Devon Leigh was destined to be a jewelry designer, long before she knew so herself. As a kid, Leigh was attracted to movies depicting gold, treasure and gems. Now known for her unique statement pieces, young Leigh was a born creative, always tinkering with crafts and cooking, but it was a tennis scholarship (seriously, what isn’t she amazing at?) that lead the designer to pursue a degree in film at LMU.
Movies brought Leigh to her hubby (whom she met while filming Runaway Bride), who incidentally brought her to jewelry. When Leigh needed a piece to wear on the red carpet along with her husband―who was nominated for a Directors Award for The Sixth Sense―she headed to a vintage store, bought an antique broach, ripped off the back and fastened it around her neck with antique beads. The piece, of course, was a scene stealer, and the rest was history.
“There are anywhere from 10 to 20 people whose hands go into each piece we make. It would be hard for anyone to knock me off! That’s what makes it unique.”
From then on, Leigh spent weekends selling one-off designs at local farmer’s markets, eventually making the leap from film to jewelry full-time and opening her own store. Connections with the film crowd attracted stylists and set designers to Leigh’s outpost. Eventually, a jewelry rep discovered Leigh and got her unique pieces―crafted from metals sourced in California and in-house plating along with re-purposed vintage and faraway finds―into Neiman Marcus online. Now, Leigh’s eponymous line is 18 doors nationwide.
Next step, world domination? Not quite, but the designer is looking to grow aggressively in the coming year and hopes to penetrate other luxury boutiques and department stores as well as expand internationally. We sat down with Leigh to divulge her secret to success.
Who is your core customer?
Age-wise, she’s 35 up to 90 years old! She’s a woman who looks for an accessory that’s more a piece of art. The people that buy my line wear Eileen Fisher (things that are more simple) and are looking for a statement piece to make their outfit. The designs are pretty big and bold, marrying precious stones and ethnic elements.
What inspires your designs?
I’m always doing a lot of travel and going to shows. California also inspires me…I love things that look ancient and old, and LA offers a lot of that. Plus I love the beach and hiking. I also have three beautiful daughters and a husband that I love, and they inspire me very much. If I see something that sparks my imagination―a doorknob, etc.―I throw it in a box. After a few months, I empty everything I’ve collected from that box and throw it out onto the table. When it’s all together, I can make 300 pieces in a matter of 48 hours.
How are you able to re-purpose antique jewelry?
I rework a lot of things. For about 10% of my line, I work with artists in Nepal and Africa. I’ll buy antique pieces, cut up and remake them, mix them in with our metals and gemstones. There are anywhere from 10 to 20 people whose hands go into each piece we make. It would be hard for anyone to knock me off! That’s what makes it unique. Right now, with the way retail is going, if people are going to spend, they want something unique. Every couple of months, I’m collecting every day. I was at the gift mart and bought all these belts from a vendor. They had 13-inch tassels. I took the tassels off and am making them into earrings.
You say you’re all about accessibility to your clients. How so?
I do almost all of my own trunk shows. I love more than anything to meet my customers in person, so they can know I’m touchable and reachable. I love helping people know how they can wear the jewelry. I bring tools to trunk shows so I can alter pieces right then and there for them.
You mentioned how retail is struggling right now. What should brands be doing?
We’re all trying to figure it out, but it’s about having a great relationship with your customer. Everyone is trying to do the same thing, and people want uniqueness. It’s about the experience, making people feel like they’re participating. You just have to stand out and be different right now.