Story Fiona McCarthy
Lynggaard is to see what it means to live, love and breathe a brand. It is, they say, a little like being part of “a circus — all the people you see, from the makers in our workshop to the rest of us juggling everything from designing to advertising — are the people creating the brand. Always choosing the most complicated way to do things but always for the sake of telling a story that is magical,” says Søren Lynggaard, the younger son of founder Ole. “We are a family company, what we do is very personal and natural for us,” says Søren, who has been chief executive since 2003 but started “as a teenager sweeping the floors after school, so I know all the corners”.
Ole started the company in 1963. After growing up working in his parents’ jewellery shop — not far from where Ole Lynggaard’s HQ is today in the chic Copenhagen suburb of Hellerup — and finishing a jewellery apprenticeship in the late 1950s, he took off to see the world. His adventures took him from a Swedish commune to Paris, New York and San Francisco. From there he caught a boat to Japan, and wound his way back home to Denmark via China, India, old Persia and Egypt.
In Paris, he had met Karin, a glamorous young Danish student whom “he didn’t quite catch”, Søren says, “but they stayed in touch. “And when my father Ole returned to Denmark five years later, he decided that if she wasn’t waiting for him at the airport, he would find someone else.” Luckily, Karin was there. Together they started a little workshop where Ole did everything on his own, from making jewellery to sales and marketing, until Søren’s older sister Charlotte joined in 1987. Ole, now 79, still works alongside Charlotte, who is also a trained goldsmith and now creative director. “There is a healthy competition between my father and me,” says Charlotte, “where we have been competing from day one to see who can make the best thing.” It’s fun, she says, and they keep each other going. “He finds it inspiring to have younger people around him as he’s young in his mind; and I am inspired by his energy and way of seeing things into the future. He sees things a lot of people can’t.”
In the past decade the firm has become an extended family affair, with Charlotte’s husband, Michel Normann, becoming commercial director in 2006 and Søren’s wife Hanna, now retail manager, joining in 2008. Even the grandchildren are involved, with a number of the collections named after them — Ole designed “Butterflies” inspired by Søren’s daughter Katrine, “the wild one”, to symbolise optimism — and Charlotte’s daughter Laura modelled in recent press imagery. “I love
seeing how my daughters wear it — it helps keep the brand young too,” Charlotte says. Working with family is not without its challenges, she admits, “because we know each other so well and there is no filter. But family comes first, no matter what is happening at work. With so many of us involved, it could easily ignite, but because my father has always been easy to work with, he has taught us to be free. If we want to try something new or different, the feeling is that we should try it.”
This is a family where “compromise is never an option”, says Søren. At the brand’s heart, being family owned is everything. “It’s important it stay this way, we have no intention of cashing in. For us it’s a lifestyle and a passion, something we want to do our way. It might take longer but we do it with our own control,” he says. It can take years to get a collection right; they happily wait for months to find just the right shade of gemstone. But being design-driven means even the craziest ideas can be pursued. “Charlotte insisted on making a tiara for an exhibition at the Amalienborg Royal Palace’s museum in 2009,” he recalls. (Ole Lynggaard has held a Danish royal warrant since 2008, awarded to those who have worked by appointment to the royal family for 25 years.) “A boring CEO like me might have said ‘OK, you have a week’, but because we make everything ourselves, and we have the freedom to support the 400 hours it took in the workshop to complete, we are able to do something different.”
It was a gamble that paid off. The tiara, made of finely engraved leaves, twigs and buds in white and rose gold, black oxidised silver, moonstone and diamonds, inspired a new “Midnight” collection of earrings, charms, brooches and rings for the brand. It also took the eye of Crown Princess Mary, who borrowed it to wear for Prince Henrik’s 75th birthday celebrations that year and again for Queen Margrethe’s 70th birthday in 2010. The Tasmanian turned Danish royal has long championed the brand, rarely seen at an official engagement without a pair of Lotus or Gipsy earrings or Snake bracelet. Her arrival to cut the ribbon at the opening of Ole Lynggaard’s slip of a shop in Sydney’s The Rocks in 2013 caused such pandemonium that police had to cordon off the crowds.
