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A MOMENT WITH... David Chu
Text by Kee | Portrait by Jeff Ip
19.07.2016

This Taiwanese American entrepreneur and designer is credited for making Danish silversmith label Georg Jensen cool again. Having recently swapped his CEO title for one of chairman and chief creative director, the 61-year-old now has more time on his hands to beautify our surroundings one object at a time.

 

On his initial attraction towards Georg Jensen and what spurred him to own the brand in 2012:

“I used to live just four blocks away from the Georg Jensen store in New York. What firs attracted me to Georg Jensen was the watch that I’m wearing (The Koppel). To me, this is a designer’s kind of watch – simple, modern, clean. All my friends in design and architecture love Georg Jensen. I got a call out of the blue one day from a friend who was in the investment business and he said, ‘David, I’m looking into this company. Would you be interested to look at it with us?’ I said, ‘Sure, I can’t believe that this age-old brand would even be for sale.’ So I flew to Copenhagen to look at their archives, and I knew I needed to invest in this company.”

 

On his believe in fate:

“Sometimes you go through life, you don’t know who you’re going to meet. Like the friend I’ve known for 20 years, and he is not even in the business, called me about this investment (in Georg Jensen). Our new CEO (Eva-Lotta Sjostedt) was hired through the same way too. I met her by chance.”

 

On expecting the unexpected:

“I was a good illustrator in my younger years so I knew I wanted to be in design but I never knew I would study fashion instead of architecture, which is how I got into this business in the first place (he founded apparel company Nautica in the ’80s before opening other clothing labels). Life is a journey.”

 

Fusion Rings

 

On the pressure of having to design a timeless object:

“I don’t look at it as pressure. Every period we leave our mark for the generation after us. If what we do becomes a classic, then great. If it didn’t, then we didn’t do a good job. But I will never know. So, there is no pressure for me (Laughs). I think you can only do the best for the brand. We will never know because we don’t decide what is timeless, the next generation does.”

 

On working with various artists and designers:

“When I work with an artist, I don’t really tell them what to do but I have to understand their philosophy first to see if it is a natural fit. I’m a designer myself so I understand what they do and how they create. My job now is to curate, and bring artists together to be part of the Georg Jensen family and come together with an idea.”

 

The Zaha Hadid Collection

 

On a chance meeting with renowned architect Zaha Hadid and their collaboration (she passed away just weeks after this interview):

“This was a couple of years ago and I was in Beijing. A close friend of mine was a big property developer for Soho and Zaha had been doing a lot of work in China with them. So she said, ‘David, you’ve got to meet Zaha. She is fantastic.’ I said, ‘Yeah I know, I have seen her stuff.’ So she sat me at the dinner table across from Zaha. And all of a sudden she was talking about her passion for jewellery, and of course, I told her that I was running Georg Jensen. She said, ‘David, you know I’m a big Georg Jensen fan.’ And the feeling was mutual. So I said, ‘Since you love jewellery, we should do something together.’ And she said, ‘Of course.’ And that was how it all began. I told her that if we were to do this [collaboration] we have got to make this a meaningful project. And she was able to express herself. She worked with smaller companies and probably they don’t have the same reputation. In this project she showed a lot about her and we showed a lot of us, so I think it is kind of a win-win. Her team and ours came together in London, and that was a year and a half ago and we’re ready to launch it this year. Our working style is very organic and hers as well.”

 

On little known facts about famed industrial designer Marc Newson and chief design officer of Apple, Jony Ive:

“I met Marc Newson at an auction in New York. We were asked by Bono to participate in (RED) to raise money. We donated a pitcher by Henning Koppel for the Sotheby’s auction in New York a few years ago. It was Jony Ive and Marc Newson who were curating that auction. We did the insides of the pitcher with a red lacquer. Marc then told me that he was a trained silversmith before he became an industrial designer, something which I didn’t know before. And Johnny Ive’s father is still a practising silversmith in London and he is fascinated by silver. Johnny and his father recently came to visit our silversmith. Marc came to Copenhagen too.”

 

Vivianna Bangle Watch

 

On Georg Jensen before his acquisition of the brand:

“I think in the last 20 years, it was a little dusty [in ideas]. So before Marc Newson [designed the tea set], we haven’t really done anything new in silver for the last 25 years. 50 years from now, we are going to look back at 2015 and see if the designs we did helped to remake Georg Jensen. Zaha’s design today is contemporary, but in 50 years it will be a classic.”

 

On why Georg Jensen is not pigeonholed as a homeware, jewellery or wristwatch brand:

“You need to strike a nerve somewhere. It is like music or art, you have to touch someone with the design first. When I work with other designers, it is about working on a new way to look at things. It could be an evolution of the next chair, which I think many designers are doing now.”

 

On balancing creativity and commercial value of a design:

“It is a tough decision, sometimes. I think there is always a struggle. As a designer, you always try and figure out how to make a great product first. Then, you got to figure out how to fit it into a significant market that needs it. This is Eva’s role now and she is someone I can bounce ideas with in regards to this.”

 

HK Pitcher

 

On the ever-changing landscape in Asia:

“I think the Asian culture is changing. I don’t think China has seen such prosperity like they do now in the last 200 years. So prosperity supports art, culture… I think we are in an interesting time, which is why I want to spend more time in Asia (he is based New York and Beijing).”

 

On money and modernisation:

“In innovation we create value. Wealth is a byproduct of passion, innovation, and hard work. People want to make money but these people need to be passionate at the same time. Steve Jobs wasn’t about money. He wanted to create a great idea so the whole world could share it; better your life and that creates wealth. You can open a grocery store today and you’re going to make a lot of money but that won’t help you change the world.”

 

www.georgjensen.com

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