Adorning the Stars

Two characters on a popular television series get engaged. A celebrity whose career is peaking graces the cover of a fashion magazine. The film, music, and theater industries present their awards as fans the world over watch in awe. And every photograph or video clip that documents the occasion depicts the stars bedecked in breathtaking jewelry.

This doesn’t happen by chance, of course. Behind the scenes, retailers, jewelry designers, and industry representatives are working around the clock to ensure that the celebrities are festooned with gems that befit their image. They’re rising in the wee hours to accommodate sometimes-bizarre shooting schedules. They’re coordinating logistics with stylists, hairdressers, photographers, publicists, and other handlers-who don’t always agree with each other about what the stars should wear. They’re watching anxiously as the nominees approach the red carpet-because there’s always the possibility that the star, at the last minute, will change her mind and ditch the piece they’ve been working with.

Bejeweling a star is a job fraught with challenges, but, according to the people who do it, it’s also immensely rewarding. “It’s juggling phone calls in the middle of the night, going to a fitting in the middle of the night, trying to accommodate their schedules,” says Colleen Caslin, senior vice president of marketing at Asprey & Garrard, the venerable British crown jeweler that has also outfitted Hollywood royalty including Hilary Swank, Chloe Sevigny, and Angelina Jolie. “We’re a service industry; that’s what we do,” Caslin says. Edward Asprey has flown to Hollywood from London to personally dress the stars in his firm’s jewelry. “It’s about building relationships, and it shifts all the time” as a new group of rising stars take their turn in the limelight, Caslin says.

Carol Brodie-Gelles, managing director, communications for the legendary New York house of Harry Winston, says she’s never found a celebrity assignment to be a bad experience. “But I’ve walked away saying, ‘That was tough,'” she admits.

In 1999, Harry Winston created all the jewels worn by Geena Davis on a fashion-themed show that preceded the Oscar telecast. Two days before the broadcast, everything was ready to go-but at the last minute, a stylist working on the show decided Davis needed diamond matchstick earrings, an accessory not in the collection. Fortunately, there were diamond bobby pins, which had been created to capitalize on the booming hair jewelry trend. The bobby pins were flown to Harry Winston’s jeweler in New York, who fashioned them into a pair of 20-ct. t.w. matchstick earrings worth $45,000. “Within 10 hours, they were back in L.A.,” Brodie-Gelles recalls.

Ann Whatu, president and co-owner of Rafinity, a hip jewelry store in Santa Monica, Calif., that has a sizable celebrity clientele, has delivered merchandise to singer/actress Jennifer Lopez’s house at 2 a.m. That’s what time Lopez’s hair and makeup people were arriving to ready her for an interview being aired via satellite on the Today show, which begins at 4 a.m. Pacific time. For Whatu-herself a former dancer, model, and actress who appeared on Star Trek: The Next Generation- the crazy schedule was all in a day’s work. “We do a lot of personal services for all of our clients,” she says.

To thine own self be true. The biggest challenges occur when a star or her handler requests a piece that doesn’t fit in with what the jewelry house does. Brodie-Gelles says her staff’s prime concern is “projecting an image that’s consistent with Harry Winston,” meaning glamour and elegance. “Occasionally, there’s a celebrity whose style isn’t consistent with Harry Winston, or it’s not the right look for them.” Sometimes the star’s people might have an entirely different concept in mind, such as bold gold or pieces set with semiprecious stones, which Harry Winston doesn’t use. In such cases, Brodie-Gelles has little choice but to suggest that the celebrity look elsewhere. “We don’t veer from who we are,” she says.

Staying true to one’s vision creates other quandaries, as well, says Whatu. Once a piece has appeared in a magazine layout, Los Angeles entertainment-industry types are no longer interested in it, and she must move on to the next trend or risk being treated as yesterday’s news, she notes. “L.A. people get bored fast,” she says. “After it’s done once, it’s over.” She acknowledges her own responsibility for the phenomenon, however. “I created this little monster because I wanted to have the newest, edgiest, coolest stuff,” she says.

The relationship works both ways, of course: The stars’ careers are built around their appearance, and they can’t afford to have the “wrong” look. “I have had cases where the publicist has stepped in and pulled a necklace off the star at the last minute” because it made her look too old, Whatu says. “While as jewelers, we want the biggest necklace on them, they don’t necessarily want these big, huge rocks; it’s not the image they’re looking for.”

