brass half-moon and stars

Fine Jewelry Designer Rodkin tunes into growth

By Rose Apodac WWD 08/01/05

When Loree Rodkin recalls the nights years ago that she spent with Salvador Dali, the chunky rings wrapped around the icon of surrealist artís fingers come to mind.

"I was 19 and Dali would invite me for dinner every Sunday," Rodkin said. "I donít know what my function was there, except for being the Ďcute hick.í He would show up a half-hour late, stamp his elaborate cane and then rearrange the seating of the guests. But he exposed me to a lot: my first bar in Paris, my first bar in Rome."

Rodkin, who has cultivated a devoted following for her edgy fine jewelry among the famous and just plain rich-from best pal Cher and red-carpet regulars such as Halle Berry and Mary J. Blige to members of the Saudi and British Royal families-has been zigzagging to new experiences ever since.

Rodkin is designer and owner of an Los Angeles-based specialty business taking in $30 million in the U.S. Now she is entering another chapter in her life, expanding beyond jewelry to eyewear, handbags and other new categoreis, including a cashmere collection of sweaters, robes and blankets, woven with her signature emblems, crosses and skulls.

"Iím waiting for the first samples to arrive any day now," she said about the line, slated for a late fall delivery.

Also in the works are Loree Rodkin cosmetics for Japan. She already sells her perfume there and to select American retailers, along with scented candles.

"Negotiations are under way with two giants there," she said. "But is probably wonít be ready for two more years."

Itís all part of Rodkinís grand plan to create a lifestyle empire. Well, maybe not "plan." She cringes at the word.

"I donít have a five-year plan or a five-minute plan," said Rodkin. "Itís where the day takes me."

These days, itís a constant schedule of travel, for work and play. The morning following this interview sheís off to Greece and two weeks on two yachts belonging to clients with whom sheís become friends.

In May, travel took her to Milan for launch of her sunglasses, licensed in partnership with Sama Eyewear. The launch party took place at La Banque nightclub and gathered together several models resembling the long-haired brunette in Rodkinís jewelry ads, who happens to echo a younger Rodkin. The models circulated topless among guests, who included Italian celebrities and socialites.

Taking cues from her jewelry, the new frames are embellished with sterling piecework and Swarovski crystals, and will retail at between $200 and $1,000. The 16 styles - some named after Rodkinís friends, such as Sir Elton John, Tommy Lee and Gwen Stefani -arrive in stores in the U.S. and Europe in September. They also will bow then at Vision Expo West in Las Vegas.

In October, Rodkin and Samaís Sheila Vance are eyeing Paris for a debut of the "couture" line of frames, made of platinum or white gold and diamonds and priced between $8,000 and $20,000 a pair.

"Loreeís glasses are not just another eyewear brand," said Vance, adding that it is difficult to predict first-year sales because Rodkin and her exclusive product are new to the eyewear market. "She has fun with diamonds and fine metals. We plan on being in the highest category of boutiques in 35 countries."

Japan is a given on that list, considering Rodkinís presence there.

Aside from her 3,000-square-foot Gothic retail temple in Ginza, there are 12 signature in-store shops in department stores that combined are anticipated to bring in $40 million this year. There are also 42 Love & Hate shops showcasing the sterling silver and precious gems bridge line that have annual sales of $20 million. In addition, last year, she and her Japanese licensing and distribution partners, Timeless Inc., opened 10 stores called Libra, targeting a younger consumer with a semiprecious and silver collection. First-year sales of Libra are anticipated at $8 million.

Of her frequent visits to Japan, Timelessí Susumu Tsuchiya once noted to WWD that Rodkin is treated "like a rock star" there. Itís not surprising, as she often dresses the part in black leather.

Her new line of edgy bags reflect this sensibility. The bags cost from $1,500 to $10,000, and each is cut from ostrich, stingray, python or some other exotic skin. Rodkin likes to carry a white crocodile tote, sporting a long tail.

"I did this line out of pure greed because I wanted bags like this for myself," she said.

Rodkin often says she designs only for herself and sheís usually draped in plenty of her boldest pieces, including a seven-karat horn dangling from her neck and an eight-karat bondage ring joining two of her fingers.

Aerosmithís Steven Tyler sucked a diamond skull ring right off her finger once. "He insisted on not returning it since it had been in his mouth," she said.

The rocker is a friend and fan of Rodkinís, owning some 50 pieces. Six months ago, she made him a chain-mail belt, sprinkled with diamonds and diamond charms, including ones in the shape of a gun, microphone, daggers and the bandís logo. The price tag was $50,000.

"He likes to joke that he walks around naked in nothing but the belt," she said.

As fully stamped as her passport is, Rodkin adds Russia to it for the first time this fall when retailer Podium introduces her to Moscow in 11 of its doors.

"I made it really difficult," she recalled of her request to the owners that they meet her at one of her accounts, Hirshleiferís in Manhassert, N.Y. "But they came, bought $1 million worth of jewelry and prepaid for it. Theíre incredibly charming."

Rodkin has collected her share of charming and difficult characters over the years.

She left her native Chicago for film school in New york. By her early 20s, she was living in Malibu, Calif., with a rising rock musician, Don Henley of the Eagles. When that relationship faded and she found a place of her own, an admirer of her decorating talents hired Rodkin to do the interiors of several of his properties. Word spread, and she did the homes of Rod Stewart and Elton John lyricist Bernie Taupin.

She has made wedding bands for actor Anthony Edwards and for Robert Downey Jr.ís nuptials to Deborah Falconer in 1991. She met Edwards and Downey during a decade-long stint as a talent agent following her work in interiors. It began in 1979, when she met the late ballet great Alexander Godunov, who convinced her to represent him. Within three years, her growing roster counted John Malkovich, Judd Nelson and fellow Chicago pals Virginia and Michael Madsen.

By the late Eighties, Rodkin found respite in a new hobby, jewelry-making. When Downey fired her in 1988, she decided it was time to switch gears.

"Whatís always been interesting to me is the creative part," Rodkin said.

She still occasionally designs interiors and furniture, including for friends such as Stewart and Cher, and is talking about adding bedding to her expanding offerings.

Despite the size of the business, Rodkin doesnít have a sales representative, instead dealing directly with her accounts, which include Maxfield in Los Angeles, Theodore in Beverly Hills and Stanley Korshak in Dallas, in addition to Hirshleiferís.

Jewelry Industry News

Jewelry Industry News

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