Memphis belle: why jeweller Sabine Getty is not putting away childish things

Memphis belle: why jeweller Sabine Getty is not putting away childish things

’This is actually my childhood desk seat,’ says jeweller Sabine Getty, tapping the colour-blocked arms of a Memphis ‘Palace’ chair, designed by George Sowden in 1983 and now installed in her new Mayfair studio-cum-showroom.

‘When I was a child, my home in Beirut had a ton of Memphis pieces,’ Getty recalls. ‘It was the 1980s,’ she smiles, pointing to a pair of asymmetric Memphis ‘Kristall’ and ‘Flamingo’ side tables (designed by Michele De Lucchi in 1981 and 1984 respectively) that once flanked her bed. A ‘Tahiti’ duck lamp, designed by Memphis founder Ettore Sottsass in 1981, completes the childhood haul. Its enamelled metal head was still covered with kids’ stickers when she fished it out of storage. ‘I kind of forgot about it all, and then as I was designing [a new jewellery collection], I looked at my drawings and thought, “That reminds me of something I know!”’

Getty swiftly put in a call to her mother, Egyptian interior designer Karine Ratl – who still has a penchant for ‘Memphis meets Louis XIV’ furnishings – followed by another to gallerist Keith Johnson of Urban Architecture, who sourced her office’s pièce de résistance, an original 1981 Peter Shire ‘Brazil’ desk for Memphis, tracked down in Milan. ‘It was dying in storage so it was great to give it a life!’ says Getty. 

The daughter of Lebanese financier Charbel Ghanem, Getty grew up between Geneva, Beirut and the south of France, with aspirations of becoming an opera singer or an actress before she enrolled at New York’s Gemological Institute of America (GIA). There, Getty found her true vocation and upon her graduation her debut pieces were picked up by Los Angeles design destination Maxfield. In 2012 she founded Sabine G, which became Sabine Getty this year, following her lavish nuptials – for which the bride wore Schiaparelli couture – to Joseph Getty, son of Getty Images co-founder Mark Getty, and the great-grandson of oil tycoon Jean Paul Getty.

The jeweller’s fourth collection is a bold departure from its predecessors, which were far finer and more delicate in their old-world intricacies. ‘I was looking at Sonia Delaunay paintings with these circular, colourful shapes and zigzags and that’s where I started from,’ she says of the new season’s linear forms. ‘But then I looked back [at the work in progress] and thought, “No wait, it looks more 1980s, it’s taking another direction.”’ That new course was Memphis. ‘But it’s not a pure imitation. It’s more of a vibe,’ she clarifies. ‘With Memphis, the possibilities are infinite because there is so much in Memphis design, so it took quite a long time to simplify and get it down to pure lines and fun colours.’

With the new collection, Getty has also moved away from diamonds and similarly precious stones in favour of semi-precious topaz. ‘I decided to go for lower-end stones,’ she says of the Fisher-Price-hued gems that adorn sinuous cuffs and star-pointed chokers. ‘If I had used sapphires, the pieces would have been much smaller, and it was very important to have scale.’

At the brand’s first boutique, on Berkeley Square, Getty has maintained the same daring. As soon as she saw the location – a stone’s throw from the run of high-end jewellers on Old Bond Street – she recognised its promise, despite the ‘white walls, grey carpet and corporate office furniture’ that came with it.

‘I did some colour research and landed on a poster of Bill Murray from [the 2004 movie] The Life Aquatic,’ she says of the inspiration behind her primary palette, executed in high gloss to achieve a vintage effect. ‘I’ve also used the same three colours at home,’ she says, gesturing around her. ‘My kitchen is this yellow, my living room is that red, and my bedroom is the blue. So it’s like an extension of the same universe.’

Under foot is plush, Atlantic-blue carpet, while a selection of stools from Kartell’s Sottsass tribute line (launched in 2015) and Dutch design brand Pols Potten complete the Memphis-inspired look. Getty has certainly run with the theme – even her Jansen teacups dutifully nod to the movement – but she is no design snob. A second desk, from Ikea, aligns just as well with the red room’s colour scheme as does Matteo Thun’s Memphis ‘Santa Fe’ light that hangs overhead.

Getty has no intention of redecorating the space each season. ‘No, not every time!’ she says. ‘I really like it. It’s very happy, it has character and most of all it’s fun.’ Just like her audacious jewels.

As originally featured in the September 2016 issue of Wallpaper* (W*210)

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