Celebrity Favorite: Irene Neuwirth’s Unconventional Path to Fine Jewelry Greatness
When you think of fine jewelry, you don’t exactly imagine a cool California free spirit with a shaggy-haired dog and bohemian surfer aesthetic; yet, it’s exactly that unique sense of style that’s helped Venice-based Irene Neuwirth put her stamp on the industry. Known for pieces that can be “worn as easily with a T-shirt and jeans as with a formal gown” (in Neuwirth’s own words), her designs are a favorite among celebrity clientele like Emma Stone, Scarlett Johansson and Jennifer Lawrence, but she’s also earned accolades among her own peers. This year, the designer won the CFDA Swarovski Award For Accessory Design, following in the footsteps of past honorees like Pamela Love, Tom Binns and Eddie Borgo. It’s an esteemed list and particularly impressive considering how far Neuwirth has come in ten short years. Before she became a hit, she was giving horseback riding lessons, but that’s only the beginning of her interesting story. Read on for five more things you may not know about Neuwirth:
1. Her early designs were hemp.
How’s that for bohemian? After college, Neuwirth made beaded, “hippie-dippy” hemp jewelry for her friends, before moving on to finer stones. Today, she’s upgraded to 18k gold with opals, diamonds, emeralds and other precious stones, but her pieces still maintain the relaxed sense of ease from her early designs.
2. She was a professional equestrienne.
Riding became Neuwirth’s passion in her college years. She even competed professionally and placed fourth nationally. After graduating, Neuwirth became a riding instructor in Malibu, as well as at a summer camp where she worked alongside campfire counselor and future comedic cutup, Andy Samberg. Although she’s given up competition, Neuwirth still rides horses in her downtime, which she did in 2008 for a spread in Vogue.
3. She sent Barneys her jewelry completely unsolicited.
While some designers slowly build a career for years or have an industry in, Neuwirth got creative to get a leg up in the business. In 2001, she made a bold move and sent her jewelry to Barneys with the note, “Hope you love it” handwritten in magic marker. Rudimentary, but it worked. The luxury store snapped up her line, and she still remains one of their best-selling designers.
4. Her model is . . . her dog.
While Neuwirth’s boyfriend is writer/producer/director Phil Lord (22 Jump Street, How I Met Your Mother), one of the main men around her Venice office is her dog, Teddy. Like Neuwirth, he has been photographed for Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, starred in a video for Barneys, and sometimes he even dons Neuwirth’s designs.
5. Her college major was environmental science.
This combined with her So-Cal roots might explain Neuwirth’s fascination with the ocean, which serves as her primary inspiration. Like the Mediterranean shade of her signature gem chrysoprase, Neuwirth’s designs often incorporate aquatic hues with a combination of natural and organic stones, and the resulting jewelry is a bright mixture of luxury meets environmental.