That image is constantly subject to change. Stars “are always re-creating themselves,” Caslin notes. “It’s marketing of them as a product.”

The power of celebrity. Anyone with a sense of style who has watched Friends or Sex and the City knows the effect these television shows have on contemporary fashion. Attaching a star’s name to a product can enhance its perceived value, notes the Jewelry Information Center’s Elizabeth Florence. “There is a certain group of people who are fascinated with the jewelry celebrities are wearing,” Florence says.

Florence, who makes frequent television appearances to promote jewelry, recalls proposing a spot on a morning news show to discuss watch trends. “That wasn’t enough for them; they wanted celebrity, celebrity, celebrity,” she says. “They wanted to see exactly what watch Sarah Jessica Parker wears on Sex and the City, and what that style says about the person wearing it.”

“In L.A., it’s not how much something costs, it’s who’s wearing it,” notes Whatu, who keeps a book in her store of magazine tearsheets depicting the stars wearing Rafinity jewelry. “People won’t have a clue who we are, but when they see our portfolio, something clicks, and they want to buy stuff all of a sudden.”

Even in Tinseltown, where residents are accustomed to seeing a television luminary in the car next to them on the freeway, some celebrities still attract a crowd. One of them is basketball star Kobe Bryant, who proposed to his fiancée with a 7-ct. diamond and platinum ring from Rafinity. Although Whatu has tried to convince him not to, Bryant shops at her store in person-and his fans aren’t far behind. “One person will see him, and then I’ll turn around and there will be 100 people in the store,” she says.

Although one may yearn to get close to a celebrity, it’s possible to catch a piece of stardom even from afar. One of Whatu’s best customers is “a lady in West Virginia” who calls the store to order whatever merchandise she sees photographed on Courteney Cox Arquette, Jennifer Lopez, or other ingénues in magazines like People.

Getting into the act. Once upon a time, only Harry Winston and a couple of other exclusive jewelers outfitted celebrities. Today, everyone wants a piece of the action, with offers to adorn the stars being faxed to agents, publicists, and stylists from all over the world.

Sometimes industry associations are enlisted to help. Platinum Guild International USA, for example, has worked with stylists to dress stars for magazine covers or events. Associations can help stylists pick out the jewelry industry’s rising stars from the clutter of marketing materials they receive. “These people are bombarded with requests from companies wanting to promote their products,” notes PGI’s Laurie Hudson.

The Diamond Information Center helps in “relationship building with various celebrity stylists as well as celebrities,” notes DIC’s Joan Parker. “If they don’t already know whom to go to, we try to help them find what they want.” DIC obtains lists of stars scheduled to present awards and follows up with their agents. “We’re working to support the [jewelry] trade in this effort,” Parker says.

Even in this era of product placement, some relationships still evolve in a natural way. Louise Damiano, designer for De Merini of New York, ended up designing jewelry for the television show Will and Grace because she was one of the few jewelers still in New York during the JCK Las Vegas Show last year.

The connection began with JIC’s Elizabeth Florence, who left for Las Vegas later than most jewelry industry people because she was committed to participating in a press conference. Thus, Florence was still in her New York office and available to take a call from a public relations representative for Carmen Marc Valvo, who was dressing actresses for the Tony Awards-which, as usual, coincided with the JCK Show. The fashion designer needed jewelry, and Florence, who knew that most jewelers were already out west, was momentarily stymied.

“Then I remembered that Louise was still here,” Florence recalls. Damiano was on the waiting list for the JCK Show and therefore would not be en route to the land of slot machines.

A few phone calls later, Damiano was enlisted to outfit Megan Mullally, who plays Karen Walker on Will and Grace and was scheduled to perform at the Tonys. “I met her two days before the Tonys,” says Damiano, who designed and produced special pieces just for Mullally’s Tony Awards appearance. “She was very charming and very humble. I was putting the jewelry on her, and she was practicing her act impromptu in front of me. She was really nice, and she really liked my jewelry.” Mullally suggested Damiano contact the wardrobe department for Will and Grace. “I had never seen the show, quite frankly,” Damiano says.

