High-End Fashion with El Paso Roots

logo_blkWe absolutely love seeing El Paso and Juarez natives excelling in the fashion world! So we’re especially thrilled to tell you about Leigh Elena Navarro, 1996 Coronado High School grad, who will be visiting the city next week from her home in Austin. This gifted designer and entrepreneur has her own design line, known as LeighElena, featuring jewelry and other accessories that reflect her clean and interesting design aesthetic.

After graduating from the University of San Diego with a degree in Spanish and business, Navarro spent a number of years working in fashion and high-end retail in Los Angeles and New York. She moved back to Texas in 2005 to start her jewelry business.

Lots of people don’t know what they want to be when they grow up, but you could say that Navarro found her calling at the age of five. That’s when she began learning how to fuse enamel and glass together: her first teacher was her mother, Susan Navarro, a talented enamel artist. As a child, Leigh helped her mother at art fairs and then started creating and selling her own hand-made jewelry. Today Susan helps her daughter.

“My mom and I still do the enameling together here in Austin,” Leigh says. “The leather work is now done in a couple factories here in Texas and everything is finished in Austin.”

Her signature pieces include contemporary cuff bracelets featuring distinctive metal clasps. After a couple years in her new business, she began using leather and genuine exotic skins, such as alligator, stingray, python and ostrich, and the brand took off. The bracelets, in vivid dyed leathers and natural colors, are unique and striking.

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Since she started the LeighElena line, the bracelets have developed an international following. They have been featured in both fashion and lifestyle magazines such as Southern Living and Lucky. Her accessories are carried at both large retailers, such as Anthopologie and Neiman Marcus, and small boutiques.

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Some of her work has even found its way into celebrities’ jewelry collections. She’s seen her bracelets in photographs of such stars as singer Miranda Lambert and television host Hoda Kotb. “Many years ago I had a picture of Barbara Walters hugging Oprah with my bracelet on,” she recalls. “That was pretty fun!”

Navarro is inspired by role models such as Donna Karan. “I appreciate what Donna Karan does so much, because she created beautiful things for women that are truly wearable,” she says.  “She is a smart, strong woman and that comes across in her lines.”

She also is inspired by what she sees on her frequent trips in the United States and abroad.
“I travel extensively for personal inspiration as well as inspiration for my lines,” she says. “I travel about four or five months out of the year for both work and play. I find it fascinating to see what people think is beautiful, useful and adored.”

One of her favorite destinations is Mexico. “I will be there almost monthly over the year,” she says. “Guadalajara was a wonderful trip I took with a couple great friends in March.  I cannot wait to return!”

Coming up next for Navarro is a line of Native American-inspired pieces. “It is similar to pieces that my mom and her mom wore and treasures I have had growing up,” she says. “I love gold tones and I am making this line entirely in bronze.”

Navarro still has relatives in El Paso, including her father and his sisters and some cousins. She is looking forward to visiting this week for a trunk show at Tres Mariposas. It will be just the second time her work has been spotlighted in her hometown; a few years ago she showed her accessories at the Ruby and Lola store.

What can shoppers and friends expect at the trunk show? “I will have my best pieces from my collection with me,” Navarro says. “And there will be surprise gifts with purchase, too!” she says.

Where can you see LeighElena accessories?

LeighElena Trunk Show at Tres Mariposas
5857 North Mesa Street
Thursday and Friday, June 15 and 16
Leighelena SoCo
1714 S Congress Avenue, Austin, Texas
Leighelena Pearl Brewery
303 Pearl Parkway, San Antonio, Texas
 Trunk Cover
 

What is Going on With Retail?

The news is full of major retailing chains closing stores – or closing their doors completely. Just here in El Paso, the Sunland Park Macy’s was one of more than a hundred marked for closure and across the street, the long-time Sports Authority store closed when the whole chain was liquidated. Yet unemployment has been down and salaries have been creeping up the last couple of years. So what is going on?

A piece posted on TheAtlantic.com in April – “What in the World Is Causing the Retail Meltdown of 2017?” – garnered a lot of attention in our industry. “The reality is that overall retail spending continues to grow steadily, if a little meagerly,” wrote Derek Thompson, one of The Atlantic’s senior editors. “But several trends—including the rise of e-commerce, the over-supply of malls, and the surprising effects of a restaurant renaissance—have conspired to change the face of American shopping.”

