Kirsten Goss had her bejewelled hands full recently when she launched her new Joburg shop in the Birdhaven Centre, bringing her acclaimed jewellery brand to loyal followers who have had to watch from afar as she has quietly seduced celebrities and sophisticated modern women in London, where she launched her flagship store in 2002.
Tucked away in Kensington Church Street, the tiny Kirsten Goss store moves at the pace of the pulsing metropolis, with the displays of covetable seasonal and capsule jewellery collections constantly changing as they are discovered and snapped up.
Among her fans are celebrities such as Sarah Jessica Parker and Rosamund Pike, and some of the royals (she designed pieces for the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, and for Prince William’s birthday party).
In 2009, her brand expanding rapidly, the artist established a state-of-the-art goldsmithing studio in Durban, her girlhood town. It’s here that she and her team of qualified goldsmiths and beadworkers design and craft each piece, supplying an ever-growing international client base through three standalone stores (Birdhaven being the latest addition), her website, as well as numerous international exhibitions and global brand ambassadors.
“I design every range, and I still oversee the entire crafting and production process,” says Goss.
Although the brand’s aesthetic is distinctive and instantly recognisable, it is hard to define. Each collection’s clean, organic lines reflect Goss’s Scandinavian maternal bloodline, while her exuberant use of colour speaks to her African upbringing. Her knack for experimenting with form and texture is also apparent in every piece.
“I find beauty in simple, conceptual and almost post-modern pieces, while being attracted to heavily embellished, over-the-top styles that ooze romance.”
A qualified jewellery designer and gemologist, Goss studied at Stellenbosch University, “beneath real masters of the craft, learning solid, goldsmithing skills that have become the foundation of the brand”.
She says: “I like to think we’re playing our part in keeping this masterful skill alive in an industry dominated by mass production.
“The gemology part was pure fascination. We were in a lab sponsored then by De Beers, and we passed uncut coloured diamonds around the class in a Petri dish. I love that kind of thing. Academics and art. Brilliant combo!”
With burning ambitions of getting a job with an international jewellery design company, Goss, with her Irish passport, set about making that dream a reality.
“London became my second home. It’s a massive part of what this brand is. Apart from being established there, I was guided and mentored initially by the Portobello Business Centre and Department of Trade and Industry in the UK. I had my babies there and cut my business teeth in that city.
“The opportunities that we attract globally are as a result of our brand being established there. It will always be a massive part of me, our family and our brand, despite being a passionate South African. I am crazy about London in many, many ways.”
Still, it was no walk in the park, as Goss knew nothing about running a business and had to learn as she went along.
“I was making everything myself, selling, marketing and bookkeeping. Keeping abreast of client orders, sourcing and remaining innovative and interesting while doing all the admin is and has always been the greatest challenge.
“I will never forget doing London Fashion Week with an eight-week-old baby strapped to me in a pouch, breast-feeding between clients and then popping her under our desk for naps. Something to behold. Pure glamour!” she laughs.
The South African network in London initially supported her and helped to get the word out to colleagues and friends, and for this she’s eternally grateful.
“It’s all about word of mouth and the SA network is hot and happening all over the world,” she says.
Goss’s decision, a few years later, to set up her studio in Durban is intriguing.
“I love Joburg’s energy and Cape Town’s beauty. But just about every brilliant creative I know who lives in Cape Town comes from Durban. There’s got to be something in the air, then, and I’m not about to stop breathing it in.
“There’s a creativity and rawness that keep the juices flowing. It’s truly local, representative and culturally rich. There’s a new cool going on and it’s exciting to watch it emerge.
“Family, great schools, no traffic, good property prices, and five minutes to the beach from home. Plus Durban has a warm sea, and big avos!”
Home for Goss is largely up in the air, of course, between Durban and London. She is in London about nine times a year, and she and her husband, Steven, own an apartment there.
“It’s a crazy life to most people, but I see going to London as flying to Cape Town or Joburg. It’s so part of my life now that it’s no big deal.
“I love the fact I can live in a very chilled and under-the-radar place, yet access all the high-energy cities I need to be in. I feel like a chameleon sometimes, but I think it’s what drives me.
“Most big brands will outsource their production. I love that as a goldsmith I can physically quality-control my goldsmiths’ work and not rely on third parties. It’s worth the effort, I think.”
Goss has two young children, and part of Durban’s drawcard was family, including her mother Karin and dad Patrick, who with nanny Kwatela are the chief caregivers when she and Steven, a commercial lawyer who this year joined Goss’s business as its COO, are out of town.
“But now we are working together, it’s rare that we’re travelling together, so we can co-parent the kids. He is a very hands-on dad and we are all very close. Think old Italian family business. We’ll have them at the grindstone with us in no time.”
The next city on Goss’s shop-opening radar is New York, where she showcased her collections at an exhibition in October. “We also have many clients in the East and I’m planning shows in Hong Kong for 2012. This is the exciting part of the business, exhibiting in various corners of the world.”
l For more info, visit www.kirstengoss.com. The Joburg store is at Shop 2a, 66 St Andrews Street in Birdhaven.