How Roxanne Assoulin Became Instagram's Favorite Jeweler
Designer Roxanne Assoulin's namesake brand has been around for less than three years, and it's already one of the most recognizable collections available today. Her pieces have found Instagram fame through the likes of top celebrities, the chicest of fashion editors, and — yes — on our own wrists, necks, and ankles as well. It's what Assoulin and her team call "an uncomplicated indulgence" that seems all too apt at a time when we all seem to be craving an infusion of whimsicality not only in our wardrobes but also our lives. In short, Assoulin has struck pure gold with her latest venture, but she's far from a newcomer to the industry. In fact, she's been one to know for nearly four decades. And this "last hurrah," as she calls it, might just be her best chapter yet.
To get her take on the brand's near-instant success, future plans, and what finally pushed her to tap into the courage to put her name on the designs, we chatted with the chic and creative designer herself. And spoiler: we are even more obsessed than ever.
Image Source: Courtesy of Roxanne Assoulin
Though she initially set out to design clothing, a fortuitous procrastination activity that resulted from walking into a button store in 1976 shifted Assoulin's creative focus from ready-to-wear to hair accessories. And so it began. Working on projects like the Fiorucci fashion show and opening of Studio 54, her hair accessories were just as of-the-moment as one might argue her newer collection is today. Assoulin's break from creating barrettes in order to focus on her family brought her three gorgeous children and a move from NYC to New Jersey and then back again (she laughed as she described her suburban self as "not a happy camper.") By 1983, however, she was ready to hit the ground running again.
Her first foray into jewelry? Leather wrap bracelets. They came in 120 colors and a variety of exotic skins, leathers, suedes, and more. Sound familiar? While a slightly different vibe than her current metal, enamel, and glass beads, the playfulness was more than evident and the variety was plentiful as she set forth on her path. For the next 10 years, Assoulin designed jewelry for other houses and labels — but they weren't just any old names; in fact, they were some of the more established of the bunch. She worked with Bill Blass, with Oscar de la Renta, and on Marc Jacobs's iconic grunge collection; designed jewelry for J.Crew; and more. Oh, and she simultaneously launched Lee Angel, which quickly became the private-label umbrella under which all her contract brand work fell. "I could always pivot pretty quickly," Assoulin explained. "It was the time of Banana Republic . . . and J.Crew . . . and all of these companies were coming into themselves."
Eventually, however, direct-to-consumer brands began their steady rise to normalcy, causing larger brands to take a hit. "Everyone was feeling it," Assoulin remembered. As it turned out, new inspiration came just at the right time — and by way of a set of colorful tiles that had been sitting on the designer's desk for more than 20 years. "I was playing with them one day," she said, "and I thought, 'Oh my God, what if we made a bracelet like that?'" And so, Roxanne Assoulin was born. After creating one bracelet, Assoulin recalled thinking, "I think we have something here." And she just went with it. The hard times seemed to be the best thing to happen to Assoulin and her brand and was not something that went unnoticed, as she shared: "It was fortuitous. It was really like the perfect storm . . . in a good way."
Image Source: Courtesy of Roxanne Assoulin
With an innate feeling that she had captured lightning in a bottle, Assoulin turned to some trusted friends and family to test the waters, citing editors Selby Drummond and Sam Broekema, Man Repeller's Leandra Medine, son Max, and daughter-in-law Rosie as some who encouraged her to trust her gut with this new venture. While Assoulin was, for the first time, creating jewelry under her own name, she was approached nearly immediately for collaboration opportunities by both John Targon of Baja East and Rosie for her similarly electrically charged ready-to-wear line.
While there were instances that drove the brand in the direction of direct-to-consumer from a production standpoint, Assoulin sees it as one of her brand's greatest assets. "I love being direct-to-consumer because I love being one-on-one with everyone," Assoulin told us. "I see every email that comes in and out of this place. I love seeing what people say, I do my own Instagram, all my own Stories, read all the DMs . . . You don't have that transparency when you're working through a buyer."
Notably, the brand hasn't done any advertising to date. And even among similarly young and vibrant brands, it's one of the few that has consistently adhered to that original plan. Though Assoulin doesn't rule it out going forward, it's not in the cards today. But why should it be? Her whimsical and colorful aesthetic is so engrained in the sartorial lexicon of all things style today that she's selling out left and right just due to Instagram's word of mouth. "Leandra posted, we sold out in one day," Assoulin remembered. "I had to wait three months to get more bracelets, and then we sold out in three days."
