CFDA Nominated Jewelry Designer Irene Neuwirth On How She Got Her Start

Snead Jewelry Designer-June-2012

The L.A.-based nominee was giving horseback lessons before she changed dreams and started her jewelry designer career in 2003. (Updated)

Los Angeles-based jewelry designer Irene Neuwirth can't wait to attend the Council of Fashion Designers of America Fashion Awards on Monday night in New York.

Neuwirth, who’s nominated for the Swarovski Accessory Design Award, is bringing her boyfriend, Phil Lord, who co-directed 21 Jump Street, the film based on Johnny Depp's 1987 TV series. Depp did a funny cameo in Lord's redux that starred Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill. And coincidentally, the actor is being honored as the 2012 Fashion Icon by the CFDA that night.

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“It’ll be so awesome,” Neuwirth tells The Hollywood Reporter, adding “I think it’s so great that they are honoring Johnny this year."

Neuwirth has attended the CFDA awards three times, but this is the first nomination for the creative young woman who started her luxury accessory career ten years ago. She had always made jewelry for fun and friends. She recalls that people would often stop her on the street and ask where she got her jewelry. But it was just a hobby and not her first career choice.

“After I graduated from high school in 2003, I was teaching horseback riding and my parents said, ‘That’s it. You’re getting a job.’ And I said, ‘But I have one. I’m following my dream.' And they said, 'Follow another one.' So I thought, 'Okay, jewelry.”

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Clueless about presentation protocol, she did something out of the box.  “I went to the bead store and strung up ten pieces of jewelry and called up Barney’s and asked who their buyer was, sent the pieces with a magic marker note that read, ‘Hope you love it.’ After her first meeting, the buyer made a significant purchase. "Now we're their top selling jewelry line,” says Neuwirth.

Check out Barney's Neuwirth collection here. For more info/photos go to

When the economy crashed in 2008, Neuwirth zigged when everyone else zagged. She didn’t go mainstream and lower priced, she went high end and exclusive with many one-of-a-kind pieces featuring precious and semi-precious stones. Her prices range from $2,000 up and up. Way up.

“It’s been incredible, a very organic process” she admits. “We have the greatest fan base of women who have a strong sense of style and are buying and collecting jewelry for themselves. They don't want to see their jewelry on other women, not even their friends.“

Her non-celebrity client list is tres hush-hush. “These women are very private,” she says. But she has many celebrity fans such as Angelina Jolie, Julia Roberts, Zoe Saldana, Salma Hayek, Elizabeth Banks, Rashida Jones, Iman, Octavia Spencer, Busy Phillips, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Reese Witherspoon.

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She recently debuted her exclusive line of engraved 18K yellow, rose and white gold ID bracelets set with opals, chrysophase, lapis, turquoise, and rainbow moonstones at the Seaside Luxe boutiques at the Four Seasons Resorts in Hualalai, the Four Seasons Maui and Terranea in Palos Verdes. 

Neuwirth is psyched about her CFDA nod. “I think I’m the underdog but I’m just happy to be included.”  She’s still on the fence about her awards outfit (fashion event red carpets can be cut-throat) but she did get her hair brightened for the big night by her longtime colorist Negin Zand at Sally Hershberger’s West Hollywood salon. “She’s my splurge.”

She resides in the Venice Isles with an adorable Labradoodle named Teddy, whom you can see bounding about on several pages of her website. "I love it here. It’s such an artsy little community," says Neuwirth.

“When I was growing up in LA, I swore I would leave and never come back. But now I love it here.  I can walk to the beach, go for a hike, have great dinners, all my friends and family are here and I have the luxury of walking to work to my studio on Abbot Kinney.” 

Good thing for the fine jewelry world that Neuwirth followed her second dream.