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Meet J.Crew Alum And Jewelry Designer Lele Sadoughi

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Dallas-born, New York-based jewelry designer Lele Sadoughi is poised to become the next big thing in the costume jewelry realm. Everyone took notice after Sadoughi launched the uber popular jewelry line for J.Crew under Jenna Lyons and her talent had other big brands like Banana Republic and Tory Burch come calling. But after giving birth to her first child, Sadoughi decided to focus solely on her own namesake label. With pieces under $400 that look and feel like a million bucks and 12 glossy covers to date this year, the label, now in its fourth season, is taking off. Her first client? NeimanMarcus.com, plus a launch on Moda Operandi. We caught up with Sadoughi to find out how she’s making a name for herself.
BY PAIGE REDDINGER

How did you get started designing jewelry?
I moved to New York in 2002 and I started working at Rebecca Taylor. I moved into designing all the trims, so that focused my attention onto the smaller, more particular pieces like the buttons and the bows. I was even making broaches. After that, I had an opportunity at Ippolita. She had a private label jewelry line, which [Ippolita Rostagno] no longer has because she makes enough money on her own line, so she doesn’t need it anymore. But it was a great experience because I was designing for clients anywhere from Old Navy all the way up to Neiman Marcus. I designed for Club Monaco, Anthropologie—all those brands.

What happened next?
The opportunity for J.Crew came along, and at that point it was just kind of an exploratory interview because I had a friend working there. I actually just brought her on to my company: Things come full circle! The J.Crew interview was exploratory. I thought, ‘Well, I’ve done apparel, I’ve done accessories, I’ve done a little bit of jewelry.’ They came back and said, ‘We want you to do jewelry!’ They were launching a whole new department.

What did you think when they asked you to launch the jewelry department?
Well I met with Jenna Lyons, who was then head of women’s, and she basically was like, ‘Okay here’s a stipend, can you come back in two weeks? Make a mood board, buy some samples, tell me what your vision is for J.Crew, and we’ll see you back here!’  I left there and I was like, ‘Did I get hired? What just happened?’ It worked out! They definitely weren’t publicizing that they wanted to do jewelry. I think they were thinking about it and I just came along at the right time.

Were you surprised at the success?
I was. Once I was knee-deep in jewelry when I was working at the private label company, I saw that there was such an opportunity in the market for something that was not $10 to $30 and was not $400 to $1,200. I think it was just the right time and I think my aesthetic worked really well for the J.Crew girl and so it was a really creative and fun time for me.  And I even did some stuff for Banana Republic, which at the time was probably like ’05. It was an exciting time for their jewelry.

When did you start your own label?
Well, I planned my wedding, then started to think about what I wanted to do. As I was about ready to launch, I had an opportunity at Tory Burch. They contacted me; they were looking for someone to direct their jewelry. Tory was very supportive and said it was fine that I had my own business, and it was fine that I couldn’t work every day. So I ended up working there half the week, and doing my own line the other half of the week. That lasted about a year until I gave birth to my son and then I was like, ‘I can’t do all of this.’ Now I’m expecting my second child, so I’ve been very busy.

Congrats! How do you craft such quality pieces at your price point?
I think that comes with having a lot of experience at big organizations like J.Crew and Tory Burch. You’re very cautious of price points, and you learn different techniques. I make everything overseas, and I have relationships with factories that I’ve used for over 10 years. Also, you learn when you can substitute acrylic and glass, and when you can use brass and zinc, ad when you can substitute steel. I’ve learned which metals cost more than others, and what’s weightier than something else. So if you can think of creative ways that aren’t so labor-intensive to get the same look, you can figure out a good price point.

Would you ever venture into fine jewelry?
Yes! It would be a natural evolution. Something much smaller scale than these big pieces that I do would be beautiful in fine jewelry form; I’ve definitely thought about that. I would say sometime in the future I’m interested in fine. I’m also interested in home wear. I’d love to completely expand into more a lifestyle brand.

Where do you find your inspiration?
I like to think of a scene, time, or place. For instance the current spring/summer line is all about Havana, Cuba and the Tropicana in the 1950s. Once I was able to focus on a time period and a place, then I was able to pick a color palette with greens like the palm leaves, watermelon colors, deep blues like the water, and that gave me a feeling. Even thinking about the textures and the costumes of the dancers’ fringe skirts and all that gave me the idea to put fringe in my collection.

What’s the inspiration for Fall?
My fall inspiration was pinball machines and arcade.

Fun! Do you sketch?
I’m in between the old-school and the new-school of sketching verses everything on the computer, so I do both. Maybe I’ll sketch one casting and then I’ll scan it and work on Photoshop and duplicate it into 10 castings and play around with that.

Which retailer picked up your jewelry first?
I launched my first collection for Spring/Summer 2013 on Moda Operandi. It was available for presale before the actual season arrived. But my first big order was NeimanMarcus.com. It was very exciting for me, because I’m from Dallas, that’s who I wanted.

What do you like to do in your free time?
I’ve always loved flea markets, consignment shops, or anything old. Especially in Texas there were so many good markets and thrift stores. Through my travels, whether it’s in Istanbul or Morocco, Palm Springs, or Miami, I always need to stop somewhere and check out an antique store or vintage shop.

Any vintage store recommendations?
This’n’That (NYC), Golyester (L.A.), C Madeleines (Miami), One of a kind (Portobello Road in London), Blackout  (London), ANOUSCHKA (Paris), Grand Bazaar (Istanbul), and Jemaa el Fna (Marrakech).

What’s next?
I’m actually shipping in two weeks to Net-a-Porter, which is very exciting. My golden choker from the Fall line is actually on the cover of The Edit, Net-a-Porter’s digital magazine.

How would you sum up your aesthetic?
The industrial age has always been a time that really inspires me. I love functional pieces where it really is like machinery in how it moves. But at the end of the day, I just want to make something pretty. A lot of new designers are creating ear cuffs and designing with skulls, but that’s not just me. I prefer to wear some pearls once in a while.

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