D E S I G N E R   S P O T L I G H T:
IRENE
NEUWIRTH

Fun, creative and fearless: Meet the warm-hearted rebel who redefined fine jewelry
BY TATIANA HAMBRO

D E S I G N E R   S P O T L I G H T:
IRENE
NEUWIRTH

Fun, creative and fearless: Meet the warm-hearted rebel who redefined fine jewelry
BY TATIANA HAMBRO

D E S I G N E R   S P O T L I G H T:
IRENE
NEUWIRTH
Fun, creative and fearless: Meet the warm-hearted rebel who redefined fine jewelry
BY TATIANA HAMBRO

D E S I G N E R   S P O T L I G H T:
IRENE
NEUWIRTH
Fun, creative and fearless: Meet the warm-hearted rebel who redefined fine jewelry
BY TATIANA HAMBRO

I meet Irene Neuwirth at the Mercer Hotel. To anyone familiar with the jeweler, this is hardly surprising: she’s been coming here for the past 17 years. Sleek and minimal, it bears little resemblance to her colorful house in Venice Canals but she still considers it her home away from home. “The people who stay here are lifers,” she says. I find her cozied up in the corner of the lobby, sharing a coffee with two managers who are clearly closer to friends than members of staff. “They take such good care of me,” says Neuwirth, flashing her signature gap-toothed smile and patting the seat next to her, inviting me to sit.

“Within fifteen minutes, we’re talking about her favorite brand of tequila”

Creative people can be intimidating (or irritating, depending on what kind of person you are), yet Neuwirth’s relatability and humor is disarming. Within fifteen minutes, we’re talking about her favorite brand of tequila (Casa Dragones, because “it tastes like water in the best possible way”), her love of animals (“my dog is a more of a person, y’know?”) and her obsession with Bruce Springsteen (she’s seen his Broadway show five times). Though she’s just launched a new website (more on than later), she’s in town on personal matters. “I came here to meet my new godson,” she explains. “I have some work stuff to do, but I’ve scheduled everything around that.”

I meet Irene Neuwirth at the Mercer Hotel. To anyone familiar with the jeweler, this is hardly surprising: she’s been coming here for the past 17 years. Sleek and minimal, it bears little resemblance to her colorful house in Venice Canals but she still considers it her home away from home. “The people who stay here are lifers,” she says. I find her cozied up in the corner of the lobby, sharing a coffee with two managers who are clearly closer to friends than members of staff. “They take such good care of me,” says Neuwirth, flashing her signature gap-toothed smile and patting the seat next to her, inviting me to sit.

“Within fifteen minutes, we’re talking about her favorite brand of tequila”

Creative people can be intimidating (or irritating, depending on what kind of person you are), yet Neuwirth’s relatability and humor is disarming. Within fifteen minutes, we’re talking about her favorite brand of tequila (Casa Dragones, because “it tastes like water in the best possible way”), her love of animals (“my dog is a more of a person, y’know?”) and her obsession with Bruce Springsteen (she’s seen his Broadway show five times). Though she’s just launched a new website (more on than later), she’s in town on personal matters. “I came here to meet my new godson,” she explains. “I have some work stuff to do, but I’ve scheduled everything around that.”

SARAH PAULSON AND IRENE NEUWIRTH PICTURED AT THE CFDA FASHION AWARDS, JUNE 2018

SARAH PAULSON AND IRENE NEUWIRTH PICTURED AT THE CFDA FASHION AWARDS, JUNE 2018

Mixing business with pleasure is nothing new. Consider, for instance, the face of her new campaign. Rather than go the traditional route and hire a model she didn’t know, Neuwirth booked her best friend, Busy Philipps. “Firstly, no one is more of girl’s girl than Busy” she explains, but there was more to the decision than simply keeping it in the family. “For me, it was her moles.” Phillips, a successful-but-not-big-time actress who has recently found huge fame through Instagram stories has spoken out about industry pressure to remove prominent moles around her face and neck. She refused. “I loved the idea of showing the moles with the jewelry” says Neuwirth. “She’s so beautiful.”

Mixing business with pleasure is nothing new. Consider, for instance, the face of her new campaign. Rather than go the traditional route and hire a model she didn’t know, Neuwirth booked her best friend, Busy Philipps. “Firstly, no one is more of girl’s girl than Busy” she explains, but there was more to the decision than simply keeping it in the family. “For me, it was her moles.” Phillips, a successful-but-not-big-time actress who has recently found huge fame through Instagram stories has spoken out about industry pressure to remove prominent moles around her face and neck. She refused. “I loved the idea of showing the moles with the jewelry” says Neuwirth. “She’s so beautiful.”

BUSY PHILIPPS STARRING IN IRENE NEUWIRTH'S FIRST CAMPAIGN, 2018 

BUSY PHILIPPS STARRING IN IRENE NEUWIRTH'S FIRST CAMPAIGN, 2018 

Seeing beauty where others can’t is Neuwirth’s great talent, one that has earned her incredible respect, both as a creative designer and a savvy businesswoman. She has her own store on Melrose Place, a loyal following of clients (many of them A-listers) and an infamous reputation as fine jewelry’s favorite “rule-breaker”. But it wasn’t always that way. “When I first started everyone was like, ‘Hmm. Opals? I haven’t seen opals in a long time…’ I was blending high and low, mixing turquoise with diamonds.” Neuwirth was asking women to spend upwards of thousands of dollars on pieces that didn’t necessarily look—at least to the untrained eye—like they cost thousands of dollars. “To me, there’s nothing more luxurious than that, but it took everyone a while to get it.”

