Lisa Sahakian chose the Justin Bieber-inspired “never say never” as her senior quote for her high school yearbook. Still, she couldn’t have imagined at the time that Bieber and his wife, Hailey, would one day regularly call on her to make them custom necklaces.
When Bieber followed Ian Charms on Instagram a couple months ago, she couldn’t believe — or trust — her eyes. “It was the day I had gotten Lasik,” the 27-year-old tells Billboard. “My eyes were all messed up and dilated. I was like, ‘What?!’ I took a screenshot and had to zoom in a million times because I was so blind that day. I thought, maybe I’m just on medication and out of it.”
There have been a lot of those moments with Ian Charms, her eclectic jewelry brand, since she unintentionally launched it a little over a year ago. “I had no concept that this could be a job,” Sahakian admits. “I didn’t see it as a possibility. This took off as a complete accident.”
The wild ride began when her boyfriend, Max, said he wanted a necklace for his birthday in August 2020. After searching online and finding there were “so many cool beads out there, [but] no one was doing anything that chaotic with them,” she took matters into her own hands. “I made my boyfriend this mostly pearl necklace, but it had weird charms thrown in sporadically — like a sumo wrestler and a cowboy hat,” she says, “I think it just made people do a double-take.”
Once Sahakian made Max’s, she wanted one too — and then their friends each wanted one. She spent $600 on her first bead box, which felt risky. She was working as an assistant in reality television development, and assistants’ pay had been cut during the coronavirus pandemic. Luckily, Ian Charms’ orders began immediately pouring in from her friends, and then friends of friends, as word organically spread. “I remember saying to Max, ‘God, I wonder if I’ll break even,’” she recalls of that period. “Within five days, I broke even.”
And by December, Dua Lipa was sporting “the danili” necklace, made of pearls, five colorful mushroom charms and two eight-ball beads. The Biebers, Madison Beer, Emma Chamberlain, Pete Davidson, Joe Jonas, Jennie Kim of BLACKPINK, Lorde, The Kid LAROI, Olivia Rodrigo and Jaden Smith are just the top line of accumulating A-listers all in on Ian Charms. That initial $600 investment almost instantaneously ballooned into a 12-week waitlist for custom necklaces, and Sahakian made Ian Charms her full-time job in February.
Maybe becoming a jeweler to Hollywood’s stars was fated in the literal stars — when Sahakian was born, her parents gave her a gold bracelet with her name engraved in cursive, featuring a locket and religious charms — but she never cared about jewelry. Growing up in Los Angeles, she lived and breathed pop culture. “I was allowed to watch MTV at, like, 12, or maybe 13,” she explains. “I was like, ‘I’m gonna be the head of MTV.’ I have so many old journals [where I wrote] that. Either that, or music photography. In college, I would sneak into music festivals to shoot the artists.” Ian Charms is the unsuspected outlet that brings her passions full-circle.
More than anything, though, Ian Charms is an homage to her Armenian heritage. The name is derived from Armenian culture, where surnames often end in “-ian.” The Kid LAROI likely had no idea that it was Sahakian’s father’s prized Ferrari Testarossa screen-printed on the tee he wore to perform in Vegas in early October, nor did Bieber and Dua Lipa realize that “the danili” dangling from their necks was titled after a generational middle name shared between Sahakian, her brother and her dad.
“There’s meaning behind every little thing,” she says. “That’s why it’s so crazy when famous people wear it. All these things are so personal, and no one really even knows, which makes it so much more special.”
Sahakian took time out of her bustling schedule to walk Billboard through those meanings, and the stories behind your favorite musicians’ new favorite necklaces.
When Monday rolls around and it’s time to start a new batch of necklaces for a Friday drop, what excites you the most?
We draw so much from pop culture. I have to be so in touch with what’s going on, which is what I’m obsessed with anyway. I used to work in reality TV, so what inspires me is very similar: shows that are big right now or celebrities that did something weird over the weekend. Our Crush Collection, the ones with the pendant, that was the first thing that set us apart. Not only doing those, but having ones that were so weird and didn’t really make sense. Cartoon characters, Judge Judy or Kris Jenner. People like that they don’t know what they’re going to see in the Friday drop.
Where do you think of the names for all of these necklaces? Like, why am I wearing a necklace that’s called “the jenni”?
That one was named after the BLACKPINK star. She had come here to make customs, which was insane and super sick. Usually, it will be, “Who did we meet this week?” It’s whatever the first thing is that comes to our minds. Max is usually the one who decides [the names of the necklaces], and we throw them back and forth. They usually have no meaning whatsoever. I think we’ve used 15 different nicknames that I call my dog as necklace names. It’s cool knowing that every necklace’s name is current and what’s going on with our lives at the time.