At the beginning, Assoulin shared, "It just started blowing up. It wasn't all perfect, and it was hard." She added, "A lot of the stores came to us to sell the bracelets [in early days], and we couldn't. They would ship in the beginning, and the finish was really poor. We're engineers here, always trying to get it right."
While Assoulin is still responsible for somewhat of a delivery schedule (especially now that she is partnering with select retailers such as Net-a-Porter, Shopbop, and Moda Operandi), she has made sure to build her business to reflect her changing inspiration. Much of her collection is parceled off in a few major deliveries every year to correspond with the retail buying schedule; she takes pride in her ability to to whip up a popular colorway or pattern based on both her own changing inspiration as well as feedback from her customer base. It works because Assoulin is having fun, though, as she said, "When I do what I love, I do it well . . . and when I do what I don't love, I don't do it well. I'm having a lot of fun. More fun than I've had during the whole 40 years of doing jewelry." Though the designer has been working with jewelry for the entirety of her storied career, she told us that with this particular namesake, "I love it because this is all new to me. It's fresh, and I'm learning so much. And I love to learn. I think it's so much fun to do it differently."
It is a brand that almost never happened, as Assoulin acknowledged: "I'm 64 years old, and I started this business at 61. This was my last hurrah. This was the last breath I had in me. I thought: I don't think I can do this again. I'm not going to re-create it at 75." The designer remembered, "What always stopped me was fear of rejection, and I think that fear is the biggest thing that stops people from being great." But she took that leap of faith. And it worked beautifully. In fact, according to Google trends, search value for Roxanne Assoulin has jumped more than 900 percent since her launch, so it's clear she's doing something right. While her brand has gone through many lives, perhaps what has allowed Assoulin to constantly evolve and stay relevant is her ability to always stay true to herself and her own aesthetic. "I've been the same person the whole way through," she said. She speaks of mood boards that have images recurring for the entirety of her career, designs that unintentionally mimic pieces that she produced in the '80s and '90s, and color palettes that (while massive in scope) stay relatively similar from brand to brand.
Image Source: Courtesy of Roxanne Assoulin
We're currently living in a fashion movement where we're thirsty for something fun, something whimsical, something that says we shouldn't be taking what we wear too seriously. We've seen it in the resurgence of the bright colors of the '80s, the intricate embroideries of the '70s, the couture-like silhouettes, and — yes — playful enamel jewelry that has taken the arm party to heights that, in Assoulin's words, serve the highest purpose of just making us smile. "I never wore color," the designer said of her personal style. "I wear a lot of navy. So, for me, this was the perfect way to wear color. I can do things on my wrist that I would never dare do on my body. Winter is gray and navy, Summer is blue and white. I'm just not a color person. But on my wrist and on my neck . . . "
Assoulin is selling whimsical ease, hence the tagline "uncomplicated indulgence." Of her aesthetic, she explained, "What we want it to be is uncomplicated. It's an uncomplicated indulgence. Which means if you wear it, it shouldn't be complicated to put on, to take off, to figure out what to wear it with. And it shouldn't be very costly. We want people to open the box and think, 'Wow, we're getting more than what we bargained for.'" While her pieces have changed over the last four decades, Assoulin has always been right on the money when it comes to predicting what girls are looking for in their jewelry.
On the identity of the Roxanne Assoulin girl, she couldn't pinpoint a specific style or persona. That is, of course, what makes the brand so widely beloved. Assoulin tells stories of all of the messages of love or photographs of her pieces "in the wild" that she receives from her customers, only enhancing the connection that comes back around to inform the collections to come. One of her favorite shares, in fact, is an image someone sent her of a 65-year-old man they found on a train wearing one of Assoulin's iconic rainbow bracelets. "They have become, for me," Assoulin explained, "like part of the team." Borrowing the words she loved of friend Drummond, she shared, "It's like a sorority." Seeing someone else wearing Roxanne Assoulin jewelry is an instant conversation starter, icebreaker, and friendship maker. And, in keeping with the idea of bringing people together through her jewelry, the brand holds monthly bracelet-making events at its New York City studio, which it aptly calls "Play RA." For $190, you can make two custom bracelets, have a drink and some snacks, and make a few (or 10) new best friends. And if you're really only interested in becoming closer with the friends you already have, it offers private event bookings for a slightly elevated charge.
When asked what she sees for the future of the line, Assoulin didn't miss a beat before saying, "I have no idea." It is a sentiment that she has held with her line for the short three years and intends to continue with. "When people ask me, 'What are your goals?,' I think, 'I don't know.' Because all I can do is wake up in the morning and make the decisions that I need to make that day. As best as I can. And I don't know what's going to come to me tomorrow."
Shop some of our favorites from the current collection ahead.