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Glitter Girls

Three local jewelry designers, all of them young and successful, have parlayed their vibrancy into thriving business ventures — selling their wares at top retailers like Saks, Takashimaya, and Henri Bendel

By Frank Navone

Looking like she stepped out of the pages of Elle Magazine and loosely resembling Brooke Shields, Ashley Dodgen McCormick splits her time between the family home in Greenwich and a modern apartment in TriBeCa, where she runs her extremely successful jewelry company, called ASHA by ADM. (She designs under the name ASHA, a nickname coined by her Cuban grandfather.)

Don’t let her striking looks and cool confidence fool you: This globetrotting Georgetown grad has a lot more percolating behind that light-brown mane than meets the eye. While her Greenwich Academy pals were spending summers on Nantucket, Ashley was interning for mentor Tommy Hilfiger. While her college classmates were at basketball games, Ashley was starting a small business out of her university dorm room, cultivating accounts and making private sales.

While attending college, Ashley majored in art history and studied abroad for a year, spending a semester each in Florence and Paris, drawing inspiration from her surroundings. She says, “I began to gain inspiration while on weekend trips to Venice, Prague and Edinburgh. I designed my first pieces at a Parisian atelier near Place Vendôme.”

In her line, Ashley incorporates semiprecious stones, natural materials such as shell and ivory, and sterling silver dipped in 14K yellow and white gold. Her designs are influenced by the art and historical artifacts she has encountered in her travels around the world. Her signature quatrefoil clasp, for instance, was inspired during frequent visits to the medieval chapel, Sainte Chapelle in Paris, as well as by pre-Roman architecture she studied in Italy. Many of her designs are interpretations of architectural motifs and also of vintage pieces found in her expeditions.

Though Ashley could have turned to her parents to help get ASHA off the ground, she proudly reports, “I have been profitable and have never needed major funding, though my parents have been amazing advisers. My dad has a keen business mind, and my mom has had a long career in branding and marketing.”

Ashley’s parents, William and Mayling McCormick, have been on the Greenwich scene for years (Mayling chaired the 2007 Greenwich Historical Society’s Antiquarius and the 2006 Sacred Heart Fashion Show; the family’s formidable French–Georgian manor has been on the Greenwich House Tour and appears in the pages of the 2007 Rizzoli book Classic Greenwich Style.)

With a silver-spoon pedigree and a host of A-list connections, Ashley has found Greenwich to be a serendipitous launching pad for her career. She recalls, “I had early supporters, from Leslie Razook taking my mother and me to see the Paris collections, to Randy at Betteridge Jewelers sharing inspiration and contacts, to Saks Fifth Avenue in Greenwich being bold enough to give a twenty-two-year-old case space, and countless kind and extremely smart people behind the scenes.”

The ASHA customer, like Ashley herself, is a global sophisticate — refined, fashionable and artistic. Explains Ashley, “She is fashion-forward and has a good eye for classic design.” To wit, her jewelry has been favored by a number of jet-set personalities, including Paris Hilton, Adriana Lima, Christie Brinkley and Carolyn Murphy. But models and celebutants aren’t her only boldface fans. Ashley recalls, “One of my most exciting moments was having Paul McCartney buy a necklace from me personally on a family vacation in the Turks and Caicos.”

Clearly Ashley has capitalized on the fact that she runs with the young and fabulous, focusing her business in key luxury markets such as Greenwich, New York City, the Hamptons, Palm Beach, St. Barths and Los Angeles. The strategy has snowballed, as her pieces are frequently photographed on a particularly well-heeled crowd in all the hippest places. In turn, this exposure has helped ASHA gain a loyal customer base and garner even more press in publications such as Harper’s Bazaar, Town & Country, In Style, Elle and Lucky.

When it comes to growing the business, Ashley has set her sights on building a luxury accessories brand featuring beautiful, well-made pieces that are both timeless and affordable. This spring, she kicks off that effort by introducing jeweled clutches as a new category in her line.

While the idea of running a jewelry design company, hosting events across the country and outfitting the young and fabulous seems glamorous, Ashley looks at it from a more humble perspective. She says, “I am grateful that I can do what I love and make a living while I am at it!”

To see ASHA by ADM designs locally, stop by Saks Fifth Avenue in Greenwich, or visit ashabyadm.com.

Nikki Bates splits her time between two worlds. On the one hand, she is an in-demand jewelry designer with a contemporary following. On the other, she is a fine artist who spends her weekdays plying the ancient art of goldsmithing out of her Westport home and her weekends selling her pieces at well-established craft shows.

