One of the best things about Instagram is that it helps young and emerging designers establish themselves by connecting them with a global audience, sharing their aesthetic and vision, and gaining insights early on in their business. One woman, however, is proving that the platform isn't just the making of Gen Z or millennial creatives.
Roxanne Assoulin, now in her 60s and a grandmother, created this summer's most sought-after jewellery – which began as ceramic tiles on her office desk – without paying a penny for advertising. How? The power of Instagram. Well, that and a bucketload of talent, deployed in her career behind the scenes at some of the industry's most exciting design houses, from Marc Jacobs to Oscar de la Renta.
You'll have seen Roxanne's pieces – now stocked at Net-A-Porter and Moda Operandi – adorn the arms of everyone on your feed, from Man Repeller's Leandra Medine to Gigi Hadid via super influencer Blanca Miró and journalist Pandora Sykes. The joyful, rainbow-bright stackable bracelets won over even the most steadfast of monochrome devotees.
We chatted with Roxanne about working on the Marc Jacobs collection that got him fired, bracelet-making parties, and tackling self-doubt as a young woman.
Hi Roxanne! You've been designing behind the scenes for a really long time. Talk me through your career so far...
I actually founded my own brand about 40 years ago. I started making hair accessories really young – around 17 – for brands like Fiorucci and Norma Kamali and Vera Wang Bridal. We're going back to 1977 here – I'm old! I stopped and married and had some kids and then started up again, this time doing jewellery under my own name. It was a small company and I was doing the jewellery for brands like Oscar de la Renta and Bill Blass. I've worked with Stephen Sprouse, doing the jewellery for all their runway shows, too.
I would say I have nine lives and I'm on my eighth one right now! The world of fashion has always been mesmerising to me. I worked with Marc Jacobs when he did the grunge collection with Perry Ellis. That was one of the high points. He was fired immediately after that collection, but it was probably the best one he's ever done. It was a moment in time when everything changed – people just didn't dress like that before.
What drew you to accessories over clothes?
I was going to do clothing but I was too afraid to even send a portfolio to college because I thought I would be rejected! Someone said if I made some samples for them they would hire me, so I said yes and he threw some hair accessories at me. I made them and people just started to buy them, so I never went into clothing. That's really how it worked for me, it was an accident and it was instant gratification.
After you stopped working with other designers, how did your current jewellery line come about?
I worked with my daughter-in-law Rosie [Assoulin, the fashion designer] for a little bit. But for the past 12 years I've done a lot of work with private labels – we started all the jewellery for J.Crew, Banana Republic and American Eagle. That was fun because they all had a brand identity and instead of having 1,000 accounts, we had 15 accounts, which was very manageable.
Then, about two years ago, I was playing with these tiles that I'd had for probably 30 years, and I said to one of my designers that we should make these into a bracelet, this is really cute. We did the technicals and we sent it out and we had it made and I said, 'Oh my god I think this might be something'. I called people in, friends of mine, editors that I had been in business with a long time ago, and said, 'Does this mean anything to you?' And they all said yes.
I read that you've spent no money on advertising your brand...
I don't know how long that will last but for the moment everything we do is organic; we're very lucky in so many ways. It makes people happy, it's very photogenic, the jewellery is like a top model!
It is! It's so joyful, which it seems the world is in need of right now.
I think everybody wants to connect with that joyful part of them, I think it's in every single person all the time. Some of us don't work colour – I don't wear a lot of colour, I wear a lot of navy and grey. I'm not the person you're going to find in a shocking pink coat. But I love colour. I can't wear a yellow sweater but I can wear yellow bracelets, a splash of pink on my wrist, or a bright streak in a sneaker. That bit of something that gives you character, brings out your personality and makes you smile.
You can change a colourful piece of jewellery according to your mood, too...
And that's why we call it an uncomplicated indulgence. A Céline coat is a complicated indulgence, it's like an investment. But this is uncomplicated – it shouldn't be painful.
Tell me about your jewellery-making parties – they look so much fun!
It started because that's how I make my bracelets. I lay them out on a piece of paper and make patterns. When we did an editors' breakfast for the first time, they said they'd like to try it, so we hosted one and they posted it on social media and more and more people started asking for it. We do it once a month now in New York and we get people from all over – it's just the loveliest thing. People come in, they make friends, they're off their phones for an hour and a half and it's just really nice. I call them finger-painting classes for adults.
There's no right or wrong way to do it either. I always say don't make it with your head, make it with your heart, do what you like, who cares what the person next to you is wearing. If you are a navy and gold person, make navy and gold, you're not going to wear yellow and pink. Do what's right for you. No two people have ever made the same bracelet, which is incredible.
The fashion industry isn't particularly kind to women when they get older. What's your experience been, founding your newest brand in your 60s?
I found it very simple and easy. I also find that I'm not in competition. A lot of the fears that used to get to me – of not being good enough or being rejected or being irrelevant – are not as prevalent now. I'm not as threatening to people. If you like it, you like it; if you don't like it, you don't like it. My North Star is that there is joy in it, there is a joy in the business, there is joy in making it and the minute I don't have that joy, I'm not going to do it.
I can't generalise about the industry, and there are people in every industry that are different. Iris Apfel became famous at 90. I think when someone is genuine and authentic there is room for that person, and I think that the old guard of what used to be a highly snobbish fashion community is not there anymore. I think bloggers and influencers have broken those barriers. The fashion industry of the '80s and '90s isn't there anymore, there are no rules.