If spending hasn’t come to a halt, what do customers want outside of e-commerce? With all of today’s technology, people do not want to become simply robotic consumers.  We still need to recognize the “human element.” One takeaway: Since it is easy to get so many needs taken care of at the click of the cursor, consumers have developed into more discerning shoppers.

In many ways, the act of purchasing is an expression of identity.  According to Boston Consulting Group, BCG Perspectives, “millennials are changing the face of marketing forever.” In the U.S., 50% of 18- to 34-year-olds believe that the brands they endorse “reflect their personal character and values.”   When they do shop in person and not online, they want a unique experience and unique products appropriate to their lifestyle.

My friend and retail guru Doug Fleener says shoppers want three things;

  • A “curated” product mix. Today’s inventories should reflect a point of view and a lifestyle. For instance, my store has recently changed its product mix to reflect a new take on fashion. We see that women want relaxed fashion that is still put-together with an element of luxury. More than ever, today’s consumer puts together her own look to express her unique personality.

Women in particular like products with historical and emotional connections. Take for instance jewelry by Temple St. Clair, who designs with an artist’s eye and explorer’s heart. She uses gold and rare colored gems to illustrate universal narratives of the earth and cosmos. Unique and authentic resonates with today’s consumer who can be overloaded with tech.

Customers also seek out items that are interesting and one-of-a kind for their home.  In our new home and gift area, for instance, we have onyx items that came from a mine where intense heat from an adjacent volcano created unusual variations. Rich colors and patterns in the onyx pieces ooze a sense of earthy beauty that only Mother Nature can create.

  • A more personal store brand. Fleener says that stores that are succeeding today “are much more than simply a storefront with a name.” He notes that they’re a very personal brand in their community. Customers feel a real affinity for the business and its staff, and shop there to support c the local community. El Paso is a distinctive, unique city where people embrace its special culture and support its businesses.
  • A personal shopping experience.Successful store have highly engaged customers and a staff of associates who see their primary responsibility as building relationships. Associates get to know their customers’ tastes and become their personal shoppers.

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Temple St. Claire “tolomeo” pendant

Encircled by a stunning array of multicolored sapphire and tsavorite stones, a sapphire cabochon gleams at the center of this magnificent 18-karat-gold pendant finished with petite diamonds

Through the Hoops: Earrings Can Make Your Style

What woman does not have a whole variety of hoop earrings in her jewelry box? It’s safe to say that the earring that has always been in style will definitely be the hoop. From ancient times to today, an infinite variety of hoop earrings have been worn and hoops are still one of the most wearable pieces of jewelry.

Think about it: The different elements that a jewelry designer can play with in a hoop earring are endless. Among those variables are the size, the thickness, the metal or other material, the shape – circle, oval, tear-drop and so on – the accessories dangling from it and the huge variety of colors, sizes and shapes of the stones.

The most sought-after earring with stones is the diamond hoop, with one or two rows of diamonds sparkling on the outside of the hoop. Then you also have the trendy inside-out diamond hoop with diamonds on the outside on the front of the hoop, and on the inside of the back of the hoop.

No matter what your chose, hoop earrings can be worn for day or night, for fun or formal. They go with any outfit and any hairstyle. Earring size will vary, depending on your mood and the occasion. Large hoops – more than a couple of inches in diameter – can provide a bold, playful statement, for sure. Small hoops can be feminine and even dainty.

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Some celebrities are even known for their hoop earrings. Princess Diana was seen in hoop earrings in many photographs, and Jennifer Lopez is known for wearing big hoops. Who can forget Oprah Winfrey’s big diamond hoops? When customers walk into a jewelry store asking for a J-Lo hoop or the Oprah diamond hoop, salespeople immediately know what they’re talking about.oprah

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Hoops are everywhere, from Harry Winston catalogs to top-10 lists of mistake-proof items every woman should own. Today the hoop is evolving into something that can transform your jewelry wardrobe into endless possibilities with new charms and interchangeable options.

Designer Jude Frances has certainly played with the evolution of hoops, with updated oval shapes and ways to decorate hoops to showcase your individuality and creativity. The latest trend is to transform your hoops even further into an elegant evening look with the addition of a “frame” hanging from the hoop to accentuate the dangling charms.

Whether you are planning a play date at the zoo or going to a glamorous gala, the hoop will always be a great choice. Now’s the time to update your earring wardrobe and explore new options for this perennial favorite.

