Jewellers return to the red carpet
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
There was celebration — and relief — on Tuesday as the red carpet was finally rolled out at the Cannes Film Festival. The ramifications of the cancellation of last year’s festival ran deep, because the global platform could not be used by the film industry to close distribution deals or secure funding for new productions. But nor could Chopard, the festival’s official partner since 1998, use the event to raise its profile, meet VIP clients or sell its annual high jewellery red carpet collection, which was due to debut there.
“We do different events around the world, whether it’s in China or New York, but often it’s just one time — it’s not repetitive like Cannes,” explains Caroline Scheufele, Chopard’s artistic director and co-president. She describes the film festival as one of the company’s two biggest events and selling opportunities of the year. Usually, 120,000 visitors flock to the festival. They all stayed away from the Riviera town last year — as did the Hollywood glitterati who wear Chopard’s jewels and watches on the red carpet.
“There are not many other global moments that people are literally looking at the high jewellery creations of these houses . . . all in one place and where they size themselves up against each other,” says Natalia Cassel, founder of the Cassel Consultancy, which has worked on red carpet projects for Boucheron, Swarovski and other brands. Unlike fashion houses such as Dior or Chanel, jewellers do not usually have access to catwalk shows to showcase their products, she says.
With the 2020 festival cancelled, though, there was not even a recipient of the 18-carat gold Palme d’Or on its rock crystal cushion — the award for the best feature film. It is now in Chopard’s museum, the L.U.CEUM, in its factory in Fleurier, Switzerland.
Scheufele estimates that because of the pandemic disruption, the company’s revenue dropped by about 15 per cent — which was good in the circumstances, she reckons.
Other jewellers whose accessories feature regularly at red carpet events say they took similar financial hits. London-based jewellery house David Morris and New York-based jeweller Karma El Khalil both estimate profits were down 10 per cent year on year.
Chopard still managed to sell 90 per cent of the 73-piece jewellery collection that never made it to the red carpet. “We still presented the collection in different parts of the world [but] on Zoom,” says Scheufele, who plans to maximise opportunities to present high jewellery virtually. “Some clients took it just from Zoom; others we sent it [to their homes] so their wife or girlfriend could try on,” she says.
New initiatives were created — even evoking “a little bit of Cannes outside Cannes”, says Scheufele. She sent clients La Légende de la Palme d’Or — a film featuring Martin Scorsese and other directors talking about receiving the prestigious award.
Other jewellers are now deliberately pivoting away from the red carpet — using the time and funds freed up to develop new business opportunities.
David Morris changed its distribution strategy earlier in the year and sold four items from its 13-piece Spring high jewellery collection on ecommerce platform Farfetch for the first time. The jeweller’s red carpet events had plummeted from up to 50 a year to four since March 2020.
Stephen Webster concentrated on designing a new men’s jewellery store with a bar in Nashville, with the US multi-brand retailer Diamond Cellar. “The incentive is not there [to dress a red carpet] because you’ve got to get everything sent from England, which is expensive,” he says. Even a virtual red carpet event incurs costs for shipping, insurance and security, he notes.
Meanwhile, El Khalil swapped dressing celebrities for the red carpet for dressing them for virtual events. She loaned an aquamarine puzzle ring ($7,000) to singer Patti LuPone for her virtual concert last October in the Live from the West Side: Women of Broadway series.
Bulgari, which had been official jeweller to New York’s Tribeca Film Festival since 2018, found itself hit in a similar fashion to Chopard when the event — which attracts 2.3m viewers — was also cancelled in 2020. Bulgari has not renewed its sponsorship.
However, while virtual red carpets may have little appeal for some, Babin embraces them. “Red carpets, anyway, are virtual, because 99 per cent of the people viewing a red carpet are on the internet [streaming or on social media],” he argues. A good example is actress Zendaya’s Instagram post of herself with 231.78 carats of Bulgari jewels at this year’s Golden Globe film and television awards, which has attracted more than 7.5m likes. Scheufele is back at Cannes this year but, this time, with a videoconference room. With a new 74-piece high jewellery collection to sell, she says: “The most important thing is that the event is back on the map.”