At Mr Chow in Tribeca last Thursday evening, friends, colleagues and press gathered to celebrate the jewelry designer Jennifer Fisher — whose upscale custom charm necklaces and sleek cuffs and chokers have won fans ranging from Rihanna to Justin Bieber to Net-a-Porter — and her 10th year in the business.
To hear Fisher tell it, she never could have imagined that one day she'd be the head of her own jewelry company — much less one as successful as hers is now, with a flagship store on Fifth Avenue and a choice list of stockists across the globe, including Barneys, 10 Corso Como and Colette. Before launching her own line, Fisher spent six years working as a costume designer and wardrobe stylist in Los Angeles. On a trip to New York shortly after her son was born, she approached a jeweler on 47th Street about making a simple dog tag necklace with her son’s name on it. "I wore it on a long chain and people kept asking me about it, it was an instant conversation piece, so I started making them for friends and family," Fisher recalled over the phone a couple of weeks ahead of her anniversary dinner. Demand quickly snowballed. "At one point I remember taking orders on a Saturday in London, and my husband said, you know, I think you have a business here."
Fisher, who studied business marketing at the University of Southern California, was determined to build a direct-to-consumer business online — a model not yet made fashionable by the Warby Parkers and Everlanes of the e-tail space. "I wanted to offer a high level of customization, so I started a website selling customized fine jewelry direct to consumer."
Fisher’s big break came when Uma Thurman — whose hairstylist was a friend of Fisher’s — insisted on wearing one of her necklaces for a Glamour cover shoot. “I started making a lot of celebrity mom necklaces and getting Us Weekly placements as 'the mom jeweler to the stars.' It was totally by accident." She built a solid business on personalized jewelry — custom trinkets are still her biggest sellers to date — but her profile has risen considerably since she launched, in 2011, a more affordable line of ready-made polished brass pieces, frequently spotted in magazine spreads and on the necks, ears, wrists and hands of A-list celebs.
A lot has changed in the jewelry biz since Fisher launched her company. We spoke to her about conforming to — and ignoring — trends, balancing creative and commercial demands and just how important celebrities are to her business.
How has jewelry industry changed since you launched your business a decade ago?
It's definitely more oversaturated with people. At the same time, it's different — I don't feel like I am competing with anybody. When I was younger, I wanted to make sure I was doing this or that, and right now really focused on my brand and what we're doing and where we're going. I have two kids, there's no time to worry about that.
How do you balance the creative and commercial demands of your job?
I think you have to find a balance between both. You see a lot of companies fail that are focused solely on the creative aspect. What I try to do, as a consumer myself, I try to think of what I am looking for in the market, what category does that need to fulfill, is it timeless and can you really wear it day to night and season to season, and I try to work within certain price constraints. For a few seasons I was hand-carving things and pricing was really getting outrageous, and I wanted to scale back for a few seasons and get the price point down a little bit. For me, I want to make jewelry [customers] leave on their dish, not put in their drawer. I don't want them to wear it to one party and be like, oh I can't wear it for six months because it was this bright colored crazy necklace, or an earring that was so much of a statement that it doesn't work with anything except one type of dress.
How much pressure do you feel to keep your designs on trend?
I try to look at what's going on in fashion, and watching shows and understanding. But with jewelry, we can kind of do whatever we want. I love not staying exactly on trend, it makes us stand apart a little bit.
How important is red carpet/celebrity placements to your business? Are there certain celebrities who really move the needle in terms of selling product?
It's crazy how competitive VIP dressing is now. I think even two years ago celebrity used to move the needle more than it does now — it's just become so commercial. I don't have someone who does that for me, we do it all here and we don't pay anyone, it's all relationships. When it happens, we're very lucky. [In terms of generating sales], it really depends on who and what it is. I remember Naomi Watts used to wear her [Jennifer Fisher] necklace all the time and people remembered that. When Rihanna first started wearing my stuff, that was great and a huge gift. Sometimes magazine placements can be more powerful than celebrity, like when [Vogue's] Tonne Goodman does a story.
What are your strongest sellers currently?
First my customized stuff — charm necklaces, cuffs. And then it's chokers all day long, and then hoop earrings, statement earrings, pinky rings, ear cuffs.
Is it true you never wore jewelry before you started making your own?
I didn't really. I was sort of a tomboy always, never wore jewelry, as a stylist it's hard to wear rings. And I was too busy dressing other people.
What advice do you have for young jewelry designers entering the business?
You can't take anything personally, and you have to not take no for an answer because someone else is going to say yes. I remember so many people saying to me, 'you're never going to get anywhere in fashion doing personalized jewelry.' Don't be deterred by the competition or by one person. There's a million more out there, persevere.