Seeing beauty where others can’t is Neuwirth’s great talent, one that has earned her incredible respect, both as a creative designer and a savvy businesswoman. She has her own store on Melrose Place, a loyal following of clients (many of them A-listers) and an infamous reputation as fine jewelry’s favorite “rule-breaker”. But it wasn’t always that way. “When I first started everyone was like, ‘Hmm. Opals? I haven’t seen opals in a long time…’ I was blending high and low, mixing turquoise with diamonds.” Neuwirth was asking women to spend upwards of thousands of dollars on pieces that didn’t necessarily look—at least to the untrained eye—like they cost thousands of dollars. “To me, there’s nothing more luxurious than that, but it took everyone a while to get it.”

RUTH NEGGA AT THE 2017 OSCARS WEARING VALENTINO WITH EARRINGS AND A TIARA FEATURING 146 CARATS OF GEMFIELDS RUBIES BY IRENE NEUWIRTH

RUTH NEGGA AT THE 2017 OSCARS WEARING VALENTINO WITH EARRINGS AND A TIARA FEATURING 146 CARATS OF GEMFIELDS RUBIES BY IRENE NEUWIRTH

For Neuwirth, the 2017 Oscars was a watershed moment. When celebrity stylist Karla Welch needed a “wow” piece of jewelry for Ruth Negga—something impressive but unconventional—she called Neuwirth, who agreed to make a custom ruby tiara for the best actress nominee. This was a bold move. Negga was not contractually bound to wear the piece (unlike most brands, Neuwirth doesn't pay for red carpet placement) and Neuwirth secured 146 carats of Gemfields Mozambican rubies with her own money. “Nothing was guaranteed,” recalls Neuwirth. “I was texting Karla on the day asking if she was going to wear it and I could not get an answer.” Negga ended up wearing the headpiece—to much acclaim. After that, Neuwirth saw a meteoric rise in sales and brand interest. What became of the tiara? “We sold it.”

“When I first started everyone was like, ‘Hmm. Opals? I haven’t seen opals in a long time…’ I was blending high and low...it took everyone a while to get it.”

For Neuwirth, the 2017 Oscars was a watershed moment. When celebrity stylist Karla Welch needed a “wow” piece of jewelry for Ruth Negga—something impressive but unconventional—she called Neuwirth, who agreed to make a custom ruby tiara for the best actress nominee. This was a bold move. Negga was not contractually bound to wear the piece (unlike most brands, Neuwirth doesn't pay for red carpet placement) and Neuwirth secured 146 carats of Gemfields Mozambican rubies with her own money. “Nothing was guaranteed,” recalls Neuwirth. “I was texting Karla on the day asking if she was going to wear it and I could not get an answer.” Negga ended up wearing the headpiece—to much acclaim. After that, Neuwirth saw a meteoric rise in sales and brand interest. What became of the tiara? “We sold it.”

“When I first started everyone was like, ‘Hmm. Opals? I haven’t seen opals in a long time…’ I was blending high and low...it took everyone a while to get it.”

Behind Neuwirth’s fanciful creativity is a steely strength and uncompromising work ethic—which often finds expression in dry humor. A great example is the website, which took a year and a half to execute. Just before they were due to launch, Neuwirth woke up in the middle of the night in a panic. “I called the designer and said 'I hate it; I hate everything about it, we have to start over.' And he said, 'Irene, I hate you; I hate everything about you.’" she deadpans. But start over they did and she’s delighted with the results. “Everything in my life looks like me: my house looks like my store which looks like my outfit which looks like the website. It’s been the hardest thing to translate—I’m very much about feel and touch, so it took me a long time to get it right.”

Behind Neuwirth’s fanciful creativity is a steely strength and uncompromising work ethic—which often finds expression in dry humor. A great example is the website, which took a year and a half to execute. Just before they were due to launch, Neuwirth woke up in the middle of the night in a panic. “I called the designer and said 'I hate it; I hate everything about it, we have to start over.' And he said, 'Irene, I hate you; I hate everything about you.’" she deadpans. But start over they did and she’s delighted with the results. “Everything in my life looks like me: my house looks like my store which looks like my outfit which looks like the website. It’s been the hardest thing to translate—I’m very much about feel and touch, so it took me a long time to get it right.”

“Behind Neuwirth’s fanciful creativity is a steely strength and uncompromising work ethic.”

In less than an hour, I’m convinced we’ve become friends. I leave with the distinct, if ludicrously hopeful, feeling that she might invite me over for dinner, if I ever happened to be in town. Such is the magnetic power of Neuwirth’s appeal.
 
For all its fantastical creativity, her world appears within reach (if only just!). And she shows no signs of slowing down. “I am bursting with creativity; if it were up to me I could create 100 pieces a week,” she says. “I have to be held back.”

“Behind Neuwirth’s fanciful creativity is a steely strength and uncompromising work ethic.”

In less than an hour, I’m convinced we’ve become friends. I leave with the distinct, if ludicrously hopeful, feeling that she might invite me over for dinner, if I ever happened to be in town. Such is the magnetic power of Neuwirth’s appeal.
 
For all its fantastical creativity, her world appears within reach (if only just!). And she shows no signs of slowing down. “I am bursting with creativity; if it were up to me I could create 100 pieces a week,” she says. “I have to be held back.”

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