The Keepsake Maker

Steven Lagos Creates Sexy, Timeless & Modern Jewelry — Here’s His Secret

BY // 09.24.15

When I began my internship at PaperCity, the first interview I assisted was with Steven Lagos, creator of his namesake jewelry line Lagos. As I sat on the sidelines, I was moved by all the stories he shared about his pieces and his loyal customers. He explained how jewelry is used to help create memories and stressed that, unlike clothing or shoes, a piece of jewelry is often passed down and lasts forever. Fast forward to more than a year later: I’m at Neiman Marcus — this time as a PaperCity writer — meeting with the jeweler to discuss his newly released Black Caviar Collection.

Lagos, who has been in the business for almost 40 years, has created another striking collection with his signature caviar design. The pieces have admirers (and owners) from all walks of life, including fashion blogger and Houston resident Caroline Harper Knapp of House of Harper. In fact, blogger, designer and stylist Kelly Framel of The Glamourai styled Lagos’ Fall 2015 lookbook. I caught up with the man himself over coffee (his an espresso, mine a latte) to talk about the new collection and much more.

Graham Studios Inc.
Steven Lagos.

Describe the Black Caviar Collection in one word.
“Everyday.” That’s really what this collection is about. Because it’s black; it’s neutral. It’s just like the silver you can wear all the time, and it doesn’t really have a genre. It can be worn in the day and the evening.

Why black for this collection?
We consider our collection to be part of a woman’s wardrobe. So it’s not something that they’re just going to wear sporadically or on very special occasions. For that reason, if you think about what every woman has in her wardrobe, she has her little black dress. That’s the basic, so it just made so much sense to start with that.

The caviar design is your signature. What does it represent, and why is it special?
It really was born in the 1980s. We created some jewelry using hematite beads, and it had this very rich look. When we looked at it, it looked like caviar. The thing that’s nice is the way it catches the light. It kind of became our signature, because people identified it with us. So I don’t know if I became infatuated with it or whether the customer did. It was a back-and-forth relationship.

How did you get your start in jewelry? Did you see a need in the market, or did you always know it was your calling? 
I didn’t know that I wanted to create jewelry, but I always wanted to do something creative. I grew up a creative kid and was always searching for something to do. When I was in high school, I started making jewelry, and I was really just playing around. It was kind of a hobby, but people responded to it. I really see something in jewelry that is different — it’s an art form, but it’s also a really huge part of people’s lives, and that’s what’s so interesting. I had people come today and show me things, and they said, “My husband bought this for me for our anniversary.” People keep their jewelry, and they pass it down. It’s meaningful. To be able to do something creative and meaningful is the ultimate gift.

A look from Lagos’ 2015 lookbook, styled by Kelly Framel. The model wears a stack of black caviar bracelets.

Your design process.
I can’t really say it’s a single process. I can tell you that I have to be really focused. I collect unusual things not necessarily related to the jewelry, and then I usually come up with a concept — something I want to explore, and that exploration results in the collection. It could be like in this case, with the Black Caviar collection. I was inspired by the ceramic. We actually pioneered some new technology, because most of the ceramic is very textured, but in the collection it’s smooth. Or I may be struck by a silhouette, or see something someone is wearing. There are all different ways; you get connected, and it grows from there.

Designers who inspire you.
There’s so much talent out there, and it would be hard to say one person. When I was young, Cartier really inspired me, especially after going back and reading about their history. Their story is really about people. They were two brothers, and they were traveling. They were first to go to Egypt and other places, and that’s where they drew their inspiration. So I became fascinated with the idea that you could have a brand or a product where there were actually people behind it. That’s what inspired me.

You travel a lot. How much of your jewelry is inspired by that? And what are some of your favorite destinations?
I think when you don’t travel a lot, you have a favorite place, but when you do travel a lot, you’re always looking for the next place to go. It’s funny, I’ve been coming [to Houston] at least twice a year for 35 years, and I love it. It’s one of my favorite places. There are lots of favorite places. I’m always inspired by history, so I love places where there’s history. I was just in Italy, which is really …  it’s so rich. Bari has incredible history and tradition. You realize that we think we’re doing something so new and contemporary, and you learn that it is something that has been going on for hundreds or thousands of years. You think you’re just discovering it, and it just doesn’t work like that. I’m an explorer; I’m always going off the beaten path trying to find some things that are disturbed or more natural. So I like the places where I can do that. For sure, I’ve had collections inspired by one place. Right now I’m working on something that is really Indian-inspired and all about the colors and the beach, the texture of what’s going on over there.

Do you ever look back at past collections with any regrets? And do you have any favorites? 
Oh, I look back at a lot. It’s just like anything: You have your mistakes, and they make you better. I like to look back on all of it. I can’t say that there’s a favorite; it’s just not like that. If you got that way, you’d be stuck there. Whatever I’m working on next is my favorite thing now.

Blogger Caroline Harper Knapp stacks her black caviar bracelets for Instagram.

One piece of jewelry every woman should own.
A bracelet — one of our caviar bracelets. It’s such a great piece to stack or wear with a watch. It’s a piece of jewelry you can always wear. So sometimes a neckline isn’t right, but you can always have a bracelet. I think it’s so sexy.

On reinvention. 
One of the things about jewelry is that it’s super static; it has to fit the body. You can’t make a necklace that doesn’t fit the neck. So, based on the fact that the human body hasn’t changed, jewelry hasn’t, either. You have to keep reinventing that idea, then it becomes contemporary. You can see the work in the ’80s that I was doing was very different from the work I was doing in the ’90s, and it’s not even conscious. It just sort of picks up on what’s going on.

The one thing that gets through the day. 
I have so many little rituals. Coffee is definitely a big one. I try to make time for myself. I like to have a pretty high level of respect for what I get to do, and I try to be thankful everyday for that — the people around me who have helped me, the team I’ve created and have been with for 25 years. I really like to just take my time and think about how fortunate I am, and I like to do for others as a result of that. That’s a big part about what we’re all about. It’s hard, because when you make jewelry it seems like such a luxury thing, but there really is something to it. It’s not making a difference in the same way as say a food drive, but you are making a difference.

Is there any mantra that you live by?
One of the things I tell all of my people is: “Behind every jewel are 3,000 running horses.” It’s a Chinese proverb, and it’s really saying that maybe you have a jewel in your hand and you can see it, but behind it there’s just so much that goes into it, and that’s the appreciation part. Appreciate all of the effort that goes into what got me here and all of the people who played a part in my success and all the people you touch within that. I don’t use the word “I” very much. Life is such a group effort.

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