Entrepreneur scales new heights with Dane silversmith
Georg Jensen, first becoming an investor and chief creative officer before taking the reins as CEO.
“When Investcorp called I didn’t realize the business was for sale,” Chu said in an interview with The Australian. “They just said take a look at it, and I was in Shanghai at the time so I went to visit their operation in Thailand (where the company produces some products) and then Copenhagen. Within a week I had visited all their sites and within a month we had decided this was a company we wanted to invest in.”
Chu used to live three blocks from Georg Jensen’s Madison Avenue store in New York.
“I’m interested in the brand’s founder, Georg Jensen, who himself was an artist,” Chu told China Daily. “He passed away a long time ago, but he left behind a legacy that continues on through the brand’s DNA, and I find that very unique.”
However, Copenhagen was a new culture, just as he was probably a new culture for the team. He said he was used to a rapid pace of life, but it was totally different in the Danish capital.
When Chu first met his team in Copenhagen, they were also anxious he would want to change their Danish design and roots. “They doubted a Chinese could know anything about Denmark and the DNA of a Danish brand,” he recalled.
Instead, he traced the brand’s history, which is his approach to most problems, and identified its design language since 1904, when it was established. He said, “The DNA of Georg Jensen is not a certain style. It is about pushing for new ideas.”
The Danish team was “accustomed to a laidback lifestyle”, he said. They had gotten off work at 3 pm or 4 pm, indifferent to things such as global expansion.
Chu was the exact opposite. He developed a strategy, restructured the team, charted the design direction, and enhanced the products on offer, all the while shuttling between Copenhagen, New York and Beijing.
“Georg Jensen is a great brand, but the brand needs to be rejuvenated,” Milton Pedraza, founder and CEO of the Luxury Institute, told Luxury Daily. “David Chu is a great creative director. While maintaining its DNA, David Chu will add his own take on the brand.”
Georg Jensen is usually positioned as a Danish luxury lifestyle brand. However, Chu said he thought that Georg Jensen was an artist, so the brand is really about art and design.
“I want Georg Jensen to be known as the best design company, not pigeonholed as a company that does great Danish designs,” he said. “A great design company is global.”
To achieve this, he has sponsored dinners at Art Basel, got involved in Design Miami, and collaborated with many different artists. Last year, the company worked with contemporary Chinese artists, sponsoring solo exhibitions for Xue Song, whose work presents a contemporary expression of traditional Chinese paintings, and Yan Peiming, one of the most sought-after contemporary Chinese artists.
The brand is now collaborating for the first time with Kengo Kuma, a renowned Japanese architect, who will produce an entire homeware collection.
Weng Ling, director of the Beijing Center for the Arts, said she is working with Chu to evaluate the potential in teaming more Chinese artists with Georg Jensen.
China is the key market for Chu, who said he spends more than half of his time and money in the country. The company’s first store on the Chinese mainland since its franchise operations were canceled opened in December in Beijing, and there are plans to open a Georg Jensen house beside the Jade River in downtown Beijing in July.
“We own probably 80 stores globally. My goal is to double this within five years. China will play a pivotal role,” Chu said. New products will be rolled out more aggressively, he added, with two new collections in spring and fall, along with mini collections and renewals of classic styles.
Chu said many of his friends in the US do not understand why, with his background in fashion and lifestyle, moved to Europe and shifted his focus to jewelry.
“Design is a state of mind,” he said. “It’s really about creating new ideas, innovative ideas. Design is design — I’m not going to limit myself to just designing clothes and shoes.
“Every culture generates ideas. It’s like making dishes. If you only have salt, the dish will be very flat. If you have different kinds of seasonings, the food will turn to be thick in flavor and good in texture. I’m open and crave for different kinds of cultures.”