She sent jewelry to the wardrobe staff, who purchased some pieces to use on the show-a turn of events that’s somewhat unusual, since many pieces seen on television are borrowed, not bought. A recent episode featured Debra Messing, who plays Grace Adler, wearing a pink sapphire necklace designed by Damiano.

One of Whatu’s first major celebrity clients, Sarah Michelle Gellar, came to her in the same way most people form a relationship with a jeweler: A friend assured Gellar that Whatu would take good care of a family heirloom that Gellar was nervous about leaving with a jeweler. From there, Rafinity’s reputation grew. “You start with one or two celebrities, and then everybody wants you,” Whatu observes.

Brodie-Gelles says her celebrity customers are “not much different than our other clients. They have a dream, and they want to see their dream exactly as they envisioned it. This is a house that is all about service, and we make it happen. Harry Winston understands Hollywood, understands the wealthy, understands potentates, understands royalty.”

Although most of her Hollywood clients are insulated from the real world by professional and household staff, Whatu says she rarely encounters diva-dom. But there’s a reason why someone who may bark at a maître d’ will smile sweetly at a jeweler, she notes: “We’re dealing with something that makes them happy. They get excited about diamonds, they get excited about platinum.” Moreover, the stars who have spent time at Rafinity understand the store’s ethos, Whatu adds. “If they don’t get it, they can go somewhere snottier.”

Lights, camera, Oscar! The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ annual awards have become a Superbowl of sorts for jewelers. It all began with Harry Winston, who-recognizing the influence that a star can have on fashion trends-bejeweled Jennifer Jones when she accepted the Oscar in 1943 for her performance in The Song of Bernadette.

Today, companies are vying to make the Oscars a part of their marketing strategy. “If you can come off the Oscars with everybody having a little bit of success, that’s the best scenario,” says DIC’s Parker, often an expert fashion commentator on pre-Oscar broadcasts.

Harry Winston creates some pieces specifically for the Oscars, such as the diamond-studded sunglasses worn by Sigourney Weaver and Joan Cusack to last year’s ceremony. Often the films that are nominated inspire the new collections. Two years ago, chairman Ronald Winston created a “Shakespeare” necklace featuring colored briolette-cut diamonds, thinking that Gwyneth Paltrow would wear it to the award ceremony. Ultimately, however, Paltrow selected another necklace that had been in the Winston collection for years-a $160,000 platinum and diamond creation from the “Princess” collection. The star modified the necklace by wearing it as a choker for an updated look. After she won the Best Actress award for Shakespeare in Love, her father bought her the necklace-which is a choker no longer, Brodie-Gelles notes: “She put the stones back in.”

Another Oscar-winning purchaser is Nicolas Cage, who bought his wife, Patricia Arquette, the Harry Winston diamond earrings she wore to the 1996 ceremony at which he received his Best Actor award for Leaving Las Vegas. (Last November, Cage and Arquette announced plans to divorce.)

“Every actor’s dream is to win an Oscar. Harry Winston fits in with the dream,” Brodie-Gelles says.

Before the dream comes true, however, there’s usually a lot of stress for all concerned. “There’s an enormous amount of pressure at all levels,” says Asprey & Garrard’s Caslin. The star, of course, is up for a major award-but the publicist and the stylist also are under the gun to create an image that won’t end up on high-profile worst-dressed lists, and everyone is facing a deadline.

In such circumstances, “You try to facilitate treating everyone equally,” Caslin says.

Yet there’s always the possibility that the jeweler’s efforts could go for naught. “We have been guaranteed and reconfirmed; we’ve been with people in their rooms-and then we’ve watched them on the red carpet with something else on,” Caslin laments.

Harry Winston’s Brodie-Gelles has been there, too. “A star does not make a decision-don’t let anyone tell you different-until she’s about to leave her home to go down the red carpet” at 5 p.m. Pacific time on Oscar night, she says. “I could send out my [press] release at 4:45, and it wouldn’t be right.”

Professionals experienced in celebrity dressing, however, say things have a way of working out in the end. Brodie-Gelles notes, for example, that a Harry Winston belly chain created for last year’s Oscars wasn’t worn to the ceremony. “It ended up on Jennifer Lopez in W instead-but that’s okay,” she says.