Though some heed fashion’s call at an early age, others find their true calling after having a life-changing experience. Jewelry designer Dorian Webb is one such individual.
Who could have guessed that a summer study in Florence would start her on the path to a career where she is causing consumers to look at semiprecious stones and chandeliers in new and interesting ways?
By bringing a new voice and creative verve to garnet, lapis lazuli, turquoise, malachite and topaz – semiprecious stones that were once the reverent province of Aphrodite, Freya, Inanna, and the earth goddess Gaia – Webb is expanding the jewelry color palette and accessibility to cost-conscious consumers.
With First Lady Michelle Obama donning her creations and features in Glamour, Seventeen, Essence, Lucky, and O magazines, as well as multiple appearances on the Oprah Winfrey Show, Webb is well on her way to becoming the jewelry designer of choice for the fashion-forward style maven who wants beauty and fabulousness at a price that doesn’t break the bank.
The Fashion Spot: Dorian, you attended Yale University with a concentration in architecture, before you started making jewelry. Did you always have an interest in fashion?
Dorian Webb: No, but my parents always encouraged my involvement in artistic pursuits. Though I took ceramic lessons, jewelry classes, painting, glassblowing, and a wide range of creative outlets, I had not considered fashion as a career choice.
tFS: Your interest in jewelry-making was piqued by a trip to Venice and viewing beautiful Venetian glass. What fascinated you about Venetian glass?
Webb: I was fascinated by the idea that the craftsmanship goes back hundreds of years, and has been passed on from one generation to the next. I was also fascinated by the fact that you could witness the craftsmen at work, and that the craft is not mass-produced.
tFS: Did you have any jewelry-making skill before you got involved in the craft?
Webb: I did take a metalsmithing class in Florence during my summer study there. I have taken jewelry classes at several colleges and universities in Philadelphia, and I continue to take refresher courses to learn new techniques.
tFS: Why semiprecious stones instead of jewels?
Webb: With precious stones, people sometimes get hung up on having to have a special occasion to wear them, while with semiprecious stones there is more range of color and options, and they are more accessible to people price-wise. Also, you don’t need a special occasion or event to wear semiprecious stones. With semiprecious-stoned jewelry, because it is more accessible and less expensive, people tend to wear it on a more regular basis, and it doesn’t end up buried away in a jewelry or safe deposit box.
tFS: And your semiprecious stones are crafted with textured silver components.
Webb: That combination comes from my love of texture and my interest in seeing the handiwork of the artist. I want my work to reflect thoughtfulness and craft, and when you wear my pieces, it is nice to rub your hands over the grooves and smooth areas. It is more tactile, and can be a calming experience.
tFS: How did you get your business started?
Webb: After graduation, I decided that I really wanted to become a jewelry designer. I ran my company out of my bedroom in my parent’s home. I started selling my jewelry in stores in the Philadelphia area, and a little later moved in with a college friend in NYC to market my business. A buyer from Neiman Marcus saw my jewelry at a trade show, and it took off from there.
tFS: You are in a lot of stores across the country, which you’ve accomplished in a short amount time. How have you facilitated getting into all these stores?
Webb: We sell at trade shows, so a lot of buyers get to see my work there. We also do international trade shows, which opens up the international market. We try to keep our prices reasonable, and every other month we come out with a new collection, and build on the pieces we have done in the past that have been our strengths. Because there is continuity and cohesiveness in our collections, stores realize that we have a design sensibility that is consistent.
tFS: Could you talk about your current collection?
Webb: Our current collection is our blue-green collection, which references the blue-green waters of the Dominican Republic. A lot of my work in this collection intermixes blue topaz, sleeping beauty turquoise, green garnet, and blue and green Venetian glass. My design aesthetic for this collection is more pared down and simple, which reflects our need to go back to nature and lead less complicated lives. This collection can be worn with jeans and everyday looks, as well as dressy, statement garments.
tFS: Speaking of trends, is there presently a dominant trend in jewelry that shoppers should take note of?
Webb: Gold is making a comeback, but in a lower carat because the price of gold now is so expensive. More geometric and elemental shapes are coming back in vogue. For the fashion-forward consumer, the trend is leaning toward smaller jewelry.
tFS: How did you transition into making chandeliers?
Webb: The chandeliers grew out of my jewelry. I see it as jewelry, or ornamentation, for the home. When we started, there weren’t that many companies that were using a lot of color in chandeliers. I saw this as an opportunity to inject color and texture into chandeliers, something that was sorely missing in chandelier design. Because we use a lot of Venetian glass in our chandeliers, we have factories in Italy that work exclusively with us, which gives our creations that old-world craftsmanship that can only be found in Italy. We do custom design some of the pieces in our chandeliers, but some of the pieces are standard pieces you would find in other work.
tFS: Which jewelry designers do you admire?
Webb: I like Stephen Dweck’s use of color. He does wonderful pieces with semiprecious stones set in black. Also, Ippolito does wonderful sculptural pieces, almost like the next generation of Robert Lee Morris.
tFS: Which designers have used your jewelry in editorial shoots and runway shows?
Webb: Jose Duran has used some our pieces in an editorial shoot, as well as Christian Cota, and Andrew D’Angelo.
tFS: Which celebrities wear your jewelry?
Webb: Michelle Obama wore my jewelry for an editorial shoot for Essence Magazine. Oprah Winfrey, Halle Berry, Jennifer Anniston, and Sela Ward wear my pieces. And we have also designed pieces for Judith Jamison.
tFS: What’s next for you?
Webb: We have a licensing agreement with the lighting company Crystalrama. We have developed a collection for them that will be launching in June. And we are looking to open our own store in the future.
Dorian Webb’s creations can be found in Saks Fifth Avenue and many fine jewelry boutiques and specialty stores across the U.S. For more information about Webb’s jewelry and chandeliers, go to dorianwebb.com.
Photos courtesy of Dorian Webb and Peter Chinn.