Deborah Pagani learned the hard way that breaking into jewelry design isn’t easy; the materials are expensive and it can be tough to convince merchants to carry your work—especially when it’s as edgy as Pagani’s. The design force behind Deborah Pagani Designs, headquartered in New York City, worked for years as a colorist in the City before pursuing her true passion: fine jewelry with bold motifs like dragons in oversize shapes.
“I have always been crazy about Art Deco and certain rock ’n’ roll icons, so I meshed the two together in my jewelry,” she says of her signature style.
She also exhibited in the Couture show for two years (2007–08), but maintains that “buyers came and saw me and weren’t ready for what I had.”
“I wound up launching in Paris before I launched in the U.S. I told myself, ‘I guess there’s no formula for launching,’ so I made outreach to buyers on my own, and my jewelry finally caught on in Paris, and then the buyer at Barneys loved it, and Ikram [in Chicago] picked it up,” she says. “Meanwhile, I had store owners at Couture tell me that the geometric lines of Art Deco jewelry isn’t for everybody, and one person even said that ‘You have to be tall and thin to wear my pieces.’ But that’s not true; I have clients of all different types—from 30 to 70—wearing it. Now I see these two styles [Art Deco and rock ’n’ roll] everywhere, and I’m happy that I influenced it.”
Editor’s Note: Pagani is this week’s subject because her styling is so fresh and youthful. She mixes Art Deco effects and a rock ’n’ roll sensibility for a result that is edgy and completely uncommon in the world of jewelry. Plus, it’s pretty interesting that while she debuted her line to the U.S. market, retailers couldn’t initially appreciate it enough to carry it (though European stores did). This is a common scenario for many up-and-coming designers who say that retailers are nervous to carry bold, fresh looks, thinking their customers won’t embrace them.
Jewelry designer Deborah Pagani
JCK: Wen did your firm launch?
Deborah Pagani: In Paris in 2007, and in the U.S. with Ikram in Chicago in 2010.
JCK: Describe your signature style.
DP: Quite simply, my signature style is Deco Rock. The symbols are transcendent throughout all of my collections and although they vary in form, they are most notably the pyramid and the Jerry shape—a shield comprising Art Deco mixed with rock ’n’ roll styling—which was what inspired my Street Bee collection in 2010. I saw a void in the industry for modern, couture jewelry that wasn’t the piece you buy and wear only once.
JCK: How long have you been designing fine jewelry?
DP: Since 2006.
JCK: Tell me about your design process.
DP: Unfortunately, I never know when I am going to be inspired, so sometimes I am lucky enough to design a piece sitting at my desk with a sketchbook. Most of the time, I am out at night, which is when I am most inspired. Those are the pieces that live in my mind for days or weeks until I can finally bring them to life. New York City has taught me everything I ever needed to know about design, and it’s the only source of inspiration I can always rely on.
JCK: Is your jewelry cast or fabricated?
DP: Cast in 18k gold.
JCK: Where is the jewelry made?
DP: All of my pieces are made in New York.
JCK: What stones do you work with and why?
DP: I use anything from diamonds to agates, and it is the unexpected combination that makes my jewelry unique and one of a kind. The Deco Rock aesthetic clearly indicates that I have no rhyme or reason to which stones I choose other than what I see and love.
JCK: How many U.S. accounts do you currently have?
DP: Currently, I am sold in the U.S. at Barneys and at Ikram in Chicago.
JCK: How many international accounts do you have?
DP: Eleven, and I just launched my Street Bee collection at Franck et Fils in Paris and my collections have been sold there since the beginning of my line. I am also sold in Moscow and throughout Europe.
JCK: What jewelry shows do you exhibit in?
DP: None at the moment.
JCK: What is your starting retail price for each metal you work in?
DP: My main collections retail from $5,000 to $40,000. My secondary line, Street Bee, has a lower price point—$250—and is comprised of smaller pieces, but it’s still entirely 18k gold.
JCK: Tell us something that not everybody knows.
DP: I was inspired to design my newest collection, Geisha, while having dinner at Mr. Chow. My muses are Tina Chow, a New York icon, and Anna May Wong. The collection is very Deco with an Asian rock ’n’ roll styling, and is finishing up in next month.