Wait a minute. The necklace on my neck has to do with BLACKPINK’s Jennie Kim? I need to know what happened there.
I got a DM from her. I was like, “What? Who? This person has 50 million followers.” And then I realized who she was. She wanted customs. I was like, “Yeah, of course.” She asked, “Can I come to the studio to make them with you?” I said, “Yes, the studio is my apartment. But sure.”
So, she came with her assistant and was here for maybe an hour, an hour and a half. I made some with her, just collaborating, which we never do. When we do customs, I [ask for] suggestions because it would take 80 years to show them every bead I have. It was the first time we’ve had someone come here, and it was just very insane having her next to my bedroom.
Who has been the person you’ve seen wearing Ian Charms that made you stop in your tracks and question whether any of this is actually happening?
The craziest really ever was Bieber, just because it sort of happened by accident. I was trying to get him stuff forever and couldn’t. He stole necklaces from his wife. That’s how he started wearing them. Now I make him custom necklaces. But I literally grew up with one of those cutouts of him in my bedroom. I’m 27, so I grew up with him. Seeing he followed us on Instagram, it was the day I had gotten Lasik. My eyes were all messed up and dilated. I was like,
“What?!” I took a screenshot and had to zoom in a million times because I was so blind that day. I thought, maybe I’m just on medication and out of it. It was really crazy. My family knows how much I’ve always loved him, so they get so excited when he wears it.
He’s the one person where I’m like, keep your cool. Don’t bug him. I do not harass him on DM at all. I’m so nervous to say something dumb. But Dua Lipa was the first person [to wear Ian Charms], so she was insane. I was on a walk and didn’t have my phone. I came back to 200 messages. I didn’t realize that’s how this stuff works — someone wears it, and it goes everywhere. And then I was a huge fan of Emma Chamberlain, the YouTuber, so when she wore it, I made all those customs with her.
I love that you had “never say never” as your senior quote in your high school yearbook.
Everyone made fun of me for having that as my high school quote. It was just so funny. Everyone from my high school was like, “Of course this happened.” We got a pull [request for a batch of jewelry] from a stylist for Hailey when they went to Mexico [in July], but I didn’t know who the pull was for. It was confidential, which doesn’t really happen. The stylist sent me a picture of her wearing the necklace, like, “It was for Hailey!” I was like, “Oh my God, amazing. Did Justin get some? Is he gonna wear them?” They said no, not this time, but maybe another time.
Hours later, he was wearing all of her necklaces. I’ve made both of them necklaces with each other in the pendants. I’m hoping I see them rock those together one day.
So there’s Bieber, but of all the musicians you’ve idolized, which one would cause you to absolutely lose it if you saw them wearing Ian Charms?
For when I was growing up, Bieber. Now? If A$AP Rocky and Rihanna wear my s–t, I’m retiring. They’re style icons, musical icons, and I love them. It’s all downhill after that.
Which one artist’s fan base has become the most rabid customers, or even in your comments and DMs?
Bieber is definitely big. Also, Pete Davidson fans are crazy — because he doesn’t have Instagram, so they can’t engage with him. More than anything, a billion percent, it was Jennie. K-Pop fans! They found my personal page. There’s a photo of me and her on the couch that she let me post. It has 60,000 likes and hundreds of comments. I was just like, “What did I get myself into?”
If you click my tagged photos, it’s all just a repeat of that photo with her. When she was here, I asked, “Can I take some photos?” Her assistant and her said, “Yes, but don’t post them.” I didn’t really get why. And then they said I could post that one on my personal page, and now I know why. That photo now is literally everywhere. It was honestly kind of scary.
Have you noticed musicians’ influence over getting the word out for Ian Charms as being more intense than actors or celebrities in other lanes?
I think so. When you think about it, I feel like musicians, their style is part of their [career]. Even Billie Eilish, I don’t know if she would have grown as huge — as quickly as she did — if she didn’t have this insanely cool aesthetic that made people think, “Oh, wait, that’s the voice?” That’s what made me first be like, “Whoa, I did not think that’s what she looked like.” I do think musicians have to have their own aesthetic. People just really look to musicians for in-the-know, cool style. Even smaller artists.
A lot of times when a celebrity will wear a piece, people want the exact piece they wore. They do buy other stuff on the site, but it’s most common that they’re like, “I want this exact piece that they wore. If it’s custom, I want you to remake it.” It’s so interesting how much fans trust the taste of a celebrity, which really surprised me.
Which necklace name or concept most directly nods toward the music industry, whether a specific artist or pop culture reference?
