There is unconventional wisdom in Charles Leung’s strategies. When minds and headlines were crowded with dread during a terrifyingly unfamiliar pandemic, the CEO of Parisian jewellery maison Fred pushed forth with the launch of the audaciously upbeat Colour Crush bracelet buckle in April 2020.
Never mind that garden-party ensembles had been replaced by drab lockdown garb — each rainbow-hued piece, encrusted with rubies, spessartite garnets, yellow sapphires, tsavorites, aquamarines, blue sapphires and amethysts, loudly sang a tune different from the sentiments of the times.
Two months later in June, amid widespread gloom, Leung splashed out on a summer campaign. Around Paris and on social media, evocative pictures reminded one of the joys of living; images that brought to mind picnics under the sun, a languid day by the pool, or a frolic in the gardens.
“There was fear of going back to lockdown again, and few brands were advertising during that time. Everywhere, marketing budgets were cut and product launches were postponed. Yet, here we were, doing just the opposite,” recalls Leung.
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The trend-bucking moves paid off. The year 2020 turned out to be a bumper year for Fred, with sales surpassing that of 2019 for the jewellery house—the first to be acquired by LVMH in 1996. Impressive, considering that the overall luxury market shrank by 20 to 22 per cent in the same time frame, according to a Bain & Company report.
Last year proved even stronger, with a wave of 10 Fred openings in locations such as Beijing, Dubai and Singapore, each serving as a launch pad for the region. This year will see an expansion of the number of boutiques in China and South Korea. Leung’s bets are appearing very well-placed.
His boldness and flamboyance have been apparent since his 2018 appointment as CEO. One of the Hong Konger’s first moves was to blow up Force 10 — a key line for Fred since 1966, comprising a braided sailing cable bracelet and a gold buckle — to XL size.
“Men are already spending on fast cars and oversized, complex watches. So, I said, ‘Let them wear their jewellery! Give them another way to express their individualism!’ It took three years to redesign it in the right proportions, and to construct the exact same interchangeable mechanism in an enlarged format,” details Leung, remembering the efforts it took to realise his vision. When they finally appeared in stores last March, the XL pieces flew off the shelves.
Leong, who has passed through the doors of Cartier and Chaumet, is focused on elevating the brand’s positioning. He is excited to spotlight high jewellery pieces in the boutiques. Additionally, a travelling retrospective exhibition, which debuts in Paris this autumn, will travel to Asia next year. It will further showcase exceptional pieces made for royalty and celebrities.
Meanwhile, he has also democratised Fred jewellery by making it the only LVMH-owned jewellery brand available on Alibaba Group’s Tmall Luxury Pavilion—a move that has contributed significantly to Fred’s sales, with Tmall becoming one of Fred’s top five stores in China within a year.
Twenty-five years in the jewellery industry has certainly shaped Leung’s strategies, unconventional or not. Fred’s history was his biggest guiding force to help the company through difficult times. “At the height of the pandemic, I feared contracting the disease and dying alone, far away from my family,” says the Paris-based CEO, looking back on the dark days of grappling with personal and professional life.
“Then I asked myself: What would Fred Samuel, our founder, have done? World War II broke out soon after the maison was created, and he enthusiastically joined the French resistance. Regardless of the circumstances, he always acted with courage and determination, and with a positive outlook. This made me refocus our brand communications on the little joys in life. We are, after all, a brand built on the riviera spirit, on happiness.”
“Fred is what has been missing in the jewellery world: It isn’t about selling you something that will transform you. It is about being relaxed and happy with who you are, and celebrating that,” adds Leung.