Byline: Marcy Medina
Not everyone in Hollywood goes for a walnut-sized rock from Winston or Cartier. Kyra Sedgwick, Claire Danes and Renee Zellweger are among the modern starlets who prefer the kind of precious pieces from Lillabelle Jewelry that can go from the red carpet to a casual dinner in a single bound.
It’s not surprising that Susan Foster, the 28-year-old designer of the line named after her teacup Maltese, resembles her customers — famous or not.
“I think about what would feel comfortable and pretty on me,” she said. “It’s sort of a selfish process. I design what I’d like to wear, and that has somehow resonated with the women who are buying my jewelry.”
Clearly, Foster’s on the same wavelength as her customers. In only three years, she’s developed a $1 million business.
The East Hampton, N.Y., native looks to nature for cues. “When I’m walking in the forest, I see all the different hues of green and taupe and all the shades of brown. I can create a whole line from that one experience.”
One collection featured freshwater pearls with sterling silver settings. The next, 24-karat gold nuggets embedded with emeralds and South Sea Tahitian pearls.
The former drama major packed up her car in 1997 and drove to Los Angeles, though she knew no one on the West Coast.
“I just knew that I wanted a change,” she recalled. She was working as a fragrance rep when a friend taught her how to make jewelry. She began crafting pieces as gifts for her friends, and before long, she had 35 different designs in her collection.
It launched following an appointment with Jennifer Kaufman, whose signature Beverly Hills boutique is a well-known launching pad for accessories designers.
“The most I hoped for was a little advice,” Foster said. Instead, Kaufman bought her whole collection. It sold out in two weeks. “I thought it was a fluke, but then it happened at the next store, too,” said Foster. “I knew I was onto something.”
While her first group consisted of more delicate pieces, like seed pearls and ruby beads on sterling silver wire, her latest designs have become more weighty and bold, though without losing their feminine charm.
What hasn’t changed is Foster’s geometric compositions of unpolished rubies, emeralds and other gems.
“Women can still wear precious jewelry without the flash,” she said.
One of her signature touches is embedding gems and coin pearls with gold studs. A popular piece is a marquise-cut, gold-studded ruby necklace named after actress Minnie Driver, who wore it on a recent Cosmopolitan cover.
Her current collection numbers 100 pieces and includes emerald-cut smoky quartz pendants with ruby tassels and gold snake chain lariats with citrine and garnet tassels. There are themed groups with names such as “Love” (rose quartz with garnets and diamonds), “Midnight” (opals embedded with diamonds to symbolize the moon and stars) and “Shooting Stars” (onyx embedded with diamonds).
Lillabelle Jewelry is available at Neiman Marcus stores, A Mason in Santa Monica, Calif., Kitson in Los Angeles and Queen Be in Newport Beach, Calif. Retail prices range from $55 for earrings to $6,000 for a pearl necklace.
Foster said she’s already working on her next collection, in which she’ll mix yellow gold and platinum with colored pearls and weighty pendants.
“Silver is out as far as I’m concerned,” she proclaimed.
She also plans to offer designs exclusive to her Web site, lillabellejewelry.com.
“This whole business is like a blessing,” she said. “I just feel fortunate to be able to do what I love.”