Without Soraya Cayen, Victor Velyan might still be focused solely on making pieces for other designers—instead of for his own acclaimed fine jewelry collection.
Cayen, owner of Cayen Collection in Carmel, Calif., was the contemporary who persuaded Velyan to make the leap from manufacturer—he was crafting collections for a bevy of brands—to full-fledged designer. And after succeeding in talking him into it, she introduced his first-ever collection in her boutique in 2008. “I saw how intensely he participated with his clients, and I just kept bugging him to do it,” Cayen recalls.
The friends have worked together closely ever since, creating a tight partnership that’s been financially fruitful for both parties. “The relationship is more than important to me,” Velyan says. “It’s actually precious to me.”
With the jewelry market flooded with high-caliber collections, and retailers scrambling to respond to the changing needs and desires of modern consumers, the idea of taking the time to slowly and mindfully cultivate symbiotic retailer-designer relationships could feel peripheral in importance, or even quaint.
But, as evidenced in these stories, finding and partnering with professional soul mates can actually strengthen and sustain your business—especially if you’re a designer or dealer of high-end or bespoke jewelry.
Above: Joanne Teichman and Irene Neuwirth with Lisa Rocchio, who hosted an in-home trunk show for the designer in September 2014
Irene Neuwirth and Joanne Teichman
“For me, good relationships with retailers—that’s everything,” says jewelry designer Irene Neuwirth. “I don’t open an account unless we’ve done extensive research on the retailer. My clients don’t want me to be everywhere, and I don’t want to be everywhere.”
But for almost a decade now, Neuwirth has considered Joanne Teichman’s Ylang 23 boutique ground zero for her sales in the greater Dallas area. The duo met at the Las Vegas trade shows in 2007, and have been close collaborators ever since.
“Joanne and I have a really incredible relationship,” Neuwirth says. “She’s one of those retailers who has a great reputation for supporting young designers. Writing that first order with her was a really exciting moment.”
Teichman “buys a really beautiful selection from us,” adds Neuwirth, but the partners also team up to conceptualize original pieces for the shop’s well-heeled clients.
And over the years, Teichman has hosted numerous events in the designer’s honor for her clients, and “she does a lot of promoting for trunk shows, and always throws a really beautiful dinner and event when we’re there,” Neuwirth says. “She does it right—always.”
Teichman’s efforts have earned her a clutch of Neuwirth diehards: “We have cultivated true collectors who have appreciation for Irene’s talent and work,” Teichman says. “We work closely together, either by phone or text or email, to continually surprise our clients—and Irene has met many of them—and to build our respective businesses.”
At one dinner for Neuwirth, she created napkins that read Irene Does Dallas; at another she hired a Beatles cover band. And at yet another she created cosmetic bags (as swag bags for guests) emblazoned with photos of Neuwirth’s dog, Teddy the labradoodle, taken from the designer’s Instagram. (Teddy, incidentally, was adopted in Dallas, following a trunk show at Ylang 23.)
“I adore Irene to the moon and back,” says the retailer. “She is smart, fun, and engaged—not only in selling her jewelry, but in living her life to the fullest.”
Both jewelry pros are workaholics and deeply invested in their respective businesses. “Joanne works nonstop, and it’s the best and worst thing about her!” says Neuwirth with a laugh. “You’ll get an email from her at 2 a.m. sometimes. She’s meticulous—she cares a lot. And that’s why she’s so successful. I’m the same way, so we really understand each other.”
Above: Victor Velyan and Soraya Cayen at a 2010 trunk show; below: pendant with 71 ct. Mozambique paraiba and 21.02 cts. t.w. moonstones in 24k and 18k gold; price on request; Victor Velyan, Los Angeles; 213-955-5950; victorvelyan.com
Victor Velyan and Soraya Cayen
Velyan and Cayen’s personal friendship and professional partnership has been developing for three decades. But in the beginning it was Cayen selling to Velyan—not the other way around.
Cayen was a gem dealer in the 1980s, and Velyan was a client. “At the time, he had a manufacturing service in downtown Los Angeles,” recalls the veteran retailer, “and I used to see everything he had for other artists and see how they collaborated. I was always really [impressed] with him.”
Velyan’s first-ever collection, which debuted at Cayen Collection, flew out the door in a matter of hours, which he says gave him the confidence to flesh out his first few designs into a full-fledged collection.
