Byline: Holly Haber

Brenda Schoenfeld is back, and this time she’s going for the gold. Four years ago, the designer shut her sterling jewelry wholesale business and retail store here to move to Europe with her family. But Schoenfeld didn’t let her skills go dormant; she dedicated herself to renovating and decorating her stunning 18th-century villa in the Tuscan hills outside Florence.
After work on the villa — surrounded by 3,000 newly planted laurel trees — was finished, Schoenfeld last year returned to her first creative passion. After all, sculpting ornaments from metal is in her blood: She grew up in a family of silversmiths in Taxco, Mexico, that has made luxurious silver goods for 55 years.
“I’ve always kept my silver workshop [in Taxco] because it’s part of me, and I make things for my house,” noted Schoenfeld, a vivacious petite woman who speaks Spanish, English and Italian. “And I got antsy. I took some jewelry design classes for gold in Florence. Then I met this woman who was sketching in a cafe who used to work for Buccellati, and I said, ‘Please do some work for me.”‘
Schoenfeld chatted about the relaunch of her business during a trunk show at Stanley Korshak here, the only U.S. store currently selling the line. Schoenfeld also sells to private clients in Europe and a chic accessories shop in Florence called Louisa. She remains based in Florence.
It’s quite a difference from her former business, which counted more than 300 accounts including Neiman Marcus and Stanley Korshak. Her plan is to do $250,000 in sales this year.
This time around, Schoenfeld has come up with two impressive lines of jewelry in sterling and 18-karat gold with precious and semiprecious stones. The move into gold makes perfect sense since she has access to skilled goldsmiths in Florence.
Some of the most beautiful pieces are an invisibly hinged textured 18-karat gold cuff set with brown diamonds, and a brooch studded with Mexican brown opal, fire opal and citrine. She’s also got simple textured gold bangles and hoops, which have been bestsellers, a gold mesh belt/necklace and a dramatic gold chain necklace with a sizable emerald-cut green crystal pendent.
Among the stones she uses are tourmalines, garnets, amber, South Sea pearls and white diamonds.
“Everything is handmade,” she pointed out. “My two [gold] jewelers are Florentine, and they work slowly and take great pride in their work, so I prefer to do eight pieces a month, but with quality. Working with silver is totally different from working with gold. There is little margin for error. I have been very lucky that I have not melted a piece yet!”
Schoenfeld’s gold line retails from about $600 to $15,000.
“Most of her gold is one-of-a-kind, and we’ve done especially well it,” said Melissa Geiser, accessories buyer for Stanley Korshak. “She had the best hoop earrings. We sold them hand over fist, and they were about $2,500. The gold link necklaces have been really good, too — anything that has a great presence of gold has done really well. We just sold two of the cuffs with brown diamonds.”
One of the reasons Schoenfeld is also producing a silver line is to be able to offer a lower price point; the silver spans from $60 to $7,500 with the bulk under $1,500.
The most impressive pieces are hefty, like a necklace brimming with faceted silver beads or a four-strand beaded silver chain with tassels that can be worn as a necklace or belt.
“I’ve always felt, ‘What can I create with silver that won’t scratch and I can wear when I travel?”‘ she said.
Many of Korshak’s customers remember the designer from her previous business and are eager to buy from her again.
“Brenda is charming,” Geiser reflected. “It’s an incredible magnetism she has. A lot of people are still discovering that she’s back.”
That charisma is one reason that Kathie Lee Gifford hosted a private Schoenfeld trunk show and cocktail reception for a dozen people at her New York apartment on April 23. The designer sold $50,000 worth of jewels.
Schoenfeld and Gifford met a few years ago in a French resort when Schoenfeld suggested their children play together since they spoke English. Later, the Gifford family visited her Florentine villa. But Schoenfeld had no idea of the pair’s celebrity until Frank Gifford said to her, “My wife is actually very famous in the entertainment industry.” Schoenfeld replied, “Oh. What does she do?”
“I had no idea who she was,” said Schoenfeld. “But when I told my husband they were visiting, he wanted Frank to autograph a football.”
Schoenfeld will be back in Dallas at Stanley Korshak for a trunk show Oct. 26-27.