The Joie de Vivre of FRED Paris

In one of the most memorable scenes of the movie Pretty Woman, the 1990 romantic comedy with Richard Gere and Julia Roberts, Gere is seen presenting the then 22-year-old Roberts with a beautiful diamond necklace with 23 heart-shaped rubies that perfectly compliment her draped, shoulder-revealing scarlet dress.

As Gere snaps the velvet-lined box almost trapping Robert’s finger — a prank that had originally been intended for the gag roll, but made it to the director’s final cut— the actress lets out a memorable laugh. Worth, at the time, an estimated $250,000, the necklace had been custom-designed for the movie by FRED Paris and its grand fashionable design was reflective of the French jeweler, renowned in the 1970s-1980s for selling large diamonds and colored stones such as the 275-carat Blue Moon sapphire and the famous fancy yellow Soleil d’Or’ diamond of 105 carats.

“FRED’s strategy was to create important pieces using the best quality stones,” recalls Jean Ghika, Director of the Jewelry Department at Bonhams

in Europe, “He was innovative in his use of materials, but he also followed design trends, producing special orders, and creating what was fashionable and in demand at the time.”

Set up by Fred Samuel in 1936 on Rue Royale next to the Place de la Concorde, FRED had carved a niche as the go-to jeweler for quality watches and jewelry in Paris as the jeweler’s warm personality and attention to service had quickly won over wealthy clients, such as Lady Cunard, wife of Sir Samuel Cunard, founder of the Cunard Line maritime company, and international celebrities such as Douglas Fairbanks, Marlene Dietrich, and Barbara Hutton. Recognizing the potential of culture pearls, he was the first to introduce them in the French capital, further adding to his appeal as a jeweler of choice for special occasions. “At the time, the best color cultured pearls were referred as ‘Fred color,’ a pinkish white, light creamy tone,” recalls Ghika, adding that later on the jeweler would also be one of the first proponents of color diamonds.

When the Second World War occurred and the Germans controlled Paris, Samuel was forced to give away his store to his first salesman, change his name, and to move to the Free Zone of France. “Coming back in 1945, after many adventures, he recuperated his store but everything had to be restarted again,” recalls his son, Henri Samuel, who joined the business in 1962, and helped establish it internationally in the 1970s-1980s with boutiques in glamorous cities such as Beverly Hills, Monte Carlo, and New York.

“This was the beginning of a ‘dream team’ with the addition of my brother Jean in 1965. Each of us was a complement to the other. FRED was Monsieur Fred, who was loved by his customers and was always ready to help; the word ‘no’ did not exist for him. My brother was the PR and I was the back office, from the administration and accounting to the creation and design,” Samuel recalls, noting, “we did things which had never been done before like opening on Saturdays when the rest of the Place Vendôme was closed, opening at lunchtime, opening a boutique at Orly airport (the only Airport in Paris at that time), and organizing exhibitions in our stores.”

Though the jeweler became known for statement pieces, which have become collectibles and are sought after at auction, FRED also offered more playful, everyday jewelry pieces, like the sporty collection titled “Force 10,” designed by Henri who as a keen sailor found inspiration in ropes to design a bracelet in braided steel secured by a buckle in gold or silver.

“The timing was perfect because it was the great time of the gold and steel Rolex. To everyone’s surprise, the bracelet became a must have, especially for men, even though it had initially been designed for women. Well-known artists such as Johnny Hallyday were wearing it day and night,” Samuel says. On leaving hospital after the birth of her first son, Andrea, in 1984, Princess Caroline of Monaco was pictured wearing a “Force 10” bracelet, a gift from her father, Prince Rainier III.

Today, the “Force 10” bracelet, first designed in 1966, remains a key offering of the jeweler, part of the LVMH group since 1996, and the concept has been expanded to a collection of watches in a variety of color and combinations.

“I don’t see FRED as a luxury brand that you notice from a distance,” explains Rachel Marouani, CEO of FRED Paris, in an interview, “it is a luxury brand but it’s not ostentatious. It’s about informal glamour, and that’s what we’re trying to offer our clients today. For me the jewelry has to be easy to wear every day. Our pieces are not conceived to end up in a safe. That’s a must.” Marouani adds.

Since she took control of the rather dormant FRED brand, Marouani has been working at re-establishing the jeweler’s former glory, looking at archives for inspiration to create contemporary versions that fit her philosophy of everyday wear. One of the recent successes has been the introduction of the “Pain de Sucre” (sugarloaf) collection, which was based on a redesign first created in 2000. Voluptuous and playful, the “Pain de Sucre” ring with a removable cabochon system offers clients the opportunity to change it according to their mood and what they are wearing. From pink quartz, chrysoprase, and lapis lazuli, the wearer can easily clip on new stones as she wishes, as Marouani, who has them all, is quick to demonstrate, pulling out a little black velvet pouch from her handbag. “I really don’t do it for marketing needs, but because I just love changing what I wear throughout the day,” she quips.

Paying homage to FRED’s early innovation with colored cultured pearls, the “Baie des Anges” collection is an interesting take on white baroque pearls adorned with a thread of gold that enhances the pearl’s irregularity, while the “Belles Rives” collection with its multi-colored sea-polished gemstones, brings back the glamour of the Riviera, where the Samuels have spent a lot of time.

“We are a modern brand but we are not a fashion brand and for me this is very important. So I do not want fashion seasons to dictate our creations. We will be looking to increase our existing portfolio collection slowly and complement our existing offerings. Next it will probably be a collection around gold and diamonds, but again in that playful spirit,” Marouani says.

Come May, FRED will move away from the Place Vendôme to open a flagship maison spread over four stories at rue de la Paix. A boutique is planned on the ground floor with a private apartment to receive clients as if they were ‘at home’ located above. “We’re planning this apartment to reflect the conviviality spirit of Fred Samuel. We are lucky the founder penned a book Mémoires d'un joaillier which allows us to better understand him as a man. And that’s important because the brand was the man. He was a joaillier, in the noble sense of the word, and we want to keep this tradition alive,” Marouani says.

As first published in BLOUIN LIFESTYLE MAGAZINE (January 2015)