Central to the Ole Lynggaard ethos is the family of craftsmen it employs full-time in Copenhagen (only some small silver collections are outsourced to Asia). “We’re afraid that hand craftsmanship will disappear if we don’t foster and harness it now — I know myself that when I wear something made from the right material and with that extra bit of effort, I enjoy it so much more,” says Charlotte. Few of the brand’s pieces seen in store can be bought straight away — for example, Søren says, the Lotus ring comes in four sizes, with a choice of 20 stones, “so with hundreds of possible combinations throughout each collection, we have the ability to make everything to order.” It gives the brand flexibility and uniqueness, Charlotte says: “We want our designs to be extra feminine and exclusive, teaming together colours and stones that don’t normally go together but give an edge for today.”
There is a TARDIS feel to the Copenhagen workshop, where each piece starts not as a design on a computer but as a hand-drawn image by either Ole or Charlotte, and is then modelled out of silver foil. “It is one thing to get a design right in the mind, another to bring it to life in 3D,” says Søren. From this foil model, layers of rubber are built up around “the masterpiece” in a volcanic press and then cut out with a scalpel. Some pieces, such as the tiny birdcage charm, have a dozen elements the size of rice grains. There are machines for casting and gassing with argon to stop the gold from oxidising. The atelier is a bit like Santa’s grotto, with rows of workbenches where more than 40 artisans toil at a microscopic level, hand-cutting, engraving, fitting and polishing each piece to perfection. “It’s important that one jeweller takes responsibility for working on a whole piece, start to finish,” says Soren. “If it doesn’t look good, it doesn’t leave the building.”
Like her father, Charlotte loves travelling, cultures and colours. A bustling mood board in her studio is stuck with pictures of Barack Obama and Pablo Picasso, photographs of family peeking out from among pieces of lace, Mexican beaded necklaces, dried lotus pods, postcards and paper flowers pinned with a Japanese origami star. On her desk are pots of pens, paint brushes, sketch pads and bowls of peonies. “My problem is not finding new ideas, it is trying to get it all done,” Charlotte says. “But while it can take 18 months before we have a functional piece, I like that things take time, with old and new technologies working together.”
50th anniversary show, held in conjunction with the Elle Style Awards at the Royal Danish Playhouse in 2013, Charlotte designed all the dresses worn by the models. One she embellished by hand with flowers and leaves that Princess Mary had seen in her studio and asked to wear to the Dutch coronation the month before the Lynggaard show. That dress took two weeks to complete, with Charlotte and two others sitting day and night, hand- cutting, stitching and painting. “Since I was very small, I’ve had a fascination of starting something from nothing. I was always taught that if you wanted something, you had to find a way to make it yourself. My mother was always very well-dressed, I admired that she always looked different to the other mothers, because she was sewing a lot of her own clothes. She inspired me as a teenager to knit and sew, and adapt my own clothes.” A perfectionist, Charlotte works hard, but knows it is a privilege to be doing something she loves. “I make my own struggle, it comes from within me — there is no one else to blame!”
Nature is essential to her designs and her sense of wellbeing. Her first collection was of bees and flowers, a contrast with Ole’s graphic signatures pieces, such as the sensuously winding Snake with pavé-set diamonds (inspired by Tutankhamun’s treasures at the Egyptian National Museum and first designed for his wife Karin in 1969). Charlotte lives north of Copenhagen, with views on one side of the glistening Øresund, and in the distance the bridge to the Swedish city of Malmö made famous in the thriller The Bridge; on the other side are lush, dense woods that were once part of the Danish royal hunting grounds. “Nature is very grounding for me,” she says. “I travel a lot so each time I come home, being near nature relaxes me. All my senses open up and I take time to notice the little things around me. Designing something like a leaf to wrap around your finger as a ring seems so natural. It quickly becomes a part of you.”
Charlotte also oversees every visual detail for the brand, from hand-painting the floral panels hung in the flagship store in Copenhagen — “it helps add a little bit of soul” — to its advertising campaigns, which until recently featured Danish supermodel Helena Christensen. This year, the fairytale details and intricate craftsmanship of their collections will instead take precedence, in a move “to appeal to all women”. “We wanted to create the sense of the Ole Lynggaard universe — we are all about magic and dreams. Dreams are important for everyone’s survival, they keep us all going, and I like to think that each piece of our jewellery brings a sense of that fantasy, playfulness and humour,” Charlotte says. Like talismans, she wants their pieces to make women “feel safe and special and strong … I want people to feel that our jewellery can be very individual to them, it works across multiple generations. Each piece we design is a piece for life.” W