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How Jennifer Fisher Plans to Become the Paul Newman of Fashion - Fashionista

How Jennifer Fisher Plans to Become the Paul Newman of Fashion

She's not expanding into lifestyle categories in the typical way.
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Jennifer Fisher in her office. Photo: Courtesy

Jennifer Fisher in her office. Photo: Courtesy

When Jennifer Fisher launched her eponymous jewelry brand in 2005, she wasn't quite planning a full-fledged business. After undergoing chemo for a rare soft-tissue tumor, the then-stylist was warned against trying to have a baby; instead, she and her husband tried to go through the IVF route with a surrogate. That, too, came with false starts and disappointments — but then, Fisher ended up getting pregnant naturally and giving birth to her son, Shane. Naturally, everyone wanted to celebrate by giving Fisher jewelry and gifts to commemorate the very happy occasion, but she had a hard time finding something that was her style. Instead, she designed something herself.

"I went up to 47th Street and I drew this really basic dog tag and I had it stamped with his full name, Shane, and I would wear it on set, on this long, heavy link chain that I had sourced and found," she says. "It was an instant conversation piece, and I started selling them on set when I was a stylist."

Soon, Fisher was taking orders from all over the world and realized she had a budding business of her own. She pivoted from styling to designing full-time, and in the process has built a celebrity clientele ranging from starlets like Selena Gomez and Hailey Baldwin to established superstars like Sarah Jessica Parker and Jennifer Lopez. She's expanded her line organically, offering custom fine jewelry exclusively through her website and through intimate trunk sales with her best customers while selling her brass pieces through traditional retail outlets. 

And now, she's entering a new business: Food. Fisher now sells two proprietary blends of salt through her website, with plans to expand further into the category. It's her way of becoming a lifestyle brand.

"Everyone always said to me, 'When are you going to start your handbag line and your shoe line like every other jewelry designer?' I'm never doing that," she says with a laugh. "I want my Balenciaga boots and I want my Céline handbag. I don't want a Jennifer Fisher handbag or shoes, sorry." 

We hopped on the phone with Fisher to get her take on what makes fine jewelry a tough business and why it's important for her to run all her social media accounts herself. And, yes, we've tried the salt — it's very good.

Jennifer Fisher with her husband. Photo: @jenniferfisherjewelry/Instagram

Jennifer Fisher with her husband. Photo: @jenniferfisherjewelry/Instagram

When did you first become interested in fashion?

I always was that girl that was more into fashion than all my friends — so much so that when I was in high school, my mom got me subscriptions to Vogue and British Vogue, because she was super-supportive of me. She'd drive me down to Melrose to go shopping for clothes; my style was always changing and evolving so I was definitely one of those girls in school that was a fashion girl. I grew up in kind of a beach town and it made me different. I'd go and I'd buy vintage stuff and I'd embellish it with patches and do all kinds of crazy stuff. 

Where did you go to school and what did you end up studying?

I studied business marketing at USC. I did not study fashion. My grandfather was a polo player and he was also a silversmith. He would make jewelry, like rodeo buckles, bolo ties, collar stays, money clips for all of his clients. He was Sylvester Stallone and Tommy Lee Jones' Polo instructor in Santa Barbara. My dad redid Spanish estates and he always made sure that my grandfather had a studio; a lot of the times it was like in the garage. I remember when I was a kid I would sit out there and watch him make all of this silver jewelry for all of his friends. It didn't really hit me until a few years ago, that was a huge influence on me, because I didn't even really wear jewelry.

I was a stylist for 10 years before I was jewelry designer. During that time I really didn't wear a lot of jewelry, I was pretty minimal.

How did you start your line?

I started a website after I was taking orders from my cellphone for six months. My husband's like, "You need to start a website and just start selling these." So, I started a website selling direct to consumer. Basically, I would customize anything that you want in any piece of jewelry, and I started selling it direct and I never sold it in stores. I made one for Uma Thurman and she wore it on the cover of Glamour, and that helped launch the celebrity mom jewelry that we started that we still to this day do. 

Then the recession hit. We were making lots of pieces for editorial, like larger gold pieces, and it was costing like $10,000 to make these things, just to get editorial play. Then we started doing brass and playing around with that and plating it in gold and that's when it really took off, because we started getting all of this editorial placement.

Then right when that happened is when Barneys saw us and came in, and they were our first big store. At that time it was different, it was much more Gothic and word-oriented. Now things have changed a little bit and it's gone down to much more minimal, easy, timeless gold pieces that we do. We still do two seasons a year and we don't sell any of the fine jewelry to any stores — we never will. We're doing our own pop-up type trunk show model that we're working on.

Jennifer Fisher custom jewelry. Photo: Courtesy

Jennifer Fisher custom jewelry. Photo: Courtesy

What challenges did you face getting the line off the ground?

Oh, my god, so much — are you kidding me? I remember sitting outside of magazines, they wouldn't let me through the door. They'd say to me, "Oh, you're never going to make it with this type of jewelry. Good luck." I love seeing those people now. [laughs] Whenever you start your own business, it's so hard. The jewelry's not for everyone; that's why there's a million different jewelry designers. Everyone resonates with someone different, but for anyone that doesn't resonate with you, there's 10 more people that do. You can't take it personally and you can't get upset about it.

How did you grow your celebrity clientele?

