more like second skin, very wearable," she says.
As China's fashion landscape and consumer tastes change, at least in the first-tier cities, Hourani's distinctive designs are hitting a sweet spot with a certain confident clientele.
While her silver line features raw shapes, stones and unconventional combinations highlighting cultural and historical motifs, there is an elegant geometry to the quieter fine line.
"People were really excited by the concept, even from the beginning, of having a luxury brand with heart, soul and story," she says. "They really wanted to associate with culture and art versus oversaturated luxury. They wanted to stand out, be part of the authenticity."
With the reputation for being strong and independent, Shanghainese women, in particular, have fallen for Hourani's unusual aesthetic.
The sophisticates are now eschewing blinged out monogrammed luxury items for more distinctive or handmade pieces.
"My clients are from all over the world and are usually independent, self-established, culturally curious women … China has so much of that," she says.
"If you are talking about demographics, those who are well-travelled, the crème de la crème, they all want to wear a statement piece that says something, rather than something that makes them belong somewhere. A lot of customers in China are beyond that first stage."
She presents at Paris fashion week, and upscale retailers around the world have her creations in stock. What people always notice about Hourani's work is its depth. Coming from the Middle East, Hourani sees her company and profile as more representative of her region - of Arab women - than others she has seen.
"I come from a deeply cultural part of the world - so full of traditions and mythology - and jewellery has always been part of the ornamentations involved," she says. So, the core of her label is "connecting the world, building bridges and creating a cultural mesh".
Her first collection was inspired by prehistoric art. "It was the first way human beings communicated, before languages, religions, ethnicity and everything that separates us. A common language," she says. "Digitalisation today is amazing, but has made us all replicas of each other. We lose our identity and unique references."
Hourani's silver line is clearly influenced by traditional totems, motifs, and native art, whether Peruvian Inca, Maasai or Arabian. All of it is produced in Jordan by a team that's been with her for 15 years.
The fine jewellery is made in Hong Kong and China, where she can keep a close eye on the process. A key collection in this range is the "side rock", a classic cut diamond shape tilted to the side as if resting on a flat surface - a design that started with Hourani's own wedding ring.
"I wanted to set the diamond differently," she says. "This way it almost lies between my fingers rather than on top, and is actually more comfortable. You also see the whole stone and how beautiful the cut is rather than just seeing the top."
The fine jewellery pieces might be more subtle and delicate, but are no less architecturally complex. Always playful and cleverly deconstructed, the Evolution of Rock collection, for example, cuts the diamond shape into two halves, "combining clean, pure delicate lines".
But as distinctive and attractive as Hourani's creations are, special attention needs to be drawn to the social impact of her business, as her Jordanian workshops train and provide work for underprivileged women and the disabled. That's especially noteworthy in the Middle East, where those groups have few work prospects and little upward mobility. For her social awareness, Hourani was appointed one of Young Global Leaders at the 2012 World Economic Forum.
The king and queen of Jordan then commissioned Hourani to design a "meaningful but simple" rosary for Pope Francis' visit last year in May. "I am the biggest fan of this pope," she says.
Hourani says she works hard to make her brand "smart, authentic, responsible and ethical" - and that these factors are just as important as getting the culture right and sourcing the right stones and materials.
Although Hourani calls fashion "the world of dreams", she believes a side of the industry plays too much towards vanity. Her style might be more esoteric - not fitting squarely into a trend-obsessed mainstream - but she still impresses those in the industry. Her fine jewellery has been displayed in Luisa Via Roma, and is sold through Hong Kong's Joyce and Plukka.com online stores and her own website lamahourani.com
She plans to expand her line further, not only commercially but also in products such as home accessories, in the coming years. All the while, this globetrotter moves between Shanghai, Amman and her European base in Barcelona, Spain.
Being on the move is how Hourani finds inspiration, and yet she adds: "There's a bit of Jordan in everything I do. It's in my heart and soul."