FOR DIAN MALOUF, DESIGN IS EXPRESSION — ARTISTIC, EMOTIONAL AND POLITICAL.
Byline: Patricia Lowell
Dallas-based designer Dian Malouf has gotten a lot of mileage out of a simple piece known as the “Go Girl” ring, $40 at retail. Created to boost the spirit of the wearer, more than 4,000 of the rings have been sold so far.
But for those who’ve been touched by its message, the ring’s value and impact might be much more substantial; and for Malouf, the ring is a signature of her approach to both design and life.
“That piece has really been a miracle,” Malouf said, offering an anecdote. “I was in Tyler, Tex., one day at a trunk show, when I noticed a woman buying eight of them. I asked her why she was buying so many, thinking that she would tell me that she was buying them for a group of bridesmaids or something. Well, she answered that she was purchasing them for a pick-me-up for eight of her friends who were suffering with cancer, and that’s when I knew that this ring was really having a special effect on people.”
Malouf’s designs can do that. Her “Terms of enDEARment” collection, for instance, features more than a dozen examples of tender nicknames such as “Punkin” and “Baby Cakes.” Her latest collection references the earth’s oceans as a call to awareness of environmental issues.
But her jewelry with a message, while often chunky, is not heavy-handed. And with more than $3 million in annual sales and the creation of more than 4,800 pieces since 1997, plenty of women are apparently receptive to her designs and her perspectives.
“My newest collection is completely inspired by objects from the sea,” said Malouf, who will introduce the 70-piece “Shellegance” collection this fall. It features large pieces in sterling and sterling with 14-karat gold accents, many studded with lemon citrine and detailed with textures representing spiny oysters, conch shells, bubbles rising to the surface and waves lapping the shoreline.
“People have no idea about the water issues that are dramatically affecting our life,” said Malouf, who often attends city council meetings and is not shy about calling a political candidate’s office to find out where he or she stands on environmental issues. “We are literally running out of water, and land, and clean air, and so many other natural resources. I guess that’s what each of my collections are about, finding a way to tell the story of conservation while honoring the bounty that nature has given us.”
Each of her collections has themes and is bound by a level of cohesiveness that sometimes overlaps. The “Stacks” line is made up of thin, heavily textured bands that can be worn alone or in groups.
“Dian’s jewelry, especially the rings and bracelets, are great for layering,” said Barbara Lipton, vice president and divisional merchandise manager for Saks Fifth Avenue. “Her customers love the large size of the pieces and the wide variety of color. And they are true collector’s pieces in that you can buy one now and add others later and they all work together.”
And they’re not just regional favorites. These chunky sterling silver and gold-accented pieces are also big hits in New York, where they are most often set with darker stones such as onyx and garnet. Not surprisingly, in the South her pastel stones are more popular.
Since introducing her “Watercolors” jewelry collection in 1997, Malouf has created more than 20 different collections with themes that range from “Day of the Dead” to “Jungle Mud,” “Texas 2000” and “Millennium Mama.”
These highly textured necklaces, bracelets, pins and cuff links retail for anywhere from $40 to $12,000 and are available at high-end specialty and department stores, including Saks and Neiman Marcus.
Jewelry is not her only vehicle of expression. Malouf, who divides her time between homes in Dallas and Santa Fe, has a second book in the works.
“I’m glad that things are this way,” she said. “I think to stay busy doing what you love and being involved in things you care about makes one feel alive.”
A south Texas rancher before she became a designer, Malouf’s first book, “Cattle Kings of Texas,” offered a peek into south Texas ranch life through words and photographs. “Being from Texas is such a big part of my identity,” she said. “I think it comes across in my jewelry, too. The rich textures, the oversize pieces, the natural elements are all part of my Texas upbringing.”
It’s not surprising that her second book, “Seldom Heard,” (release date undetermined) delves deeper into the old Texas families that have held land for hundreds of years. “These folks are old of money and tight of lip,” she said. “It’s been an amazing experience to get them to talk with me about their history and their present concerns.”
Her research took her through much of south Texas, going from roundup to bunk house to cook wagon, in an attempt to get an authentic glimpse at a fading lifestyle. Those trips through the Southwest have also provided inspiration for jewelry, found within the crevasses of red rocks and among the spiny shells along the Texas coast.
Malouf said she often wakes up in the middle of the night to jot down an idea or sketch a design. She’ll soon be traveling to Glass Beach near Seattle, where polished shards line the beaches. “I can’t wait to see what ideas that inspires,” she said.