Once the latest starlet premieres her newest awards-show gown, knockoffs costing thousands cheaper than the couture original hit your local mall faster than Joan and Melissa Rivers can pan or praise it. Don't think jewelry designers have it any easier. Their staffs are often sworn to secrecy until collections debut. And if their product is the quality version, they have to compete with upstarts selling similar shapes but using cheaper materials.
"I'm sure the people who knock off power beads made a lot more money than we did," says Zoe Metro, 31, the New York City accessories designer who ignited the power bead craze with her Stella Pace Inc. line (reaping sales in the "multimillions" last year). Stars from Ricky Martin to Felicity's Keri Russell donned her bracelets, but copycats using glass and plastic in lieu of the semiprecious stones quickly profited.
But if you lack the imagination to reinvigorate daily-fading trends, ripping off designs won't cut it for long. A Jane writer deemed power beads passÃ© in February--but by then, Metro had already launched the new Stella Pace (www.stellapace.com) line at an accessories trade show, and, she says, "we didn't have a power bead in the booth." Instead, she introduced Power Prescriptions, bottles packed with four- or eight-strand cuffs made of tubular beads that use crystal healing for needs spanning fertility to success, to stores like Barney's New York in March. And Magic Beads--long and short necklaces and bracelets "with big tassels, Ã la Chanel . . . [with] large beads in beautiful colors." For more glitz, she did stainless steel and gold bangle bracelets for spring--with no purpose beyond looking snazzy.
A return to decadence has also been embraced by Tarina Tarantino, 30, and Alfonso Campos, 31, newlywed co-owners of Tarina Tarantino Designs Inc. in Los Angeles. The pioneers of "hair jewelry" kicked off the New Year with their Indian- and Asian-inspired "gold sparkle" and leather and crystal collections. Tarantino still does beaded pieces, "but I'm moving into more architectural, chunkier pieces like cuff bracelets."
Tarantino says scanning magazines for ideas is the worst thing a designer can do. Raised by her artist mother on Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground, she drew upon Spaghetti Westerns for her leather collection. "I do what I love, because customers come to me to know what I want to wear," she says.
I Spy Accessories LLC founder Ivana Kalafatic, who has designed accessories from her Royal Oak, Michigan, studio since last April and expects $60,000 in sales this year, agrees. "People say 'Why don't you do those little Velcro pieces for hair?' " she says. "I refuse to. I have enough of my own designs in my head."
At i-glamour.com and 300 locations internationally, you'll find Kalafatic, 25, and her two-toned, beaded bodywear attached at the neck and waist, and beaded strand necklaces with feathers, leather and crystal. Sometimes brilliance comes from simply piecing odd materials together. Whatever it is, editors at In Style and Teen magazines love using I Spy jewelry, as do MTV and women's network Oxygen.
If you think jewelry could be your niche, you better have fresh ideas aplenty. Says Tarantino, "The trends go by so fast, you have to be 100 steps ahead of everybody."
Tarina Tarantino Designs Inc., (323) 512-8080