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The ever popular Phillips House fine jewelry has traveled the world and back, though its latest homecoming is particularly charming. Saks Fifth Avenue here in Boston just welcomed the mother-daughter run label in its store—an appropriate gesture for the Newton-bred co-founder, Lisa Frankel. The brand's sentimental "Love Always" bracelets are set to be a big seller, but what seriously caught our attention were the unusual materials that set the line apart from its counterparts: gigantic mother-of-pearl "Opera" earrings, captivating labradorite stones, and pink opals. While they are based in Miami, we were curious to know how a Massachusetts upbringing affected Lisa's choice to design jewelry. And more importantly, we had to inquire on Michelle Obama wearing a pair of her earrings to meet the Queen of England.
Tell us a bit about your roots here in Boston. What attracted you to jewelry design and what part of your craft was picked up here while growing up?
Growing up in Newton I was privileged to go into Boston often with my mother and go shopping. I think the entire environment of growing up in the New England area was very stimulating and special for me. There is a tremendous respect for the arts in Boston. In terms of fashion it was a natural attraction. I was involved with Jordan Marsh, the department store that used to be in Downtown Crossing, and I became a mentor there where they created a position for me as a young teenager, only 15.
I was able to see the world from a wonderful point of view. From there I met my husband; I was in high school and he just opened his practice as a dentist. I found his dental lab very intriguing because he did the same things that jewelers do—used jewelers' tools, and he used the lost wax method. Teaching me about teeth also taught me about making jewelry. I also took metal shop and wood shop in high school. They had incredible machines at Newton South High School.
I love Boston and went on to study business at Boston University. I was a good math and science student and that was definitely something that my parents respected. They saw jewelry design as art, something you enjoyed. It's great that I could make it a career. Then we moved to Miami and I miss Boston every single day.
Do you visit much?
I try to get up as much as possible, at least once a year. My daughter went to school in Boston too, she kind of followed in my footsteps. We co-design together now.
Did you ever anticipate becoming a family business? What kind of pros and cons come from working with your daughter?
I actually never anticipated it, it wasn't a goal. I come from hard-working New England stock and whatever you do you do it a lot. I always encouraged my family to find their passion. Danielle studied accounting and is an excellent dancer, very precise. She got out and decided it was exactly what she did not want to do. She wanted to join me. It's very current, it's happening every day and it's wonderful.
When you do come up have you noticed a difference in the style or shopping community here since you moved?
Shopping has always been fantastic. It has tremendous culture. Even to just walk down Newbury Street, and know you're walking down the same street someone did 100 years ago—it's phenomenal. To see all the architecture and buildings created right next to each other like brothers and sisters, it's so exciting for me. In that respect I don't think Boston has changed at all. Of course there are new fun shopping areas and revitalized old ones. When Faneuil Hall came to be in the 70s, it was the first time I remember that Boston was revitalized by making a historical area more fun.
You and Danielle have certain motifs and collections—some organic, some geometric. Is there a particular one that is your favorite?
We really like soft edges. That is what you'll find throughout our collection. The signature collection is round hammered edges, pave stones. It's called the Affair collection because you can wear it to any type of affair: breakfast, lunch, dinner, romantic.
And with each new collection we try to think outside the box. We took all of our round stones and made them angular. But it still feels soft.
Do you have a particular stone that you can't get enough of or especially love working with?
I love diamonds, I was born in April [laughs]. They are a wonderful material to work with, they are so sparkly. They can take on so many colors, and today they are extremely accepted in their different venues, so they don't have to be white. Every season we try to introduce new stones that haven't always necessarily been part of the fine jewelry world. When I was a kid growing up I remember seeing a beautiful cross made by Gucci, and it was made out of wood and cast in gold. I thought it was so amazing to mix the two.
Recently we introduced leopard jasper. It's trendy, edgy, and still has all the classic elements of leopard, which designers include in their apparel collections every year. It's a cool stone.
I noticed you have some really striking, colorful stones with a particular sheen to them—something unique and one of a kind. Coming into your spring collection, what is your favorite piece that you're showing at Saks?
A piece that combines tsavorite and amazonite. Amazonite is wonderful, similar to turquoise in color, but it's more like the waters of Miami Beach. It can be soft and beautiful with different tones. We combine that with tsavorite, a warm emerald green stone.
Were you excited that Pantone selected that as color of the year?
It was unbelievable! It incorporates colors of nature. And for us, it's actually a better choice than emerald, because it's a much harder stone.
?Do you find a lot of inspiration from the landscape in Miami?
Danielle and I design together but we find inspiration from different things. I think she finds inspiration from the landscape and architecture. I tend to be inspired by emotions. For example, our Love Always bracelet was designed around the concept of being "buttoned up," where my mother used to catch me at the door and do my top button so I wouldn't catch a cold. It was so endearing that we created the bracelet with that in mind, and you actually button it.
What is your personal jewelry philosophy about wearing jewelry? What does it mean to the modern woman?
I think jewelry is really special and celebrates special occasions, even if it's for the self-purchaser. It's a nice way to congratulate yourself, pat yourself on the back, or it's nice to have someone express that you are special. I think historically it's been about the latter; the self-purchaser is very new. That's my emotional philosophy.
Physically, in terms of jewelry itself—I think it should be enjoyed, not locked behind baskets and cabinets. That being said, most of the collection is meant to be worn today and to every event. It's a layering collection. It's also designed to work with your other jewelry, to take you from yesterday's jewelry into the future.
How did you react upon seeing Michelle Obama in your jewelry?
Oh my god, it was a real "pinch me" moment. It was in the same week as making the cover of Women's Wear Daily, so there was a lot of synergy and emotions going on. The first thing I thought when hearing she wore our earrings to meet the Queen of England was "I can't believe my jewelry went to Buckingham Palace!" All my hairs stood on end.
If you could only wear one style of jewelry forever what would it be?
I would pick earrings, because then I could get two [laughs].