View Slideshow

LOS ANGELES — Even inside Les Habitudes, the stone-walled Robertson Boulevard boutique that’s already another world of exotic displays, the Mumbai, India-based socialite — and now jewelry designer — Queenie Dhody cuts a dramatic figure.

The curvaceous former Miss India, swathed in a beaded, lavender silk chiffon tube and matching cigarette pants, holds up one of the many (and there are many) pièces de résistance: a Mughal-styled necklace of flowers covered in rose-cut and pavé diamonds and set in white gold that has the dirty effect of antique. It looks like something belonging to a maharaja. And that’s the point.

Dhody, in town last month to introduce her six-month-old Jewelry by Queenie collection to editorial and celebrity stylists and the social set here, aims to combine the traditional looks native to her country with a modern mix of stones. Tourmalines or other semiprecious stones give jadau sets (the name of those ornate, traditionally Indian pieces) a fresher effect. And the bajabands (armlets) she enthusiastically wants to return to fashion also are refreshed.

“At Indian functions, we tend to wear conservative, native designs,” said Dhody, whose designer wardrobe and exploits through Mumbai’s society is regular fodder for the columns there, and even earned her a spread in Italian Vogue last May. “But there are many of us who would like something a bit more…contemporary, too.”

While retail prices can run from $3,000 to $250,000 for an elaborate necklace, the wider scope of stones, along with diamonds, rubies and emeralds, also translates to statement-making cocktail rings that start at $400 retail, and earrings at $500. “I do believe in making the jewelry affordable,” she said on the second day of her trunk show. Dhody said it’s too early to project for the full year, but sources estimated the week netted about $500,000 for the designer. “I believe in making it tempting. It’s difficult to resist good jewelry that is made well and is also affordable.”

In many cases, the key is the liberal use of white gold and sterling silver instead of platinum — a metal, she noted, that Indians are not totally sold on anyway.

This story first appeared in the January 7, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Also, she insisted, she knows how to buy gems at the best prices. An avowed jewelry addict, a decade ago she began cultivating a network of material resources and craftsman who created pieces for her personal collection while she was still at Delhi University, where she mastered in mathematics. She funded her habit with money she earned modeling.

So much was her love of sparkle, she said, that her father would huff that he would have to arrange for her to marry a jeweler. Instead she married Raja Dhody, whose business interests tend toward shipping and restaurants.

Two children later — a son, Rajvir, age 5, and a daughter fittingly called Tiara, age 8 — Dhody decided to formally launch the line with a series of boutique trunk shows. She was finalizing a visit to Hong Kong at press time.

On her trip here, she learned that “Americans buy a lot of jewelry. I had [actress] Angela Bassett come and she tried on a huge necklace. But the Indians in America bought the bigger, more opulent pieces.”

Her glamorous Art Deco-inspired necklaces and chandelier earrings also appealed to Angelenos, she added.

Dhody is considering a return come Oscar time, and local restaurateur-spa owner Christine Splichal urged her to set up shop at her Kinara Spa. “I know there’s plenty of opportunity in America,” Dhody said.