By  on January 21, 2011

Last November, Leeora Catalan, the designer behind the costume jewelry line Noir, unveiled a collection of baubles for Disney’s “Fantasia.” A month later came Noir for DC Comics, and in March she’ll introduce Noir Jewelry for Barbie. By then, her compilation will include Barbie House rings and pink-studded bracelets, not to mention Batman bands and dinosaur cuffs. None of it is kid stuff — prices range from $75 to $1,000. It’s enough to ask why, 16 years into a well-established business, Catalan is suddenly the go-to designer for grown-up takes on childhood obsessions.

In the past year, Catalan has struck three licensing deals with three major entities — Disney, DC Comics and Mattel. She has a two-year contract with each company, under which she is responsible for designing, producing and selling the jewelry. (Stores include Nordstrom, Henri Bendel and Endless.) Catalan approached DC Comics on a whim — her kids are superhero fans and she thought it would be fun. But Barbie and Disney came calling. Catalan’s outsize, imaginative aesthetic, marked by giant cocktail rings shaped like bugs or cuffs that resemble panthers, fit the bill. “Fashion is definitely something we’re ramping up,” says Robert Oberschelp, director of Disney Lifestyle Collections, which has done projects with Tom Binns for “Alice in Wonderland” and Opening Ceremony for “Tron.” “It’s becoming more visible, more out there.”

Designer collaborations, jewelry in particular, are increasingly common, cliché and confusing, part of a world in which it’s hard to discern who’s working for whom and what exactly each party gets out of it. In the case of Noir, it’s as strategic as it is amusing. For one thing, costume jewelry has become a crowded category. A few years ago, Noir was at the head of a quirky, niche market, but now it has company. “We’ve always been known as a trend jewelry company,” says Catalan. “Trend has really become a mishmash. There’s not really a trend anymore; the same ones kind of come out every season.” In other words, although it’s a great time for jewelry, it’s a struggle to remain distinctive. Partnering with a big name like Barbie offers Noir major brand exposure — more so than would collaborating with a stylist on an editorial shoot, or making jewelry for a runway show — which, Catalan says, is “absolutely, 100 percent” the point.

There’s room for fun, too. “It’s the best thing,” says Catalan. “It’s like I’m reliving my childhood.” And hoping there’s enough grown women out there who want do the same thing. — Jessica Iredale

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