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Me & Ro Takes Command

NEW YORK -- Me & Ro's current state of mind can be summed up with Janet Jackson's Eighties hit "Control."<P>In recent months, Michele Quan and Robin Renzi, the founders and designers of the hip jewelry line, took charge of their wholesale operation,...

NEW YORK — Me & Ro’s current state of mind can be summed up with Janet Jackson’s Eighties hit “Control.”

This story first appeared in the June 17, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

In recent months, Michele Quan and Robin Renzi, the founders and designers of the hip jewelry line, took charge of their wholesale operation, installed a retail growth plan and boosted their bottom line with the launch of an Indian rose cut-diamond collection. They’re in control and are relishing it.

On Tuesday, the momentum will culminate with the opening party for their 400-square-foot showroom at 500 Broadway here. After six years of wholesaling its jewelry through the Cynthia O’Connor & Co. showroom, Me & Ro’s wholesale operation is now located in its former production space, which moved to nearby 407 Broome Street.

The showroom was designed by New York-based Sharples, Holden & Pasquarelli Architects and features raw walnut with shades of white, lacquer, mesh and concrete.

“We always wanted to go on our own,” said Renzi. “A business is like having a kid, and no nanny will take care of a child like its mother. We learned so much from Cynthia, though. We knew nothing about business when we started.”

Renzi, who trained as a modern dancer, met Quan, a former model, when both waitressed at restaurant Indochine in the Eighties. In 1991, their friendship led to the creation of Me & Ro, which drew on the designers’ interest in Eastern philosophy and natural forms, in silver and yellow gold with semiprecious stones and hand-carved with symbolic Sanskrit and Tibetan calligraphy.

The duo’s business took off when Renzi and Quan designed a hoop earring with dangling garnet or eyelet beads. The look was quickly featured in magazines, then widely copied by mass manufacturers. Me & Ro also generated much interest on screen, and the jewelry has appeared on such TV shows as “Friends” and “Will & Grace,” and movies including “Kate & Leopold,” “Shallow Hal” and “The Mexican.”

Julia Roberts wore Me & Ro’s specially designed Indian rose-cut diamond drop earrings the night she won an Oscar for “Erin Brockovitch,” and the resulting buzz persuaded the duo to design a full line using the diamond set in 18-karat yellow gold and platinum. The diamond, which resembles the petals of a rosebud, “brings out the natural beauty of the stone,” said Quan.

Me & Ro is also expanding its retail presence. It is currently sold in 250 department and specialty stores worldwide, including Neiman Marcus and Barneys New York. Along with its 450-square-foot unit on 239 Elizabeth Street in Manhattan, which opened in 1999, the company unveiled a 300-square- foot boutique at the Shore Club in Miami in January. A third, 300-square-foot unit will bow in Osaka, Japan, this September.

“[Japan] is a major opportunity,” said Alan Firestone, president. “For us, this is a great way to get the kinks out.”

Quan added: “We want to open more stores because it’s the best representation of your jewelry. It’s the ultimate goal for people to be able to view jewelry in an environment that mirrors the aesthetic of the jewelry.”

Industry sources estimated the company’s sales volume last year at $14 million. Firestone, who declined to confirm this figure, said that he projects 60 percent sales increases this year based on the new retail units.

“We see the main growth of our business from freestanding stores,” said Firestone. “Over the next five years, we want at least five additional stores in such markets as Los Angeles, London, Tokyo, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco.””