They came to us; we got really lucky. Honestly, the best thing and the best compliment that I ever see is when I see a real woman walking down the street that isn't a celebrity wearing my stuff. It's the coolest thing, and it never gets old. Celebrities are great and things have changed since we started our company with celebrities, because there wasn't Instagram when we started, and there weren't bloggers when we started. We've never really played that game; it's all been organic. Rihanna ended up in my showroom, and I met Rihanna because we had a mutual friend. It's all natural.

How do you decide to grow your business and to get into new categories?

Whatever I feel like doing, I do. Honestly, it's just what I feel like wearing. I buy a lot of clothes, I'm a huge consumer, I love fashion, but it's also driven based off of what I want to be wearing. It's cyclical and it all comes around; the choker comes back around, the hoop earring comes back around. The charm necklaces we sell 24/7, all day long because that a piece of jewelry that's heirloom; that's a year-round, constant thing that never goes out of style.

I had charms growing up when I was a kid and my mom collected them when she'd travel, and I would wear this bracelet until there were too many charms on it. I remember going to a place, and I wanted to put them on a charm necklace. They're like, "You're crazy, no one's going to ever wear that," but I just go off of what I feel like wearing and hopefully people feel the same, and if they don't, they don't.

Why is it important to you that you stay in control of selling your fine jewelry?

Having gone to business school and having looked at the fine jewelry model for retailers, it's a difficult business for people in fine jewelry. It's a lot of consignment, it's a lot of having to move your pieces around from store to store; it's just not a model that I feel is right for me and for what we do. That doesn't mean that it's not great for other jewelry designers, but it is something that I never wanted to get involved in. I always wanted to have the direct consumer aspect, especially because so much of it is custom. 

The things that we do are so specific that I think it'd be very difficult to do on a retail level, unless it's my own store — which is why we have our space in New York and which is why we're now traveling around and selling it on our own. We can control how the orders go in to make sure that it's correct. There's a level of customer service that we have, too, being able to sell it direct that way and having that control, that a lot of people are lacking when they just put it in a case in a store.

The popular Samira hoop. Photo: Courtesy

The popular Samira hoop. Photo: Courtesy

How did you guys come up with the trunk show format?

Instead of spending all of the money on opening a retail space or a pop-up space, which is so big right now, we figured it was just a better idea. It's so much easier to fly around to different towns, go for a day or two, sell the same way we'd sell in pop-up and then leave. It gives an urgency to the women in the town too, to come shop and to make a decision and to buy, so I think that's also something that's great. 

We get a lot of requests; people email in and ask, "Oh, please come to our town." It's also based off of where we have our large customers; a lot of our big customers want to host for us, which is great.

What's the importance of social medial for your business?

It's huge for us. I do all of our own social media. That was me studying business market at USC. I thought I wanted to go into publishing and marketing when I left school, but after interning on the publishing side of a magazine, I realized that I belonged on the fashion side, but I've always loved sales. I started my first business when I was five and made button earrings and I'd sell them around my neighborhood. My dad is an entrepreneur; I've just always loved that idea of sales. Instagram and social media was a natural growth for us. I do it all — still to this day I post everything myself. We don't have someone that's a digital company doing everything for us.

I think there's pros and cons to that. Obviously it's less polished, it's less perfect but people realize that I'm the name and the face of the brand and I'm a real person, I'm not perfect, I've got kids, I'm just like everybody else. I think that's what people like, is that it's authentic.

Jennifer Fisher's universal salt, $12, available at Jennifer Fisher. Photo: Courtesy

Jennifer Fisher's universal salt, $12, available at Jennifer Fisher. Photo: Courtesy

Why expand into selling salt?

My passion outside of jewelry is cooking — it always has been. The salt thing happened totally by accident. I'm gluten-free and dairy-free most of the time because I have thyroid disease. I cook for the kids and for the family and I'm always super-conscious about what we're eating. I try to eat nothing out of the package when I can, if I can help it, and what comes naturally with that is seasoning. I started this little mixture of salt on the side of my stove mixed in with organic lemon rind that my dad sent me from California and a mix of herbs that I like. I starting sprinkling it on my eggs every day, and our salads and on meats and everything that we would make in the house. 

Every Christmas, all the editors, you do a gifting and we used to do jewelry. A couple years ago, I did the salt with an avocado and a lemon, and I sent it to everybody right around the holidays when everyone's stuck in the office. The response was overwhelming; I've never gotten more letters from editors-in-chief in my life like I have about the salt. I think the reason it's been successful is that it's authentic, it's real, and I'm super passionate about it. 

I want to try and find a charity that I can tie into to give the proceeds to. I basically want to be like the Paul Newman for fashion: Do all these condiments — I love condiments, mustards, hot sauce, barbecue sauce, salts, all kinds of things — and then give it back to a charity, with super-chic packaging.

What do you wish you had known before starting your line?

Everything in life is competitive. I didn't realize how competitive this business was. I was very trusting when I started and that's advice that I give to people now going into this business: You have your friends and your life and your family outside of all of this and business is business. Yes, some of them do become your friends, and I do have some amazing friends in this business that are in the industry, but I think that you have to realize that it's business.

What advice would you give to somebody who wanted to start a jewelry line?

Just do it and not listen to other people that say, "You're never going to make it." I was told that a million times. You can't listen to that, and half the time people tell you negative things because they're jealous and they don't want you to do well. Everybody has different taste; not everyone's going to like what you do and you can't take it personally, you just have to keep moving forward and working and find someone who is into it and who does like it. 

What's your ultimate goal for your line?

As you can see, we're rounding it out into food, so we want it to be some form of a lifestyle business, but it's not going to be your traditional one. We want to do something different. We want to not do it the way that everybody else has done it in the past.

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