The J.Crew Jewelry Alum, Now Out on Her Own

Photo: Courtesy of Lele Sadoughi

Jewelry designer Lisa “Lele” Sadoughi possesses that rare touch that can transform the gaudiest costume jewelry into something that’s fun, dazzling, and chic to wear. “In my mind, jewelry’s not anything that you need to wear. You need to wear a top and a bottom, but jewelry should be something fun,” she told the Cut. “If it elevates your look or spawns some creativity or imagination, I think it is costume jewelry.”

After spending  nearly a decade working in the business — she designed for Ippolita, helped build J.Crew’s jewelry division from the ground up in 2006, served as the company’s jewelry-design director for five years, and then held the same title at Tory Burch — she decided to take the plunge into creating her own eponymous jewelry line in 2012. She previewed her first collection, an Egyptian Deco–inspired line for spring-summer 2013 in time for September Fashion Week, and recently finished her fall-winter line, which revolves around a galactic theme. Her clunky bracelets (which she calls “sliders”), pendants, and necklaces have names like Sputnik, Aurora, and Lunar Eclipse.

Her latest collection, which ranges from $75 to $485, will be available for pre-sale on her site starting today and will be selling at Bergdorf Goodman, Harvey Nichols, and boutiques like Five Story, Circa Now, and Treasure & Bond. While her collections predominantly offer jewelry thus far, there’s a chance she’ll expand into decorative home products — or what Sadoughi calls, “jewelry for the home.” The Cut sat down with the designer at her home to talk about turning her line into something entirely her own, working at J.Crew with Jenna Lyons, and more. Click through the slides to see photos of baubles from her first two collections.

Were you into jewelry growing up? How long have you been collecting?
I wish my mom and my granny had at least some costume jewelry, but they have none. So I don’t even know where I got this from! I was always drawing and my parents saw it at an early age, so they encouraged me and I did extracurricular art programs. But I’ve been collecting since I started really shopping on my own, around college. I’ve always been obsessed with second-hand stores, thrift stores. Maybe that’s where my passion for old things comes from.

Where are some of your go-to thrift stores?
I have places all over the world: Florida and Istanbul. That bazaar was my favorite place ever. I just need to go back, just spend ten days there. Also, the Topkapi Palace: that’s going to be the inspiration for one collection for sure. Here, I go to the Garage.

For your latest collection, what about space inspired you to devote a collection to it?
I was thinking about shapes. I was into half-moon shapes and lunar shapes and crescents, and that’s how it started. I was also interested in a lot of the stones that have striations in them. I thought it looked really celestial: dark skies and stars, so I think it was more shapes and color that built the idea of space.

You’ve been instrumental in making J.Crew’s costume-inspired pieces iconic. And your taste is clear in your own collections. How did you implement that vision?
When I first started at J.Crew, they were [saying], if you’re going to use something, it should be real. If you want to use pearls, we should use real pearls. And I kept pushing to get glass pearls and Swarovski and Czech crystals in there. Finally, I was able to cross that barrier and those became the best sellers of all time. The average girl maybe likes a prettier thing more than something edgy, pointy, or sharp. 

You’ve worked for years with Jenna Lyons. How did you creatively challenge each other?
I’ve worked directly under her for three-plus years and she moved up in the ranks into stardom now, I guess. She was a great person to work for and I really admired her sense. You see, so many of my friends at J.Crew are still there and it’s really a good place to work. A lot of people stay there for a long time. I always pushed the big pieces, the colorful pieces. And sometimes there was a desire to have more organic, natural shards of coral and little off pieces and smaller-scale pieces. So I did a bit of that, but I think the pieces where I felt more creatively challenged were the big, fun costume pieces.

Who would you say is the girl who wears your jewelry?
I think that my pieces aren’t for the shy girl. It’s for somebody that really wants to walk into a room and have a certain energy and light to her. I think that there should be some levity with the pieces because they’re fun, they’re big, they’re bold. And I really like to show a statement with the pieces. I have always been drawn to the big and powerful.

You’ve had so many new things happening for you: You’ve just had your first child, you’re expanding your company. What are you most looking forward to with all this change?
I’m going to be so excited when I just see someone on the street wearing my jewelry. I remember it took over a year being at J.Crew, because it takes over a year to develop something, and whenever people asked where I worked, J.Crew, they’d be like, “I’ve never heard of the jewelry!” Now I see it everywhere and on TV. I just want to see the everyday girl. I just want to see her.

Shop: Prints We Love