Q&A:Susanne Kölbli, creative director, Thomas Sabo

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On gender in jewellery design and how the brand merchandises in-store.

Susanne Kölbli is the creative director at Thomas Sabo, working closely with Sabo himself to develop its jewellery collections. She spoke with Professional Jeweller about gender in jewellery design, marketing and merchandising and working with Poppy Delevingne.

Professional Jeweller: Do androgynous or unisex influences shape your work, and if so in what way?
Susanne Kölbli: Certainly. While creating a new collection, Mr. Sabo and I are inspired by all kinds of influences – from runway trends, to the arts as well as street styles. These influences are not gender-specific at all; the past years have shown that men have started to wear more accessories, than they have before. But I do create collections with different customers in mind. Our secret is that we are able to create different collections with either a gender-specific, like our female Glam and Soul collection or with unisex-appeal, like the Rebel at heart collection, that is inspired by a rebellious attitude with rock’n’ roll influences.

PJ: Do you specify who, in terms of girls vs boys, should buy what from Thomas Sabo?
SK: It is almost impossible to specify gender specific fashion statements nowadays. With fashion and accessories, it is about creating individual styles and looks and at Thomas Sabo we encourage everyone to be creative and make a fashion statement of their own. Anyone can make an impression. However, certainly most items of our Charm Club or our Glam & Soul collection are made for girls and women. The Rebel at Heart collection is designed for and is targeting specifically modern, expressive gentlemen with a rebellious side. Although the Rebel at Heart collection is a men’s collection it has a certain unisex-appeal as women like to play with rock’n’roll attitude and the rebellious designs as well.

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PJ: How relevant are cultural or catwalk trends, such as the leaning towards androgyny
we’ve seen in fashion, shape jewellery demand or styles?

SK: Drawing inspiration and trends form contemporary fashion is essential, but I also do need to know my customer’s taste. You have to provide designs appealing to various customers taking your customers’ loyalty into account. The collection features female designs and classic pieces appealing to all genders. Talking in terms of jewellery – you have to provide statement pieces, trendy must-haves and yet you cannot live without classics. And with the Thomas Sabo collections, there is a lot of room for creativity just thinking in terms of our material sterling silver, blackened silver, 18ct plated yellow or rose gold.

PJ: Which pieces in your collection do you believe have unisex or androgynous appeal?
SK: I believe apart from cufflinks almost every item in the Rebel at Heart collection appeals to both men and women. All the rings in this collection and the bracelets are, for instance, available in small women’s sizes. And watches are a good example of unisex appeal – nowadays some women like to wear a masculine watch, we do provide the styles in all kind of sizes.

PJ: What makes a piece of jewellery gender non-specific?
SK: Anything simple is relatively gender non-specific – whether it is a ring, a watch, a necklace or a bracelet. However, as a lifestyle brand Thomas Sabo offers trend pieces that are designed to match contemporary female high fashion. This way we target not only one group of customers with just one taste but instead we offer pieces for trendsetters, classic jewellery for women and men and rebellious pieces for those with a little bit of a rock-allure.

PJ: How do you go about marketing jewellery to males and females at the same time?
SK: Our store merchandising concept is constantly being reviewed and updated and of invaluable input to it is our customers’ feedback. We aim at providing affordable, luxurious jewellery for everyone and strive for creating a shopping environment and atmosphere with the highest service level possible. Collections being displayed individually facilitate the customers’ cruise through the store and allow for a personal first impression..The Rebel at Heart collection is displayed in close vicinity to the Glam & Soul and sterling silver collections – both directed at a more mature and lifestyle-oriented customer. They require attention and personal consultation and a more quiet shop environment. The Charm Club Collection is designed for a younger customer group that browses with a higher frequency and needs less consultation. It is like creating playgrounds for various kinds of customers – each meeting the needs, being informative and service-oriented whilst allowing for them to cruise through the shop without guidance. All above that is our general store and display design, that reflects our strong corporate identity and corporate style. A customer will always know, that she or he is in a Thomas Sabo store or at a Thomas Sabo counter.

PJ: Model Poppy Delevingne is the face of your mainline women’s collection – what is it about her that lends her image to brand so well?
SK: Poppy has been a fan of our brand for quite some time and perfectly embodies our vision of a cosmopolitan woman: naturally self-assured, with a charming allure and she is at great ease in terms of making fashion statements. She belongs to the best dressed women worldwide and is featured in all international fashion magazines due to her remarkable style but still manages to keep her fascinating freshness. She can literally wear almost anything and add her personal style to it. That is why she matches our collections. With her elegant yet natural grown-up style and charming personality she perfectly represents the spirit of our brand in general.

PJ: Is Rebel at Heart aimed at men and women, or do you feel it is a men’s collection that will appeal to women – tell us a little about the targeting and positioning of the range?
SK: With this year’s SS13 collection Thomas Sabo decided to clearly position Rebel at Heart as a men’s collection. It is a naturally cool, elegant collection with a rebel’s heart to it. But as I mentioned before Rebel at Heart is in its origin a unisex collection and women are invited to wear and express themselves with it. And they do: quite a lot of the Rebel at Heart customers are women. I do wear the pieces myself.
 

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