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At last: A fantasy market trip

Ivanka Trump and Nan

Ivanka Trump and Nan

Everyone, and I do mean everyone, assumes that my trips to various apparel and jewelry markets are fun and glamorous. Nothing could be further from the truth.Instead, buying trips are full of early morning to late evening appointments, squeezing in seeing every last thing in a limited amount of time, negotiations with recalcitrant vendors, stressing out about which merchandise selections are the most saleable, and feet that are throbbing.

Trips to market can be exciting and energizing, but they have never been luxurious or glamorous. Until now.

Last week thousands of jewelry vendors, buyers, designers, manufacturers, reporters and all kinds of jewelry-related service firms gathered in Las Vegas for two trade shows: the upscale, smaller Couture Show at the Wynn and the enormous JCK Show in the Mandalay Bay convention hall.

Flori, Carmen and Bobbie shopping Armenta

This trip with the Tres Mariposas fine jewelry staff – Bobbie Baldridge, Carmen Bagby and Flori Trudeau – had all the delights missing from ordinary buying trips.

First, we stayed at the Encore Resort and Hotel, next door to its sister resort, the Wynn. Encore has been awarded AAA’s Five Diamond Award every year since opening.

Small business entrepreneurs like me usually watch their budget and try to keep travel expenses under control, which means five-star hotels are not usually on the menu.

However, the Couture Show put us up at the Encore as their guest! Just being in this beautiful and luxurious environment made us feel like royalty.

In addition, we stayed a day longer than usual on this annual Las Vegas market trip. So we had the bonus of not being stressed from the usual hurry, hurry, hurry.Some of the designer lines that we like set up shop in posh Wynn villas. At the John Hardy villa, they treated us to an alfresco lunch beside a private pool with a panoramic view. With a slight breeze in our faces and delicious food in front of us, we leaned back and said, “Ah, yes, this is the way market was always supposed to be!”

Ivanka Trump with buyers from Tres Mariposas

Ivanka Trump with Nan, Carmen, Flori, and Bobbie

We were also invited to special parties. Our first night was a party with Ivanka Trump, principal of Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry. Like many celebrities, she has even more star presence in person. Ivanka is 5 feet, 11 inches tall – before her 3 ½-inch heels – and stunningly gorgeous.

The party was at one of the Wynn clubs that was located at the base of the large curtain waterfall. Again, I felt the spell of the good life. Ivanka’s children are learning to speak Mandarin Chinese, as are my two grandchildren who live in Bangkok. It was fun to chat about something in common.

Jewelry designer Emily Armenta

Jewelry designer Emily Armenta

A jewelry designer we adore these days is Emily Armenta. Famous for her “Old World meets hip” jewelry, Emily is a down-to-earth person who has a passion for helping women, as well as designing jewelry.

As was the trend with many at the Couture Show, Emily wore a well-cut, interesting black dress that spotlighted her jewelry. I admire Emily’s creativity, business talent and work to empower women.

While Emily was taking an entrepreneurship class at Rice University, she was given an assignment to create a fictitious company and write a business plan. Little did she know the assignment would become her life’s work.

Designer/artist Ippolita Rostagno

Designer/artist Ippolita Rostagno

Tres Mariposas has carried the highly successful jewelry line Ippolita for many years, but this trip brought my first time to meet Ippolita Rostagno. The famous Italian designer and artist pioneered the fine jewelry industry’s transition to blend contemporary trends with traditional techniques and styles. Upon meeting her, I immediately felt Ippolita’s energy, strength and dynamism.

Frances Gadbois of Sloane Street

Frances Gadbois of Sloane Street

The jewelry industry is always experiencing transition. A personal favorite jewelry line is Jude Frances, known for youthful femininity. The company had been a collaboration between Jude Steele and Frances Gadbois, but now Jude and Frances each have their own lines. A native of London, Frances has a new line called Sloane Street.

Here again is a beautiful, creative and strong woman pursuing her passion. In her new venture, she often invites women to bring in older, dated jewelry that they no longer wear. Frances sketches new ideas and re-makes the piece and stones into contemporary classics.

While this is not a new idea – any of us can take our old stuff to a jeweler – rarely is there the opportunity to access this level of talent for private design. Frances is looking forward to visiting El Paso in September, so be thinking of your older pieces that can become new treasures.

When we boarded the plane back to El Paso, we had a unique sensation: We worked hard to accomplish our buying goals and found many fabulous pieces to share with El Paso women, but we also felt like we had been on vacation! Now that’s a great market trip!