"You cannot be everything to everyone" – King of Cufflinks, Robert Tateossian
Gems of Arabia
I t's with great pleasure that I present to you my dear friend Robert Tateossian, the man who inspired me to pursue my dream and work in fashion. He gave me the go ahead and told me not to hesitate, to take that leap. The Kuwaiti-born, British-based King of Cufflinks, Tateossian has solidified himself as the ultimate men's and women's accessory designer, who shortly after the launch of his eponymous brand was awarded the British Export award, which was presented to him by HRH Princess Anne. Born in Kuwait to Lebanese-Armenian parents and educated at French schools in Rome, Robert, who is fluent in seven languages, studied international finance at the prestigious Wharton School of Finance in Pennsylvania, before embarking on a successful career with Merrill Lynch on Wall Street and in London.
Tateossian is another Arabian Gem too; a designer who has built an immaculate reputation as the founder of one of the world's leading jewellery and accessories brands. The man behind the namesake designs, sees his contemporary, fashion-forward and timeless pieces attracting a huge fan base including some of the world's most high profile figures including celebrities, models, professionals, politicians and heads of state. From the Emir of Kuwait to the King of Sweden, from the Kremlin to Buckingham Palace, Elton John, David Furnish, Rita Ora, Mohammad Assaf and a long list of actors and musicians wear Tateossian's creations.
Thank you for taking the time, dearest Robert. What is the creative process behind Tateossian? What inspires you the most?
On a weekly basis I'm in different cities across continents, being exposed to architecture, exhibitions and street fashion — this weekend the Venice Biennale, next week galleries in the Meat Packing District of New York. It is during this process that the creative process occurs. While I am constantly evaluating and updating pieces in my collection, it's about capturing the feeling that is currently in my mind.
You speak an impressive seven languages. What is the Tateossian preferred language?
Probably English and Arabic, followed by Italian. In an ideal world Portuguese (Brazilian) would have that number spot but I am not fluent enough in it. I do love the musicality of that language.
Speaking of languages, do you believe that ones heritage must be communicated through design?
To a certain extent though it's not necessarily. I try for example to develop capsule collections that reflect my Armenian heritage by using ancient motifs and incorporating them into pieces of jewellery.
As one of the first Middle Eastern accessories designers to launch internationally, what advice would you give to local designer who want to pursue the same dream?
It is very important to have a signature, something that will make your pieces recognisable, a trait that will make you stand out vis a vis your peers. There needs to be something that will give the consumer a reason to buy your product versus another designer. Do not give up easily as you will have challenges along the way. Also make sure that you are watching your finances carefully and that your cash flow is properly projected.
You cannot be "everything to everyone" so stick to your beliefs and try to become the best.
You are part of the movement that inspired corporate businessmen to be less serious and more fashionable. Is this how Tateossian all started?
When I started, cufflinks were a niche that was unexplored. Cufflinks were very classic; an heirloom passed from father to son and usually these were geometric shapes, possibly monogrammed, double ended and connected by a chain. You would find them in jewellery stores. There was no such thing as the "cufflink area" in a department store or boutique. They were not fun. I wanted to make cufflinks a "fashion" item that could change every season just like clothing. That's when I managed to work with press to feature cufflinks as a "must" fashion item, and educate buyers of boutiques and department stores to invest in the category. In fact, now we follow the fashion calendar and always start the season with Pitti Uomo in Florence. From cufflinks, Tateossian has now evolved to bracelets as men became more comfortable with jewellery.
How important is theory in design versus talent? If one has the appropriate team to execute the vision and bring to life "the talent" and a keen eye, is it really critical for her or him to be trained?
It is important to have a sense of the aesthetic, this is not something that can be taught. In fact I trained as a banker in finance and had no jewellery experience when I started. Of course, this means one makes mistakes that could have been avoided but you learn very quickly. If you know what looks good you can rely on professionals to carry out all the technical part of the development process.
Men's fashion has evolved tremendously but I feel it's still evolving and perhaps these days, designers are playing it safe. Drawing from your global experience, which markets have the most understanding of men's contemporary fashion?
There is no question that the Italians are at the epicentre of fashion so it comes as no surprise that most of the major men's brands are based in Milan. Italy is a hub of creativity on the design and manufacturing side. Of course, one could argue the same for France but I would place Italy as number one. Japan is also very advanced with an incredible eye and sensitivity towards fashion — Tokyo being one of the most fashionable cities in the world.
What's your perception of the fashion market in the Middle East? What would you like to see change, expand or fade away in the near future?
Significant changes and progress is happening in the field of fashion. However this needs to be looked at while considering the customs of the regions.
What is style to you?
Syle is a very individual sense of aesthetic, that it uniquely linked to your persona and who you are.
Less is more or more is more?
Of course it depends on the occasion and setting but being an Arab I'd probably say more is more (laughs).
Now read Hatem Alakeel's previous column with Ahd Kamel, a director and the first Saudi Arabian actress to star in a Netflix series.