Los Angeles-based Emily P. Wheeler wants to ~ dress you up ~ ! And she’s aiming to do just that with the launch of her fun-filled post-pandemic collection, aptly titled Dress Up. Inspired by memories of how we delighted in costuming ourselves as kids, along with hopes and dreams for the excitement of indulging in fashion for fashion’s sake again, the offering is a colorful and luxe parade of covetable rings, earrings, necklaces, and more. Having heard that Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Lopez, Lupita Nyong’o, Brie Larson, and many more chicsters are already fans of her designs, we had to learn more about makes Wheeler tick!
Tell us about yourself—when and how did you first get into jewelry?
I first got into jewelry as a child, really. I started making jewelry for my mom and would give her something almost every day. I did some basic beadwork, using pliers and jump rings. I then started my rock collection while on a road trip with my dad. It grew as a hobby at first, and then I made it my primary focus about seven years ago. I spent several years developing my skills as a designer and establishing a network of jewelers and suppliers to work with. I worked on a smaller scale, via word of mouth. I then launched my first full fine collection at Couture in 2019 and began wholesaling.
You’ve got a long resume, including years modeling with IMG! How has your varied career influenced your approach to design today?
I think everything influences my approach to design today. The way I am as a designer is due to a sum of all my life experiences. I think the same could be said about any designer. I’ve always been enamored with the world of fashion, and modeling as a teen was certainly exciting. The fashion industry is hugely influential to me, and it taught me how to express myself through what I wear. I think my family and the way I grew up were more influential to how I approach design. My dad was an architectural photographer and my mom is an artist. They both pulled the creativity out of me early on!
Your designs are very eclectic and colorful. Do you look in unexpected places for inspiration?
I’m a very nostalgic and contemplative person. I often look inward to connect with feelings, emotions, and memories for inspiration. I like to evoke a sense of nostalgia with my jewelry. I want someone to feel something when they see the colors and textures of a collection. I want it to remind them of something that maybe they can’t quite put their finger on.
You’re also known for combining different gems and stones—like tourmaline, diamond, and gold. What’s your personal favorite combination to date?
That’s very hard to answer, because I love everything I make and there are lots of combinations that thrill me! There was one Chubby Ring in particular that really got me going. It was made with ethically-sourced ebony, a moonstone cabochon, and diamonds, set in 18 karat rose gold. The rose gold really brought out the warmth in the ebony, and the moonstone just looked perfect. The scale was also beautiful.
You just launched your Dress Up collection—we love it! Tell us about it. Where did it all begin?
I started dreaming up the collection at the beginning of quarantine shortly after my wedding was postponed due to the pandemic. I spent most of 2020 in my studio daydreaming about life post-COVID and how wonderful and exciting it would be to be on the other side. I pictured it like the Roaring ’20s. I designed Dress Up with that in mind and planned to launch it as soon as we had a vaccine. It’s a celebration of getting dressed up again. I thought about what I wore as a child playing dress up and tried to create the adult, elevated version of that. It’s playful, kitschy, fun, and aspirational.
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You’re often praised for its commitment to sustainability. What are some ways you are ensuring your practice is sustainable and responsible?
I work with a sustainability consultant, and we do as much due diligence as we can on our supply chain to make sure we’re working with jewelers and material suppliers that share our values. We are finishing up the year-long process to become certified members of the Responsible Jewelry Council, so there is a more formal audit process in place to keep ourselves honest. That process has been educational and helpful in navigating the industry.
What do you think is the most pressing issue when it comes to sustainability in the jewelry industry?
Our supply chains are extremely long, and there is a lot of room for unethical practices to go unnoticed or unchecked. For example, there are mining practices that are extremely damaging to the environment, and there are mining operations that don’t treat their workers fairly. It’s important to know where your materials come from so you can avoid supporting those operations. We combat this by purchasing directly from miners that we know and trust, inquiring about origin when working with dealers, and ensuring there is a paper trail to back up claims. A lot of the mines we work with do amazing work to better the communities they are in.
You’re a member of Ethical Metalsmiths and the Women’s Jewelry Association. What have you learned because of that involvement?
Both EM and WJA are great resources for educating yourself on the industry as a whole. WJA is a wonderful networking organization and a great resource for learning how to improve your business in general. EM is an incredible resource for learning about the world of jewelry, specifically material suppliers, what to watch for, what questions to ask, and so on. I also attended the Chicago Responsible Jewelry Conference virtually this year, and plan to attend the next one in person. It’s another great educational tool as well as a direct source for ethically sourced materials.
You’re also part of the Responsible Jewellery Council! How did that come to be?
I was looking for an organization that could help guide me towards being a more responsible designer and the RJC does just that. I liked the idea of the long audit process that forces you to take a microscope to your business practices. The process
forces you to do a bit of an overhaul.
Tell us about your custom one-of-a-kind orders, that must be fun to have that side of the business!
Around half of our business is custom and one-of-a-kind. We do a wide variety of projects: from repurposing antique family heirloom stones, to creating something totally unique based on a client’s specifications, as well as anniversary gifts, bridal, and more. One of my favorite projects was making earrings and a ring for a mom with her children’s
birthstones: opal and peridot.
What’s been the most challenging aspect of working in jewelry and starting your own business?
It takes years to learn the ins and outs of the jewelry industry. I opted to dive in and learn by doing. I started working with a small jeweler in L.A., making just a few pieces here and there. I attended the Tucson Gem Show every year to build my network of suppliers and meet people in the industry. It took years of hard work with lots of mistakes made along the way to get where I am today!
If you had to pick—Princess earrings or Opal X earrings? Emeralds or opal?
Ooh. Princess Earrings and opal…but that could change tomorrow!
You mentioned your interest in fashion, how would you describe your style? And who’s your go-to for style inspiration?
I’ve heard people describe my style as androgynous, luxury surfer girl—and I thought that sounded kind of on point. For style inspiration: Marianne Theodorsen, Courtney Trop, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Patricia Field, Adwoa Aboah, Heloise Letissier, and Harry Styles!
What’s your favorite thing about living in L.A. and growing your brand there?
L.A. is filled with creatives, and it feels really inspiring and encouraging to be around that. The creatives that live here are driven and serious about what they do. It makes collaborating on photoshoots and other projects really stimulating. The only other place to live in that might be better for work is New York, but I need easy access to nature. At the end of the day, L.A. is a mountain town, so we have hiking, biking, surfing, skiing, and other outdoor activities all around us.