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The Insider: Shourouk Rhaiem

The Parisienne jewellery designer's sparkly creations have been worn by Lady Gaga, Michelle Obama, Sarah Jessica Parker, Miroslava Duma and Anna Dello Russo, among others.
The jewellery designer Shourouk Rhaiem. Courtesy: Shourouk
The jewellery designer Shourouk Rhaiem. Courtesy: Shourouk

Shourouk Rhaiem is dressed in a black Givenchy jacket and a voluminous black mesh skirt. She is wearing very little jewellery, apart from a pair of eye-catching glitzy crystal clip earrings with a large pink stone that she designed herself. They are the sort of enormous showstoppers you could envisage Joan Collins wearing as Alexis Colby in her Dynasty days.

“I am super 80s: my influences are MC Hammer [the American rapper], Dallas and Dynasty, shoulder pads and hairspray,” Rhaiem explains in her soft French accent. “It was an era of contrasts, and also the power of dressing and accessorising. Big was best.”

The fancy earclips are to be part of her upcoming autumn collection. “I always make earrings but this time I wanted some big Dynasty earrings.”

The earrings are facing some stiff competition in the sparkly crystal surroundings of Swarovski’s exhibition room in Basel, where Rhaiem made a flying visit to unveil her new collaboration with the crystal gem specialist, to be launched this September. The new design is a watch: an ironic choice, given that Rhaiem doesn’t wear one herself – a point she made when Nathalie Colin, the creative director of Swarovski, approached her with the idea.

“I don’t wear a watch because everything is on my mobile: so now we choose watches more as an accessory rather than using them to tell the time,” she says. However, she will be wearing this watch because she has designed it like a lavishly jewelled bracelet. A simple, circular Swiss-made quartz watch face comes with a wardrobe of three interchangeable straps and bezels in vintage art-deco onyx and crystal designs that take the watch from day to night. “I like this idea because it is playful,” she says.

Playful is a word Rhaiem uses a lot when she describes her work; she wants customers to have fun with her pieces and the way they wear them. She launched her business in 2007, just before the recession and a period when everyone was downsizing, from their budgets to their lifestyles. However, brand Shourouk’s dazzlingly colourful statement necklaces ran counter to the prevailing mood and were an instant success. “When I started there weren’t many fashion jewellery brands around apart from Lanvin [Alber Elbaz], who started the trend for big jewellery with his ribbons, pearls and stones, Prada and Marni, but otherwise it was boring. So while all the televisions were talking about the financial crisis, I was arriving with colours and statement pieces and they were an immediate hit.”

Shourouk’s necklaces are created with an embroiderer’s eye for layering intricate detail. Although she was born in Paris, Rhaiem’s family is from Nabeul, Tunisia. “The city is famous for its embroidery: I learnt the techniques from my grandmother and have always found the traditional Tunisian garment inspiring.” It was by combining the traditional embroidery with sequins that she created her first collection.

“Tunisian women like razzle-dazzle jewellery and outfits, especially for big occasions. I’m sure that my roots influenced the way that I think and create my designs. I love it when they look chunky and shiny,” she enthuses.

As a child, Rhaiem was fascinated by her grandmother’s jewellery, especially a Bulgari Serpente bracelet. “As a little girl I would play with her diamonds and her dresses with their crystal embroideries. It was a very feminine, elegant world, so it wasn’t hard for me to be influenced.”

She studied fashion, and fine-tuned her skills as an embroiderer and her knowledge of the luxury accessories world by working at Roberto Cavalli, Chloé and John Galliano. At Galliano, she created a particularly beautiful embroidery for a coat that he asked her to repeat on gloves and bags. It was his name on the label, however, and by then she knew that she wanted her own name on her work.

She was making jewellery in her spare time with vintage crystals found in the flea markets of Paris and took her pieces to her former tutor, Marie Rucki, at the prestigious Studio Berçot, hoping that she would help her find a job designing jewellery at Lanvin. Rucki thought it would be a shame for Rhaiem to work for someone else and encouraged her to start her own business: “This is so cool, you could start your own brand,” she said.

Lavish necklaces and chandelier earrings are Shourouk’s signatures, crafted with Swarovski crystals and other inspiring gems it introduces. There is a 1950s haute-joaillerie aesthetic to her work, but using PVC and neon climbing rope gives her designs an interesting, modern twist. There are cuffs, earrings and, recently, she has added bejewelled clutch bags, baseball caps and jewelled trainers for added playfulness.

The best way to wear jewellery is casually, says Rhaiem. “It’s more fun and unique. I would say also to take risks: you can accumulate, mix and match. Jewellery gives you the opportunity to try many things, so just go for it,” she smiles.

Updated: May 1, 2014 04:00 AM

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