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Rodkin Rocks On in Tokyo

LOS ANGELES — Jeweler and friend to the likes of Cher and Sir Elton John, Loree Rodkin, with skulls and peace signs sparkling from her fingers and neck and emblazoned on the back of a leather jacket, is worshiped like a pop star when she’s...

LOS ANGELES — Jeweler and friend to the likes of Cher and Sir Elton John, Loree Rodkin, with skulls and peace signs sparkling from her fingers and neck and emblazoned on the back of a leather jacket, is worshiped like a pop star when she’s in Japan.

Fans await her at the airport or stop her on the street for autographs and pictures, and last week a local band handed her a demo tape and translation for the ode they composed to her. A stack of magazines and TV reels showcase her gothic-appointed home in Beverly Hills — even down to the bathroom.

“She is now extremely famous in Japan,” said Susumu Tsuchiya of Timeless Inc., Rodkin’s licensing and distribution partner there. “She is like a rock star.”

And, in her quiet way, the tiny feline, long-haired brunette tells of the time in a Tokyo hotel suite when a press crew pushed aside Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler to get to her: “I’m like, don’t you want to speak to him?”

So it should be no surprise that Rodkin, known for her irreverently gothic-flavored platinum and diamond pieces (recently Sir Elton forked out $12,000 for the diamond ring spelling out F**K YOU she was wearing to give to partner David Furnish, and then ordered a second for himself), has chosen the Japanese capital for her first freestanding door, a 3,000-square-foot gothic temple when opened last week — even if it is a 12-hour flight from her Beverly Hills studio.

To date, there are six Rodkin in-store shops in various department stores in Japan, and another 21 Love & Hate shops there, some at retailers and others freestanding in such shopping centers as Sapporo Parco, showcasing the sterling silver and precious gems bridge line by the same name.

Situated in the Ginza district, neighboring Cartier and Harry Winston, the ornately festooned Loree Rodkin flagship actually bowed last Tuesday night with a bash of 500 VIP guests in honor of the founder, who’s had more incarnations than a cat.

Storied adventures in L.A.’s Seventies rock world led to managing the careers of Brad Pitt, Robert Downey Jr. and Sarah Jessica Parker, among others. “But eventually, I was getting bored with management,” recalled Rodkin. “I felt like it was glorified baby-sitting.”

Her jeweled roots stretch back to her native Chicago, where, as a young teen, she would redesign jewelry gifts.

Her first “real” piece as an adult in the mid-Eighties was based on a 1913 Cartier skull-and-crossbones ring. She secretly continued making one item after another for herself, telling friends and clients who would beg to buy them off of her that they were made by a secret local artist. Shopping at Maxfield one day in 1987, her jewelry caught the eye of the buyer and a designer was officially born.

The core of the platinum and 18-karat collection, heavily based on Medieval and Renaissance flourishes, has the effect of antiquated heirlooms — even when bearing contemporary effects like the Elton John ring.

It was at Maxfield that Masa Watanabe of One World Access spotted the line and took it to Tokyo to show Timeless’ Tsuchiya, who teamed up with Rodkin for the new retail enterprise. Timeless encouraged Rodkin to introduce Love & Hate, available exclusively in Japanese retailers and at Maxfield, to meet a younger fan demand.

Through the Japanese network, the Rodkin line is expecting retail sales of $30 million this year, up one-third from 2002; Love & Hate is also expected to increase from last year’s $19 million to close to $30 million in 2003.

Domestically, and without a partner or licensee, Rodkin’s retail sales are $25 million.

And Timeless expects to open two more freestanding Rodkin stores, in Osaka and Fukuoka, by early 2004; along with another six Love & Hate shops by the end of that year.

As for the flagship, the partners expect first-year retail sales of $5 million.

The four-story building is the manifestation of Rodkin’s aesthetic. Her stone carvers in Los Angeles ornately cut cream-colored marble like castle stone for the exterior facade. Stained-glass windows bearing the Rodkin logo are featured inside and out.

Throughout the two selling floors — appointed at a cost of $1 million — are rich wood panels, gothic detailing and the Medieval and gothic furniture from Rodkin’s Hollywood Hills home.

While the two upper floors are showroom and office space for the Asian-based wholesale business, a floor below street level is an elaborately ornamented salon for her so-called “Couture” group within the Loree Rodkin collection. The namesake line retails from $2,000 to $20,000, while the Couture pieces run from $20,000 to $300,000 or more. This is the first time it is available in Japan.

“Her work is always relevant to what’s going on in fashion, in music and the world in general,” observed Maxfield buyer Sarah Stewart. “She arrives at being feminine and edgy at the same time.”

For fall, Rodkin dallies in onyx, coral and bone for the collection shipping to U.S. retailers such as Neiman Marcus and some 25 specialty stores, as well as her own doors in Japan.

Conversations continue with other licensees to open stores in Paris and Hong Kong.

As for opening Loree Rodkin stores in the U.S., the designer said it would have to be with a partner. “I don’t want to be a retailer. Let someone else worry about all that. I want to just design.”