Rapaport Magazine
Style & Design

Catching up with Couture

New designers, vibrant looks and a refurbished venue make for a warm welcome back to the show’s first edition in two years.

By Rachael Taylor

Las Vegas Jewelry Week is back on the calendar this August after a two-year break, and at the heart of it will be luxury show Couture.

Sprawling across the Wynn, one of the Strip’s most luxurious hotels, Couture will take advantage of a $423 million extension that opened at the beginning of 2020. The majority of the action will take place within the new Cristal Ballroom, an 83,000-square-foot space that will hold the bulk of the participating jewelry designers. There will also be some exhibitors in private ballrooms, and others in private villas within the hotel.

The fair — which runs from August 23 to 26, instead of its usual June dates — will kick off with a new event: a preview cocktail party the night before the official opening. Accessible to all badge holders, it will take place in the outdoor pavilion, as will the opening-night networking event and the much-anticipated Couture Design Awards the following evening.

The show will also be getting an injection of fresh talent, with 75 brands that are either first-time exhibitors or returning after a hiatus. One of the first-timers will be Yana Nesper, a German jewelry designer specializing in pearls. After building up a strong retail network in Europe over the past decade, she feels the moment is right to launch in the US, even with the hurdles this year’s event may face.

“We are hoping to make an unforgettable first impression,” says the designer, who has gauged US stores’ demand at European shows such as Vicenzaoro. “Since this is our first time attending, we don’t have previous shows to compare this year to. We are excited about every opportunity and potential conversation.”

A barometer for the trade

Despite the ongoing pandemic, Couture director Gannon Brousseau expects solid attendance from exhibitors and visitors alike. “For the most part, our stores — both our cornerstone retailers and our general retailers — are sending the same or even an increased number of staff to the show,” he says.

Paula Kogan will be among those making the trip. The senior bridal and fine-jewelry buyer for 14-store chain Mayors will travel to Las Vegas from Miami, Florida, hoping to stock up on jewels for the holiday season while also using the event as an industry barometer.

“We will be meeting with a range of brands and suppliers at the show,” she says. “We plan to meet with our designer brands, including Roberto Coin, Messika, Gucci and Mikimoto, and buy into newness from each of their collections. We are also working on expanding our Mayors collection and will use Vegas to source trend inspiration for the upcoming season and beyond.”

Brousseau, for his part, enjoys the idea of his show serving as a breeding ground for new ideas, describing Couture exhibitors as “driving trends rather than driven by them.”

Color and pearls

Though the styles vary hugely among brands — from the wild and colorful pieces by Suzy Landa to the classic diamond designs of Harry Kotlar and the art jewels of Lydia Courteille — there are a few trends that the director predicts will flow through this year’s show.

“Enamel continues to gain in popularity among many of our designers, and we’re seeing pearls used in really fresh and exciting new ways,” says Brousseau. “Many of our designers and brands are incorporating unique and daring color combinations into their designs.”

One example is Ark Fine Jewelry of Los Angeles, California, which will use Couture to launch its Dreamscape collection. The brand employs colorful, translucent plique- à-jour enamel to fill negative space in its vibrant earrings.

New York brand Renna, which is using enamel as well to bring the hues of the ocean to its new Through the Looking Glass line, was due to exhibit in Couture 2020’s Design Atelier section. It had planned to showcase a completely different collection, one inspired by the abstract study of wave movements and negative space. Instead, it launched that collection online. “Despite it being a soft launch, we grew our wholesale accounts and discovered a really lovely group of retailers who were committed to supporting emerging designers despite the uncertainty of the time,” says designer Renna Brown-Taher. “The collection we are launching this year is wholly new and unique.”

This will likely be the case for most brands exhibiting at Couture. The lack of a physical show last year didn’t mean jewelers sat around doing nothing. While some projects might have been delayed due to uncertainty or production hurdles, launches went ahead, and the displays at the Wynn will mostly be brand new collections — or at least revised and expanded versions of the 2020 offerings.

Symbols, nuptials and sustainability

One theme that will likely be prevalent at Couture is talismanic jewelry, an enduring trend that kicked off long before the pandemic but has continued to resonate. New York-based brand Brent Neale will show gold, gemstone and enamel pendants in the shape of hamsa hands and evil eyes, while lucky horseshoes pop up in the cowboy-themed creations of Los Angeles-based jeweler Established.

Another growing focus for Couture is weddings. “We’re seeing a lot more in the bridal jewelry category, both classic looks and ‘alternative’ bridal,” says Brousseau. “We all know that Covid-19 accelerated relationships for a lot of couples.”

Ethics, too, will be high on the agenda. Though there will be no talks scheduled at Couture this year due to the “truncated time frame of the show” — longer opening hours but fewer days — Brousseau expects social responsibility to be a cornerstone of exhibitor communications. “We are definitely seeing an increase in our designers and brands focusing on ethical and environmental sustainability within their collections,” he says.

Couture 2021 will no doubt feel different than previous years, but at 26 months since the last show, Brousseau believes pent-up buyer demand and a community of designers with fresh ideas after time off will make for a strong event. “As helpful as online platforms have been throughout the pandemic, there is no comparison to having conversations in person.”

Moving past Covid-19Some jewelers that had planned to exhibit at the canceled 2020 Couture show have been blighted once again by the new dates and pandemic-related travel limitations. However, fair director Gannon Brousseau predicts that “we will see the majority of our key brands at our event in 2021, and those who cannot make it will be returning in 2022.”

As for general attendance, Brousseau is confident about both foreign and local visitor numbers. “We are expecting many of our international buyers to return, and we are working with them to assist with any extenuating circumstances brought on by ongoing travel restrictions,” he says, adding that “our domestic attendance numbers are looking very strong.”

All possible safety precautions will be in place, promises exhibition organizer Emerald, although wearing a mask at the show will be optional. Buyers who can’t — or won’t — travel right now will have to satisfy themselves with following the event on social media or reaching out directly to brands for virtual appointments, as there is no digital element to the show.

“While the idea is enticing, after much thoughtful research, we haven’t found a solution that can provide a real Couture experience as a standalone digital offering,” explains Brousseau.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - August 2021. To subscribe click here.

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