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Lunching with Loree Rodkin

Gossip, first impressions, trends in the making, celebrities and style setters. A regular feature by fashion critic Booth Moore.

Having lunch with jewelry designer Loree Rodkin is like devouring a juicy Hollywood novel. First there are her famous affairs to discuss with Don Henley, Bernie Taupin and Richard Gere. Then, her lifelong friendships with Cher and Elton John, and her extraordinary once in a lifetime experiences, such asbeing introduced to Paris by Salvador Dali, and propositioned by Jimi Hendrix (she turned him down).

Not that Rodkin is a party girl. Far from it. scene in the early 1970s, she's gone from being a rock n' roll interior decorator to a talent manager to a fine jeweler. But she's never been into drinking or drugs. In fact, she's babysat her fair share of addicts, including Robert Downey Jr., when he was a client.

"They could call my book 'Designated Driver,' " she jokes.

Her medieval meets modern jewelry is worn by just about everyone in Hollywood. But it is First Lady Michelle Obama who has been the biggest booster lately, choosing Rodkin's designs for election night and the inaugural balls, where she wore 61 karat copy love bracelets for her white gold and rose cut diamond earrings with garland drops, a 13 carat diamond cocktail ring and a wrist full of diamond bangles.

The pieces were a statement to be sure, imitation cartier love chain but nothing like Rodkin's bestselling "bondage ring," which covers most of the finger, with a joint that bends with the knuckle. She's sold hundreds of them, starting at $16,000 for a simple diamond and white gold style, to much more for rough cut diamonds and other stones.

Which is probably why the telephone call to design for the first lady came as such a surprise to Rodkin. "I said, 'Are you sure you have the right jeweler?' " she says over lunch at a cafe below her office in Beverly Hills. Turns out, Obama was familiar with Rodkin's work from Ikram, her favorite boutique in Chicago. "They told me not to go as far as I usually go," the designer says.

Even in the recession, Rodkin says her business is holding steady, thanks in part to sales cartier chain love imitation in emerging markets. and $15 million in annual revenues. The Japanese "found her" 12 years ago, she says, and now her collection is sold in 31 stores there, including licensed flagships. The Russians followed in 2004. Next up? Kazakhstan, where her collection will debut in December.

"There's big Russian oil money there," she says. "In the past few years in Russia, anything was possible. You could sell them anything at any price. If I made a piece for $1 million, they would say me another. when she was 19. She was fired from 18 jobs in one year, she says, mainly because she lied her way into them, claiming she had the experience to be a script supervisor, a showroom manager and a receptionist. (She did not.)

One job that did stick was at a rock roll management company. (The Eagles song "Wasted Time" is reportedly about their relationship). Then she met Taupin. The two were together for five years, and Rodkin set about transforming his oversized, underfurnished bachelor pad into a luxurious home with Art Nouveau lamps and Gothic looking furniture. While working on Rod Stewart's house, she bought an auction lot of Cartier accessories. They were mostly clocks, but there was one Art Deco ring that the singer let her keep.

Rodkin took it to Ben Besbeck in Beverly Hills, a jeweler who specialized in vintage restoration, and he became a mentor, giving her old settings to play with after he removed the center stones to use in more modern pieces. Rodkin would turn a vintage brooch into a pendant, a clasp into a buckle for a bracelet. Sometimes, where Besbeck had removed a large diamond, she would add onyx or pearls to make a more eclectic statement. She would even sell a piece now and again. But mostly, it was a creative outlet while she was focusing on her second career: managing actors.

"I used [jewelry making] to keep myself awake at night with Robert Downey Jr.," she says. "It's how I managed to be a glorified babysitter. I would pick him up at parties and take him to work. He knows it, too. I tell him, 'This is the House of Downey.' "

In 1989, Tommy Perse, the owner of the influential Maxfield boutique, noticed Rodkin wearing a diamond skull ring, and suggested she launch a formal line. He put 20 pieces in his store and they sold out. "I owe him my career," she says.

Soon after, she opened her own studio and workshop, which now employs 28.

"I wanted rock roll jewelry and there wasn't any." Rodkin's gypsy Gothic look is all about layering. The designer herself wears several mala bead bracelets on her arm, each one with a tiny diamond charm.

She still designs skulls but recognizes their ubiquity. "When everyone started making skulls, and they were on underwear sold at Sears, they lost their allure," she says. "What started it for me, was in 1913 Cartier made a diamond skull pin for a duchess, and I saw it at a museum somewhere. I wanted a giant skull ring, so I made one."

Finishing her iced tea, Rodkin laments the waning days of summer. She'll spend most of them at a rented house in Malibu, before heading to New York and Paris to show buyers her new collection.

And contrary to recent reports, she does not want to sell her company. "That is the ultimate end game, sure, but it's not something I'm actively pursuing right now."

In the last few years, Rodkin has launched eyewear, fragrances and candles. Her bath and body product line recently expanded to include roll on oils, talcum powder, bath oil and cream, all with a patchouli base and top notes of vanilla, incense or gardenia. Named Gothic I, II, III, IV, V and VI, are inspired by the Far East, she says. Rodkin hopes to add home accessories next.

"Business in America is down 30%," she says. "In January and February people did not leave the house. My millionaire clients were buying Gap T shirts for their babies because they needed to see where it was all going to land," she says. "But I've been love bracelets for her replica lucky. I've never had a sales rep, I'm not a smart businesswoman.
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