If you’re not part of her tribe of hard-core jewelry worshippers, you will be soon
When Rihanna was photographed in Barbados a few summers ago, the buzz on celebrity blogs wasn’t about whom she was with (her brother Rajad) or what she was doing (jet-skiing). Rather, it was all about what she was wearing: a delicate, 14k gold chain that wrapped around the singer’s neck, ran down beneath her bikini top, and encircled her taut, tanned belly before heading up her back. Paparazzi shots of the pop singer in the body chain reinforced her wild-child rep while simultaneously buoying the status of the woman who designed the sexy jewelry-as-lingerie ensemble.
14k gold full pavé free-form ruby bezel brick multi-waif ring; $6,625; Jacquie Aiche, Los Angeles; 310-550-7529 ext. 105; jacquieaiche.com
Jewelry designer Jacquie Aiche (pronounced aye-EESH) mixes traditional jewelry materials (diamonds, gold) with one-of-a-kind gems, fossils, and agates for an eclectic line of tribal body art—including ear cuffs, ear jackets, finger bracelets, and body chains—that attracts a diverse array of celebrities, from Miley Cyrus and Zooey Deschanel to Jennifer Aniston and Halle Berry.
But to observe Aiche’s jewelry line is to merely skim the surface of a creative spirit who places love, contentment, and body empowerment above all else. “It’s about being positive and being happy and passing that happy stick to the next person,” says Aiche, who works out of a charming bungalow in Beverly Hills, Calif.
14k gold pavé diamond bar raw pink tourmaline and watermelon tourmaline prong slice single stud; $1,415
Is her philosophy West Coast woo-woo? Maybe, but it’s grounded in the teachings of a rabbi who espoused speaking to God and finding your true path to happiness.
Aiche’s own path has been rocky—so to speak. Growing up in the Hollywood Hills, Aiche attended the elite Lycée Français. Her family had high expectations for success, but from an early age she hated school, and she refused to go to college. “I fought him till the last day,” Aiche, now 38, says of her father, an Egyptian Jew who immigrated to America and met her mother, a non-Jew from Texas, who converted to be with him. “I still do. Even now my kids come home with homework and I’m like, I didn’t want to do it then, I don’t want to do it now!”
14k gold prong free-form ruby, tourmaline, gray moonstone, partial pavé freeform labradorite bezel, and raw pink tourmaline bar cuff; $2,705
Instead of college, Aiche became a salesperson at Dimani, a boutique in Sunset Plaza, along West Hollywood’s famed Sunset Strip. She worked her way up to running the store, which attracted a broad clientele. “From the women who got their nails done every Thursday, to the young girls going out every weekend, to high-profile celebrities and high-maintenance moms, prostitutes—I mean everything!” she says. That diversity helped her to gain insight into what drives women to purchase. “You got all different kinds of ladies in that dressing room, but everybody felt the same way in front of that mirror”—by which she means they were all deeply insecure.
14k gold pavé three drip large dark brown shark tooth necklace; $6,875
In her 15 years at Dimani, Aiche developed her own dressing room–side manner that became a part of her DNA. “I know how to take care of people,” she says. “I know how to get in there, help people feel comfortable with themselves, let them blossom. Even older ladies, all ages, all sizes, all colors.” A grand declaration, perhaps, but said with humility.
In 1999, Aiche started a regular practice of kundalini yoga. “I’d been going through a rough time,” she says, without getting specific. “I knew that I belonged somewhere. I knew that I had a purpose in life, but I really didn’t know what it was.” Kundalini helped her to “go inside,” she says. “You do a mantra and you’re testing your brain. You’re getting to know yourself on an even more spiritual level.”
14k gold six-diamond bezel and pavé long drip cap brown shark tooth earrings; $5,750
Aiche had never been one to wear jewelry, but when she was preparing to get married, she began seeking jewelry for herself for the first time. “I filled that jewelry case [at the store] every day, but there was nothing I wanted for myself.” So she got creative, playing around with some gemstones and wire. She listened to what customers said they wanted, and she started designing some pieces and showing them off. “I never told anyone it was me.” She took a jewelry-making class and made contacts who helped her find materials. As Aiche tells it, “I met people who led me to another door and to another door, and it started happening.”
