Stephen Webster talks retail, religion and finding diamonds in the sky – WWD
LONDON – There’s immersive retail, and then there’s Stephen Webster, which offers all sorts of unconventional ways to connect with customers.
For years, Webster pushed back on designing a ready-made bridal collection because he thought it was “the most boring creative category you could ever fit into.” When he finally did the bride, he went all the way.
He called his concept the “No Regrets Chapel” and decided to become a minister of the non-denominational Universal Life Church. He has a dog collar, carries his qualification card in his wallet and is qualified to officiate marriages.
“If we do something, we have to do it our way – and I always have to work with a narrative,” Webster said from his second-floor living room on London’s Mount Street, not far from Berkeley Square. “I thought to myself, ‘If we have a chapel, then we will need a minister.’ So I became one.
He was ordained last summer – and the decision has nothing to do with his impending trip to the wedding chapel capital of Las Vegas for JCK Couture, which he is attending for the first time since 2019.
Last November, shortly after his ordination, Webster opened a bar with live music in Nashville, Tennessee. The bar is based on the “No Regrets” lounge at Webster’s former Rodeo Drive store and the concept then made its way to Design Miami and landed at Bergdorf Goodman as a pop-up in 2019.
On Rodeo, “it was the kind of place where you would be entertained and surprised — and there was never any jewelry in it,” Webster said. “I would bring in chefs, artists, musicians, DJs and photographers, and they would chat in the living room. It was hospitality.
The “No Regrets” lounge is a red neon sign hanging above a well-stocked bar adorned with exotic cut glass ice buckets; engraved glasses, but also cocktail tools, all designed and manufactured in-house. There are bottle tops with intricate designs of eagle heads and silver ice picks, tongs and strainers adorned with rattlesnakes, rabbits and cows.
During lockdown in 2020, Webster entertained guests in his home living room on Zoom. He served a cocktail of lemon juice, Crystal Head vodka and Blue Curacao liqueur that matched the color of the large turquoise stones in his Crystal Haze cocktail rings.
The chapel, the lounge and the renewed emphasis on ambiance rather than product are the way forward for Webster, which is eager to expand into the United States, which is now its biggest market.
He’s keen to replicate what he did in Nashville, where he opened the bar right next to one of his longtime dealers. Its idea is to focus on hospitality and the experience, with jewelry, homewares and its new men’s collection playing a supporting role.
He believes the chapel and living room allow him to have different kinds of conversations with retailers. He doesn’t want to be part of a counter in a store. Instead, he wants the bar to sit near the jewelry boxes “and show off my expanded world.” I don’t want to go back to doing a single thing,” Webster said.
The United States was, until recently, the brand’s second largest market after Russia, where it had a large following. Earlier this year, he opened a “No Regrets” boutique and salon in Moscow.
His wife and right-hand man, Assia Webster, is Russian and the brand’s ties to the region were strong. Like other UK businesses, the brand has ceased trading in the region and Webster said the closure in Kyiv, Ukraine was particularly painful.
“It was a blow, emotionally too. We had the new store in Moscow, but we have also had a store in Kyiv — and the same staff — for 16 years. They went from ordinary, normal women to refugees. All this was very difficult for Assia and for my youngest daughter, who lived in Moscow.
“It was a tough time, but as a business we had to keep going and refocus. America is the obvious place to start because we have such a long history there,” Webster said, adding that while he still does business with Bergdorf Goodman in New York, he is eager to expand. to growing cities in the South and Midwest, such as Nashville, Miami and Columbus.
Webster’s designs have long been popular in the United States, and with musicians in particular: more than 25 years ago, her chunky Crystal Haze cocktail rings became popular after Madonna bought one in silver obsidian and was pictured next to her former husband Guy Ritchie wearing it. index.
Christina Aguilera has worn Webster’s designs on stage and, more recently, Machine Gun Kelly asked her to design an engagement ring for his fiancée Megan Fox. Webster said the American hip-hop star, whose real name is Colson Baker, wrote a “dark fairy story”, in verse, to describe what he wanted.
Webster has created a unique double stone ring. It features a pear-shaped emerald (Fox’s birthstone) and a pear-shaped diamond (Baker’s birthstone) that click together with magnets embedded in the gold shank.
“I wanted the two pear shapes to fit together and form a sort of obscured heart. It’s super romantic because he gave me this kind of gothic, romantic poem,” Webster said.
Baker posted details of the engagement ring to his more than 10 million social media followers, and Webster said since then he’s been inundated with requests.
Webster will bring design to Vegas, with its new Thorn Embrace collection, which combines its signature thorn pattern with pear-shaped diamonds, emeralds, spinels, tanzanites, tourmalines and garnets.
Thorn Embrace jewelry is made from 18k recycled gold and Webster has an exclusive collaboration with traceable Muzo emeralds from Colombia.
He has long been at the forefront of sustainable jewelry design and has collaborated with Swarovski lab-grown diamonds. A few years ago he released the latest straw, a sterling silver straw which he designed as a statement against the use of plastic straws, with a portion of the sales going to Plastic Oceans International.
Last October, the brand won the first Grosvenor Sustainability Award, which recognizes environmental and social leadership at the Mayfair and Belgravia properties of Grosvenor Britain & Ireland.
Webster won for a variety of reasons, including the brand’s efforts to sustainably source and reuse materials; its use of renewable energy at the Mount Street premises and its goal to halve carbon emissions by 2030.
In September, he plans to launch a collection of “carbon negative” diamond jewelery in collaboration with a British company that manufactures stones under the name Skydiamonds. Diamonds are made by capturing carbon from the air and treating it with wind power. It takes about 14 days to make a diamond weighing 1.5 carats.
The company was founded by British environmentalist Dale Vince, owner of green energy company Ecotricity based in Gloucestershire, England. Skydiamonds showcased at Selfridges’ upcoming four-week “Supermarket” concept store in April.
Webster said Vince has been perfecting the diamond production process for seven years and will be the first jeweler to use Skydiamonds’ “beautiful, beautiful white stones”.
Webster is starting with a capsule collection of five cuts for its wedding offering and wants to cater specifically to Millennials and younger customers. The bridal collection is just the beginning, Webster added.
“I think these diamonds have potential for the green carpet. I also make huge titanium earrings, because I want to spread the word.