AB: Tell us a little bit about yourself... where you were born/ grew up?
RA: I was born in Miami, but grew up in Brooklyn, NY.
AB: What was your childhood like?
RA: It wasn't necessarily the easiest childhood. I had siblings who were a lot older than me, and I lost my father quite young; in fact shortly after we moved to NY when I was just 6 months old. In a lot of ways, I felt like an only child when I was growing up. That's what made it challenging.
AB: Childhood dreams/ heroes?
RA: YES! Ever since I was 10 years old, Christian Dior was my hero. Very early on I lost myself in fashion. It took a while for it to dawn on me that I must have gotten it from somewhere, only to realize that my mother was one of my earliest influences.
AB: What is your earliest memory of jewelry?
RA: You know it's funny because I never really wanted to get into jewelry. I always wanted to make clothing. When I was about 18/19 I stumbled into making hair accessories like berets and combs, which I later sold to Fiorucci, Norma Kamali and Bloomingdales. It was the late 70s/ early 80s when I started to do all the hair accessories for Fiorucci, which was around the time of Studio 54. I took a brief hiatus from work to have my 3 children, but dove right back into it a few years later and continued down the jewelry path.
The funny thing is I have no formal training in jewelry design or making. I went to NYU where I studied philosophy and literature.
I had always wanted to go to FIT or Parsons, but never submitted a portfolio in the fear of getting rejected. I would just go to summer school at Parsons instead because I lacked the confidence in myself and my ability to do what I had wanted.
But I just started making jewelry, and it was instant gratification. The fact that I didn't need to hire people to make it was very satisfying - I could just make it myself. It was always going to be easier than making a ready-to-wear collection, which I stopped pursuing. I figured I would dress myself, and make jewelry.
The stars aligned for me quite well too because back in the early 80s department stores like Bendel's would host these open days where various new designers would come in and display their creations for buyers, and that's where we got super lucky. Everyone wanted to buy what I was making. It was great.
AB: When did you realize you wanted to get into jewelry design? Was it something you always wanted to do?
RA: I actually fell into jewelry design. It wasn't something I had dreamt of doing. It happened, and I went with it. I loved doing it, and created some fun stuff along the way. But I have always loved accessories and the little things we can wear to compliment our clothes. So I guess you can say I did have a penchant for it. Trinkets are always so fun for me to play with... I can have a hard time buying a couch, but vases, I can buy over and over again.
AB: Tell us a little bit about how your brand came to be?
RA: Well I started Roxanne Assoulin - the brand in the 80s, which then evolved with me mostly doing private label with big brands like J.Crew, etc. It's only recently that I went back to some of the original ideas I once had, and started playing around with them again - like the colorful tiles you see today. An idea clicked in my head to create fun bracelets and necklaces using the same exact tiles I did almost 30 years ago, and that was it.
When I made it, I wasn't sure it would become "something" but after running it by some of my friends in the industry, they really took to it, explaining that they hadn't seen anything like it.
I really believe that any business should be quite organic in its evolution. It can be daunting and scary at first, but it also helps us to personally develop and grow which can be quite a beautiful thing. And as we continue to spread ourselves, and have things unfold, you know you're not going to get bored, which I think is crucial. For example, we ventured into the e-commerce space, which worked out so well, and instantly made us so much more accessible to our customers.
I also gave the new collection to Baja East for them to use at one of their shows, and it really started to gain momentum. I also called in friends like Leandra Medine and Selby Drummond who really convinced me that this collection would do well. In fact Leandra posted it to social media that very day, which really shook things up.
It was the perfect storm. We started producing and selling out, and producing, and selling out. Rosie too helped me so much with injecting confidence, and teaching me a sense of fearlessness of just going with your gut and not overthinking my every move.
AB: Who do you design for? Muses? A particular type of woman?
RA: I design to make people happy, and that will always be at the heart of what I do. My jewelry is not for one girl, it's democrat, and that's a core value of our brand. But with that being said, it also has to make me happy. I didn't want to start all this just to make money. I've done that in the past for a long time, but this time around, it's an adventure to bring joy to those who buy into the brand, but also for myself.
It's not about fame, power, or prestige. The smiles are far more important.
AB: What's the most exciting aspect of what you do on a daily basis?
RA: I surround myself with so much color on a daily basis. It's just so much fun. I also just love connecting with people, whether it's through social media, or email, I always try to make it a a point to reply, and get to know new people.
AB: Biggest challenges you've faced when starting up your business?
RA: I think I'm still quite new at all this. We're still very much discussing and debating what our strategy will be going forward, and because I'm not a youngster, that poses its own challenges. For examples, should we sell wholesale, and if we do where would we sell? These are questions I think through everyday.
At the moment a big challenge and focus is to build a strong team, so we can move forward.
AB: Biggest successes?
RA: When we kept selling out!
AB: First thing you do in the morning?
RA: I make a cup of tea, meditate, and write.
AB: Last thing you do at night?
RA: I watch Blue Planet, or a documentary, although right now it's been the Olympics mostly.
RA: I'm a night eater, and I have the worst tendency to overpack for trips.
AB: Pet peeves?
RA: I think at my age, you learn to not really have any. You grow to be far more accepting, and your life achieves this rather nice and comforting equilibrium. Although I have to say I never like the feeling of being taken advantage of or dismissed.
AB: Best advice anyone ever gave you? Do you follow is?
RA: I've been given such good advice and teachings over the years, but the one that sticks out the most is learning to live with the fact that no one is really ever out to get or hurt you. People are people, and they're just doing what they can to get by. Not taking things too personally is a really healthy practice, and one I've implemented for the longest time.
AB: Favorite pieces that you've designed over the years that you're particularly proud of?
RA: I think working with Marc Jacobs on his grunge show was pretty phenomenal. I've been so lucky to work with the likes of Fiorucci for the opening of Studio54, and Oscar De La Renta.
I remember my archives very fondly, and I treat my jewelry like my children, so it's hard to pick a favorite.
AB: Style commandment?
RA: I'm pretty understated and minimal. Phoebe Philo is someone I'm very fond of. I dress in a way that's comfortable and easy for me. I love practicality and being in a uniform.
AB: Advice you'd give to a budding jewelry designer?
RA: Well, it depends what they ask me. I would personally ask what motivates them, and what their expectations are? It's important to know why someone is doing what they're doing, and if their head's in the right place. It's essential to try and pinpoint a spark in that person and probably try to guide that if it's there.
AB: One fun fact about you no one knows?
RA: I think most people would agree that I'm an open book. However, here's something funny and true: I own a pin that says "I forgot your name", because I literally will ask the same person a thousand times what their name is. There you have it.
You too can join the movement. Shop Roxanne's stuff here!