Picture this: You're a jewelry designer who displays her work on Instagram, and a famous singer-songwriter's friend stumbles across your account and starts following you. Then, that particular pal shows your photos to her friend, who happens to be Erykah Badu, and it turns out she's also into what she's seeing and contacts you. Next thing you know, you have Badu wearing your handcrafted rings to this year's Met Gala. In this case, that's what happened to L.A.-based jewelry designer Lillian Shalom.
Curious about her relationship with Badu and impressed by her unique looks, Pret-a-Reporter met up with Shalom one afternoon at her West Hollywood studio, or as she likes to call it, "The House of Shalom." The Otis College of Art and Design graduate looked casually cool in a floral jumpsuit from Reformation, which she paired with Zara white caged sandals. But what stood out most about Shalom's wardrobe were her gold and silver, armorlike rings. Given that each one practically wrapped itself around an entire finger, it was hard not to notice -- and Shalom wouldn't have it any other way.
"When I first started my jewelry, I had people telling me, 'You know, this is kind of out there. You should design pieces that are more accessible to people. You'll make more sales,' " recalled Shalom while sitting in her purple-painted office with a smattering of real butterflies plastered behind her office desk. "But I couldn't. I tried to make a few toned-down pieces, and I just didn't vibe with them. I can't support a design I don't absolutely love."
Shalom modeling her jewelry
But sticking to her own aesthetic proved its worth, especially when Badu expressed interest in her jewels. "She was a blessing out of the blue. She contacted me and we talked on the phone. She was just like 'I like your style. I like your vibe,' " says the L.A. native, who was contacted by the musician months in advance of the Met Ball. "I was so overwhelmed. I started crying over the phone."
Though having a famous face recognize her work felt rewarding, she didn't always receive such praises for her ideas. With no formal training for her current craft (she graduated with a bachelor's degree in fine arts in painting), Shalom recalled a time when she made an order with someone to cast her jewelry only to be told she needed to figure out how to properly do her job. "It got to the point where -- well, I thought he made a mistake, but I had just given the order wrong -- and he's like 'you know, there's a difference between a jeweler and designer. Go be a f---in' jeweler and [then] come back." And so she did just that. After shedding a few tears, she figured out how to become a jeweler by doing more research, reading different books and taking classes.
Fast-forward to her most recent collection, Shalom has never felt more true to her art. "It's kind of given me a platform to express what I want. I thought I could only do that with painting because that was my first medium. Not until this collection did I realize that I'm kind of expressing myself through the jewelry,” said Shalom, whose current 12-piece range is priced between $450 to $1600, with each piece given a Farsi name, in honor of her Persian background. Few of the pieces from her latest collection include a badass Art Nouveau-inspired armor ring with a real Scarab beetle and a handmade silver ring named Kafka (in honor of Franz Kafka) that features a real rainbow Eupholus beetle.
In case you didn't notice, the designer isn't afraid of bugs. "Just using real insects brings this mystical feeling to the jewelry, brings it some life," explained Shalom. "It definitely freaks some people out, but I think it's kind of amazing."
On top of her jewelry collection, Shalom has also expanded to making clutches, with designs ranging from one resembling a colorful xylophone to a Lucite piece featuring a cool holographic vinyl that changes color in the sunlight.
For Shalom, she creates whatever comes to mind. "I was literally going to bed and thinking of the rainbow of the xylophone and how cool it would look on a clutch," she said. "I just do whatever I want." And with her crafty and carefree attitude, that's how she had one of her creations -- a hand sewn colorful ostrich feather jacket -- land in the hands of Iggy Azalea. (It also appears in Chuck Inglish's new music video for "Legs", featuring Chromeo.)
Shalom's ostrich feather jacket
"It was another piece I made for myself for fun, and one of my friends who does styling asked if she could borrow it for a shoot for Iggy Azalea," said Shalom, who didn't necessarily recognize her at the time (this was before "Fancy" became this summer's unofficial pop anthem). "She ended up taking it on tour for a while and then she blew up." The jacket now resides in Shalom's studio, hung against a back wall as if it's sitting on its own shrine.
In addition to having Badu and Azalea recognize her funky ideas, there's one particular star she'd love to see wear her pieces: Rihanna. "I actually saw her once and pretty much attacked her in the street. And she was so cool. I just walked right up to her and said 'Hi, I'm a jewelry designer and I would love for you to wear my stuff.' And she was like, 'Alright, cool,' " said Shalom. "I learned that if an opportunity is there, why not take it?"
And to that, we'd like to give a double-tap to discovering Shalom's one-of-a-kind pieces.
This story first appeared on The Hollywood Reporter.