Even in the quietest Cannes – Fawaz Gruosi dazzles
It was called the quietest Cannes in years. But if the stars barely shone, the diamonds certainly did in a season that underlined how vital the world’s greatest film festival is to the jewelry industry - especially for De Grisogono, and its founder and creative director Fawaz Gruosi.
Chopard feted its latest year as a sponsor of Cannes, as the festival celebrated its 70th anniversary; Swarovski launched a path-breaking line of non-mined diamonds, with brand ambassador Naomie Harris.
However, Hollywood megastars were thin on the ground – Sharon Stone didn’t even show up as star auctioneer for the amfAR charity dinner. Several major brands, like Christian Dior, cancelled planned parties. Indeed, no major fashion house threw a boldface name party. It was left to German rock-n-roll label Philipp Plein and a model, not a designer, Naomi Campbell, to stage shows.
Rihanna caused a sensation with her choice of gowns by Dior and Ralph & Russo, but then pointedly refused to sing at the Space Party, which she co-hosted with Chopard. Besides the Barbadian singer, the red carpet looked modest – notably with French actresses guilty of wearing prosaic old bourgeois clothes in their climbs up to the Palais des Festivals.
However, if anyone cut such a swathe through Cannes it was Fawaz Gruosi, founder of de Grisogono, the jewelry brand that wines and dines its wealthy clients on the chichi terrace at the Martinez Hotel. And shows the most spectacular jewelry – highlighted this season by Gruosi’s serpentine necklace that wrapped around the neck three times to finish with a 42 carat diamond head. Its price – 8 million euros.
Yet, the legendarily charming Fawaz, is ever modest: “I’m not a designer at all. Yes, I can do a sketch in one second and give it to my girls. But then I decide to change here and there. Where does my inspiration come from? You see this beautiful color of the lovely brugmansia flowers. It might be that while talking to you, in a flash, I get an idea of inventing a new shape of beautiful earrings. Or it could be the sky’s changing color next season. Or, the forest; there are 50,000 thousand colors of green!”
Fawaz revolutionized high jewelry two decades ago as the jeweler to use black diamonds; and mix precious and semi-precious stones. One of his most charming looks this season were a trio of diamond rings, wore on simple active sport-strap bracelets. Often described as a Florentine, Fawaz was actually born in Damascus.
“I was born in Syria - for a week. As usual, I create problems for everybody, as I was three weeks premature. My father was a Lebanese businessman based in Damascus; my mother was Italian. When she took me to visit relatives in Florence, the phone call came that my father had passed away. And my mother decided to live in Italy. And I learned Italian,” he explains.
After working for Harry Winston and Bulgari, Fawaz created his own brand in 1993 with just 16,000 Swiss francs, not enough, he recalls “to open a small shop for chocolates.” And then he worked like a luxury Stakhanovite. “I did not think too much. I just did work, work and work. My assistant calculated in the past 24 years, I had two months and 11 days’ holidays. Why? Because I have passion, passion and passion for what I do.”
Today, De Grisogono’s annual party in Cannes is the hardest invite of all to obtain in Cannes. Scores of uber-models dazzled in the garden of the Hotel du Cap, as billionaires’ wives admired the couture-quality jewelry. In a season marked by a modest choice films and bitter polemic against Netflix for being permitted to show films without theatrical premieres first in France, one left Cannes thinking that the new stars of the Cote d’Azur are not the actual actors but the runway models and multi-million-dollar rocks. This season, a dozen jewelry brands descended on Cannes, but apart from Chopard, only de Grisogono showed haute joaillerie.
“I don’t mean that today the others are not jewelers. But they belong to big luxury companies. Directed by CEOs, who do not come from the jewelry industry. So, these shareholders think only about margins and results. You saw what we do, and what the others do. It does not mean that they are bad. But they are in another world,” he sniffs, lighting up a Marlboro Red.
De Grisogono is owned by a mixture of African and Middle Eastern investors, though they clearly give Fawaz enormous leeway creatively. In a given year, he creates about 350 unique pieces, and has been doing that for the past 24 years. And, he insists he never had a specific muse.
“I know that women love to look at women. The shoes, dress, handbags, makeup and jewelry. And I see that and I think a party without a woman would not be a real party. So that’s who I design for,” smiles the Cecil B Demille of high-end jewelry.
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