Sister Act: The Designing Women Behind High-Fashion Jewelry Brand Dannijo

The success of Dannijo, the luxury accessories line created by sisters ­Danielle Snyder and Jodie Snyder Morel, is as much due to the fine art of balance as to the fine art of the pieces themselves. There’s the alchemy of the
siblings’ sensibility—“Jodie is more classic/sophisticated, while I’m more rock ’n’ roll and bohemian,” explains Snyder, who, at 30, is three years younger—and the fusion of a brand that is unapologetically exotic but marketed as worn by the girl you wish lived next door.

The sisters began making jewelry crafted from wire with their cardiologist father’s medical tools while they were growing up in Florida. After a college internship in Kenya, Snyder cofounded the nonprofit LWALA (Live With a Lifelong Ambition), which raises money for grassroots initiatives in Africa. A year later, the two sisters—by now living in New York City and working in the fashion industry (Morel at footwear brand Sam Edelman, Snyder with ­jewelry designer Penny Preville)—created a capsule collection for a 2007 LWALA fund­raiser, including a bib necklace similar to those Snyder had seen on the Masai in Kenya. The necklace was worn by gala attendee Natalie Portman, who raved about it to New York magazine, and in 2008, the sisters marched into Bergdorf Goodman, collection in hand.

Koffi oxidized brass-plated necklace with Swarovski crystals; $595

“Bergdorf spoke the luxury language, and we knew we could use them as leverage to break into the rest of the market,” Snyder remembers. “And with the recession happening, everyone was rethinking price points.”

Undeterred by Bergdorf’s initial reaction that the collection was too edgy, the sisters returned a few days later with 18 reworked pieces. Bergdorf bought every one. Says Snyder, “It was a great lesson for us to stay who we are but to remember that we can tweak designs to speak specifically to a special audience.”

Breaking In and Blowing Up

Landon oxidized silver-plated cuff; $245; Dannijo, NYC; 646-755-8909;

This kind of nimbleness and ambition have marked the growth of the company over the last seven years, with the sisters nurturing celebrity connections and fans including Beyoncé, Madonna, Blake Lively, Sophia Bush, Brooklyn Decker, and Alexandra Richards, who starred in one of their look books. Dannijo is now carried in Saks Fifth Avenue, Henri Bendel, Harvey ­Nichols, and, of course, Bergdorf, but the sisters still make every prototype themselves, and each piece continues to be handmade in New York City. “The great part about the Dannijo team is that everyone is entrepreneurial and a self-starter,” says Morel, “so that flexibility and sensibility will always be present.”

Also unchanged is the signature look of the jewelry, often made with oxidized silver plate, gold and brass plate, and crystals that are turned into bib necklaces, metal cuffs, and earrings that are instantly recognizable for their heft and originality. And the sisters continue to keep an eye on the price point of the jewelry, even years after the recession. While necklaces can hover just below $1,000 for the Dannijo line and a new fine jewelry collection with gold and diamonds—first begun as a collaborative with their friend, actress Rashida Jones—features rings that cost six times that amount, an ear jacket can be had for around $100.

Tipton oxidized silver-plated necklace with Swarovski Elements; $895

“We walk the line between aspirational and accessible,” says Snyder. “Such a big part of the industry these days is this idea of mixing high and low. And while our price points may not always be the most accessible and we translate more to the luxury world, we can still hang with that girl who can’t buy at full capacity without opening the brand to the mass market.”  

Indeed, when the sisters sit down to design, they say they’re focused more on attitude than age. “The customer can be anyone from a high-schooler who borrows her mom’s jewelry to a young 20-something who adds a few key pieces to her jeans and T-shirt to my grandmother who says she feels naked without Dannijo on,” Snyder says. “And my mom travels with a ton of bib necklaces. Above all, it’s a sentimental brand, something that’s passed on and borrowed and shared.”

Oxidized silver-plated Navi earrings; $270

To appeal to a wide range of women, the sisters often stick to a cohesive design like the bib necklaces or cuffs but then change up the materials. For instance, says Snyder, “the bib is a statement piece, but the ­signature classic bib is pared down and sophisticated and can be worn by someone who is more ­conservative, whereas the really bohemian bibs are made out of West African coins and skew toward more colorful girls. It’s about the elements we mix in or what plating finishes we use. Maybe you stack them, or maybe you just wear one.” Adds Morel: “The whole beauty of the brand is the juxtaposition between Danielle’s and my personal styles, and we always love to see how ­different women style different pieces. Although they may be wearing the same necklace, their personal style makes it their own.”

For inspiration, Snyder looks to music festivals (“Anytime you see large groups of people who are not inhibited is great”), architecture, interior design, tribal art, and, of course, travel. Morel, not surprisingly, checks off the same list of creative catalysts, with the addition of her infant daughter, Margaux.

Locklyn oxidized silver-plated cuff with Swarovski crystals; $295

However, this spring’s collection came not from the sisters’ travels but from those of their friend, photographer Lyle Owerko. “He had just gotten off the plane from Mongolia and showed us his pictures,” Snyder remembers, “and we said, ‘This is it.’ The blues and mustard yellows, mixed with the oxidized silver and burnished gold, give the collection a very bohemian, world-traveler–Gypsy vibe that really resonates.”

Customer Service With a Style

That ability to resonate with customers is paramount to the sisters. It’s also a skill at which they excel, thanks to their deftness with social media. Fans eagerly follow their Twitter and Instagram feeds, with contagious hashtags like “#putabibonit” to illustrate their necklaces and “#armparty” for stacked bracelets, as well as envy-inspiring photos of the sisters wearing their jewels in far-flung locations with fancy friends. (Think surfing in the Caribbean with Katie Lee, or attending Art Basel in Miami with Cynthia Rowley.)

Maise oxidized brass-plated bib necklace with ceramic beads; $495

“Social media is a language we understand,” says Snyder, “and much of our brand is about being friends with it and understanding who Jodie and I are. We’re approachable, but since the brand is both accessible and aspirational, what really keeps us in that middle ground is that we can speak to the woman who has a disposable income and also the girl who isn’t full-on ready to be a Dannijo customer.”

And when that girl is ready, they intend to be there to welcome her—perhaps personally. “With a new app every day and bloggers coming out of everywhere, it’s more important than ever to communicate with your customer base and give them a reason to keep hanging with you,” Snyder says. “And that means appealing to people’s sentiment, which is deeper than ‘We make a cool product.’ Sometimes I’ll randomly call customers and say, ‘Hi, it’s Danielle, thanks for your business.’ It’s exciting for them, but it’s also cool for me. Some of the best business practices in the world come from good manners, a social awareness, and making people feel comfortable,” she continues. “You can break the typical boundaries of fashion as a superficial industry if you put your heart and soul into it.”  

Isaac oxidized silver-plated earrings with Swarovski Elements; $320

Not to mention imagination. The sisters have added purses as well as shoes to their collection, and hope to expand into designing clothing in the near future. Says Morel, “It’s incredible to see how the brand started and where we are now,” although Snyder counsels, “The bigger we get, the smaller we should feel. But,” she adds, “there’s a lot of open space in the market and a lot of room to kill it. We’re looking to dominate.”

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