14k gold full pavé double Afghani coin bezel trinity ring; $7,500
One door led to a jewelry manufacturer. Another door led to Sylvain Sellam.
Sellam is a Jewish mystic from France who follows the teachings of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, a 19th-century kabbalistic rabbi from Eastern Europe. Nachman’s writings—stories, really—are parables intended to convey secrets about God.
Aiche was drawn to Sellam’s Blesslev, a rough-hewn leather pouch filled with a small paper inscribed with a Hebrew prayer, which Sellam gives to those who come to him for readings.
Today, clients come to Aiche’s office for readings with Sellam four afternoons a week. He has them open prayer books and he uses that to guide a sort of psychic telling of their past, present, and future. Clients leave with a book of Nachman’s stories and a Jacquie Aiche–designed Blesslev amulet in leather, alligator, or python. The offerings range from basic leather amulets for $90 to crocodile-skin pouches encrusted with diamonds and labradorite for $4,250.
14k gold six-diamond bezel and pavé large cap abalone double horn earrings; $8,125
It’s an intriguing contrast to the body-art style of jewelry for which Aiche is primarily known, but the designer sees commonalities. “You can put a body chain on a woman who hasn’t looked in the mirror in years and all of a sudden she starts to go inside herself and find her inner beauty,” she says. “Next thing you know, she’s calling, ‘I met two guys who called and asked me out.’ I’m telling you! Everybody laughs, but it’s the truth.”
Obviously for Aiche, religion does not translate into conservative. Her catalog is filled with tasteful shots of shirtless women wearing her chains. “I’m in the background [at photo shoots] screaming, ‘Take your top off! Show your titties!’?” she says, smiling. “That’s me—that’s as traditional as I can get.”
Aiche sees her body chains as empowerment wear. “It’s for that independent woman,” she says. “I’m creating jewelry for women to feel powerful in their own way. This is not something that women are waiting for men to buy them; they are coming and buying it themselves.”
Such seeming contradictions become evident the moment you step into Aiche’s Beverly Hills showroom. A good mile or two from the high-end salons of Rodeo Drive, her appointment-only boutique is hidden along an unassuming residential strip. Buzz, and you’re ushered into an enclosed courtyard that leads to a sprawling garden apartment that was once Aiche’s home. The former dining room is a waiting area lined with books by Rabbi Nachman and with pieces of folk art collected from all over the world. This is the room to which the lady of the house retreats on days when Sellam holds court in her office.
14k gold partial diamond double chocolate moonstone triangle bezel trinity ring; $3,690
Though she and her family moved out long ago, the space has a homey vibe. What was once the living room is now the showroom; the bedrooms are offices. Aiche says she espouses her happiness-first ideology to her work family. “The minute you don’t feel that, don’t come to work, stop, it’s been great, peace and love, we’ve had a good ride,” she says. “It’s really all about enjoying what you do.”
But it can’t all be peace and love, right? “I’m strong with my kids,” she says of Luca, 7, and Zoe, 4. “They have to do the dishes. They have to make their beds. They have to get A’s. It’s very firm in my house.”
Aiche and her husband, Ygal, keep a strictly kosher home. “He’s very laid-back and calm,” she says of her husband. “I’m the crazy one.” But they share a passion for specialized items. Ygal owns Kicks Sole Provider, a local chain of sneaker shops—the kind where collectors will wait in line outside for hours for the release of a new special-edition Nike.
14k gold pavé raw watermelon tourmaline bar and freeform watermelon tourmaline prong cuff; $3,375
Aiche, on the other hand, works with a network of respected retailers (in addition to selling direct through her Beverly Hills showroom). Her baubles can be found in outlets such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Roseark, Podium, and Jamie Geller, along with exclusive collaborations with ethical mining outfit Gemfields for the website Stone & Strand.
And while Aiche’s commitment to her faith is evident in her jewelry and in her collaborations, she doesn’t expect her clients or coworkers to embrace her philosophy. “Each person has their own path, their own journey with God,” she says. “I don’t feel that people who are super, uber-religious are so different than those who aren’t practicing much. It’s about how you feel about yourself.”