I feel like the one that weirdly reminds me of the music industry the most is our first design ever — and our most popular. It’s called “the danili,” which is my middle name. It’s the one with mushrooms and eight-balls. For some reason, every musician gets it. That was the first piece Dua Lipa ever wore. Joe Jonas, that’s the one he wears the most. He got a custom bracelet that looks like it. I don’t know why, but musicians gravitate toward that one. And then obviously, your necklace is named after Jennie.
What made you realize you could quit your production job?
What honestly made me realize was when I got a really big pull for Kylie Jenner. It was a ton of customs. She has all of them, but I’ve never seen her wear them. I was staying up until three in the morning, past my other job, because they needed them the next day. It was for her, Travis [Scott] and Stormi. I was just like, “I can’t have this opportunity and go back to my job where I’m pretty mistreated and don’t make any money.”
I felt like this was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. It was this moment where I realized, “It’s now or never. Let’s see how this goes and jump into it.” It wasn’t as scary because I had the security of, well, if the biggest [celebrities] want it, then there’s something here. Something is working. That was in February, when I started doing this full-time.
Why do you think all of these adults — me included — are so drawn to this child-like, juvenile look? Is it really just as simple as the power of nostalgia?
Look, nostalgia is in there. The neck definitely had a moment during COVID. We live on Zoom, so all you can really see is the neck. It’s so crazy now to hear someone say, “I was out in New York, and I ran into these two girls who were wearing Ian Charms.” It’s such a cool connection that people have because it’s still such a small brand, and it’s so personal because they deal with me directly. The brand is literally all about my personal life and my family. I think people just really root for an underdog. The fact that I took the risk and was like, “I’m quitting my job. I’m kind of terrified. Please buy necklaces this week.” It’s child-look while still being modern — because we tie in today’s pop culture, and people see it as this fun thing to throw on, even with a sweatsuit. Because it puts them in a good mood.
The name Ian Charms honors your Armenian heritage. How does that all intertwine?
My dad is the Armenian one in the family, and “-ian” has always connected Armenians. People will realize their neighbor is Armenian because they saw their last name on the doorbox. The Ferrari Testarossa, which is our icon, comes from my dad when he was my age. He would rather lease a Ferrari that was his dream car than live in his own place. He slept on his sister’s couch so he could have this f–king cool car. I have a tattoo of it, too. It’s this cool symbolism because it’s very unlike my dad. He’s super conservative, from Iran, always about security and safety and not taking risks. It just reminds me to live a little.
I moved back from San Francisco to L.A. because he had gotten sick with PSP, a type of palsy that he has had for the last two years. My dad seeing Laroi in the shirt with his Ferrari on it was just super crazy. He’s obsessed with Elton John — literally obsessed. We used to see Elton John once a year in Vegas. So, when Dua Lipa wore a necklace while talking to Elton John on [Instagram] Live, my dad was losing his mind. It’s a proud moment.
What fulfills you about Ian Charms that working in entertainment for four years, and most recently reality TV, couldn’t provide you?
The last few months at my job, I was really, really pushing them. I was giving it my all. You said I have what it takes. You said I’m creative. And you’re not promoting me for reasons like money — which I know you have, because you’re a big company. There are so many fake rules that really frustrated me, and that industry just does not change as much as people say that it should.
I wanted control over my creativity. It was actually hard because I had pitched some ideas for shows that are now out. The Britney Spears documentary, when I first started my job, I was like, “We have to do something about this.” It wasn’t really in the news yet. I wasn’t being heard or respected enough, and I felt like I had paid my dues. Everyone we work with is our age — super young. Maybe they haven’t even done before what they’re doing with us. Not having to abide by these corporate rules is so freeing, and actually makes this company so much more relevant.
Did you make “the britney necklace” before or after her conservatorship completely took over mainstream news?
It was when the first or second documentary came out. My best friend’s nanny was Fe[licia Culotta], the Southerner who assisted Britney forever and was like her closest friend. I had known about this Britney stuff for years, and it was just breaking Fe’s heart every time I would see her. That’s what made me want to make a necklace.
Your Mondays start with inspiration from what happened in pop culture over the weekend. Is there a current event in music that’s inspiring you right now?
I’ve been really into Kacey Musgraves’ new album [Star-Crossed]. I loved her last album [Golden Hour], but I hadn’t listened to the new one, and then she performed on SNL the night Pete wore our stuff. Of course, she was amazing. Her whole persona, which I didn’t realize, is so DGAF. She doesn’t do what traditional celebrities do. I think she’s so talented and runs her lane on her own. She’s someone that’s been on my mind a lot, for not having rules for what she does.