“Soraya was really the first one to believe in the collection,” he says. “When I first introduced a certain patina, I myself wasn’t really sure about it. But she said, ‘I’ll buy whatever you have right now.’?”
As time went on, the pair started “working on ways to focus on the market at the store,” Cayen says. This included “reining his vision in so that it makes sense for the clients,” she explains. “He’s incredibly creative and a real dreamer, and I bring him back to the business world.”
Over time the two began collaborating on special pieces for Cayen’s clientele, which includes major collectors of Velyan’s pieces. “We work very closely developing product,” Cayen says. “I analyze the market and give him my feedback…so he can come back to me with a product that’s going to be perfect for our clients.” The unfettered access to Velyan—now a boldface name in the industry—is a major perk for Cayen as a high-end retailer with a design-savvy clientele. And on the other side, her feedback has been invaluable to the growth of Velyan’s brand.
“Soraya’s opinionated and headstrong, and that’s why her store is so successful,” he says. “She takes full charge of the level of quality of the pieces we -create. And for a store owner, she’s extremely creative. And that’s not something I say loosely about retailers. She has a very good eye, and she understands jewelry and gemstones.”
The longtime partners are so collaborative, they even shop together—cruising the trade shows in Tucson, Ariz., and Hong Kong as a pair, scoping out stones and chatting about future designs.
Velyan says the relationship has taught him a lesson he insists many young designers need to learn: “Listen to what your retailers want. The new generation of designers—they think they’re so freaking fabulous. Guess what? The retailer today has way too many choices. There are more designers than the industry can handle and most of them are fabulous.”
Above: Mara Rothbart and Sara Smith; below: cuff in 14k gold with 0.6 ct. t.w. baguette diamonds; $3,300; Smith + Mara, Los Angeles; firstname.lastname@example.org; smithandmara.com
Smith + Mara and Laura Freedman
Laura Freedman, owner of one of Los Angeles’ most meticulously curated jewelry stores, Broken English, first caught sight of local brand Smith + Mara in 2012 when one of the designers, Sara Smith, came into the shop wearing Smith + Mara earrings. Freedman’s interest was piqued enough that she invited Smith and her co-designer, Mara Rothbart, to return with the entire collection.
Freedman says the brand’s pared-down luxury and accessible prices appealed to her immediately. “They’re very trend-focused and they make it really affordable, so it’s nice for a wide range of clients,” she adds. “And they are very sweet to work with.”
Smith says sales have been great in the shop, and because Broken English is a regular pit stop for stylists who pull jewelry for celebrities, the visibility of simply being under the Broken English umbrella is fantastic. “The clientele that shops at Broken English is really our ideal customer,” adds Rothbart. “And because of the stylists, we have had a few really great red-carpet moments.”
The good relationship also extends to the design process; the duo often shows Freedman new designs to get her feedback. “We ask ourselves things like, ‘Does it work?’ ‘Does she like it?’?” Rothbart says.
The two brands have synergy on social media as well—they repost each other’s Instagram snaps with regularity. In turn, the designers refer their large online clientele to Broken English when shoppers want to try on and buy pieces in person.
Freedman says relationships like the one she has with Smith + Mara are the bedrock of her company: “We see them as long-term relationships, always,” she says. “They are very important. I couldn’t have my business without them.”
Top: Designer Irene Neuwirth mingles at one of retailer Joanne Teichman’s glam Dallas events.
Inset: One-of-a-kind ring in rose gold with pink tourmaline; price on request; Irene Neuwirth, Venice, Calif.; 310-450-6063; ireneneuwirth.com
Five tips for cultivating successful designer-retailer partnerships:
• Listen carefully. “It’s all about chemistry, and you have to be giving. Be open always. And spend some time listening to the person who’s actually selling your jewelry.” —Victor Velyan
• Be giving. “We put a lot of energy into our [designer] relationships.… What we want is for them to grow as we grow, so everyone is getting something great out of it.” —Laura Freedman (pictured)
• Choose wisely. “We only have something like 20 stores we’re carried in because I’m so careful about the partnerships we have as a brand. It has to be the right fit [every time].” —Irene Neuwirth
• Communicate thoughtfully. “Communicate to the vendor about how the product is doing, and talk to them about the direction you’re planning to take your business in. That communication makes things a lot easier on both sides.” —Soraya Cayen
• Collaborate meaningfully. “Having your retailer tell you what’s working and what’s not—that’s very helpful feedback for a designer.” —Mara Rothbart