Nikki’s route to becoming a successful jewelry designer was not a straight path. After earning a bachelor’s degree in government/sociology from Skidmore College, she attended Columbia University, earning a master’s of science in clinical social work. In 2001 the pretty, brown-eyed, bobbed brunette married her college sweetheart Mark Bates and in 2002 moved to Westport.

Prior to starting her business, Nikki worked as a clinical therapist with people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction and turned to classes at the 92nd Street Y and the School of Visual Arts for an important creative outlet. Over the years, she has continued studying jewelry and gemology at the renowned Jewelry Arts Institute, Gemological Institute of America, the Silvermine Guild Arts Center, the New Approach School for Jewelers and the Westchester Art Workshop.

Nikki has taken much of her inspiration from her travels. She cites her honeymoon to Venice as a particularly formative experience. She says, “Walking along the canals and stepping inside the Basilica of San Marco, I became mesmerized by the famous Pala d’Oro — the gilded altar screens — created by master craftsmen and adorned with over 1,900 precious gemstones and hundreds of enamels. It marks an incredible artistic accomplishment, as the mosaics were painstakingly inlaid with gold, emeralds, rubies and other valuable stones.” A classically trained jewelry artist, Nikki still employs ancient goldsmithing techniques to create her pieces, which typically feature brightly colored gemstones inspired by Mother Nature and sourced from international mines.

“I purchase pure 24K gold granules and add copper and fine silver to form my own 22K alloy. I melt the gold with my torch and, once it’s cooled, I take it through a rolling mill to form sheet and wire. This is a careful, laborious, time-consuming process — a true labor of love. Once my basic materials are formed, I begin to fabricate them into pendants, rings, bracelets and more. The piece is finished once the edges are sanded smooth and stones are set and polished.”

Six years ago, at the urging of her sister Lisa, Nikki took a blind leap of faith, bought a few hundred dollars’ worth of beads and began making jewelry. Lisa invited friends to a jewelry party at which Nikki says, “I happily recouped my money.” From there, her mother suggested she apply to local craft shows and even approach the buyer at Saks Fifth Avenue in Greenwich. She recalls, “My mother’s belief in me gave me the courage to approach Saks. Lacking any true business experience, I thought the manager would quickly turn me down. Instead, she liked my work, took a risk and signed me up for a trunk show.”

The enterprise remains a family affair. Says Nikki, “My mother is incredibly talented, enthusiastic, creative and my best promoter. Both she and my mother-in-law Betty have been to almost every show with me.” Together they work as a team setting up the booth at craft shows, selling at Saks and working with customers. “Most important,” adds Nikki, “we have a ball laughing at our own expense. Having two women who I respect, love and trust is invaluable to my work.”

Nikki’s fine jewelry continues to hold its own among top couture designers, giving Nikki the confidence to branch out into new artistic directions. She says, “My plan for next year is to deepen my skills as a jewelry artist and to exhibit at premiere juried art and craft shows.”

Though it seems that jewelry making is the “in” pastime of the moment, Nikki is not a dabbler who is simply out to make a quick buck. She says, “The person who admires my work appreciates my craftsmanship, attention to detail, rich-colored 22K gold, vibrant stones and personal care that goes into fabricating every design. A piece of myself goes into my creations, and more than anything, I think this is what sets me apart.”

For Nikki, what started as a lark has become a true passion. She says, “My friends, family and customers are wonderfully supportive. They know I take my business very seriously. More often than not, weeks before a show, I’m up all hours of the night finishing a piece. A tremendous amount of time, energy and money goes into my work. So much so, that at times it’s hard for me to part with a piece that I’ve painstakingly worked on for weeks. That said, once someone finds a piece of my jewelry that speaks to her personally, it’s very gratifying.”

To view Nikki’s work or to see her upcoming show schedule, visit nikkibates.com or go to Saks Fifth Avenue in Greenwich.

Abigail deG. Fox is the designer and founder of Abigail deG. Fox Designs, a jewelry design collection that is sold via private sales, at local retailers, at the New York-based department store Takashimaya, in her brand-new store in Old Greenwich and over the Internet.

After obtaining her degree at the University of Colorado, Abigail moved to New York and was hired by Ralph Lauren in 2002. During these three years working in advertising and visual merchandising, she honed her talents for design, creativity and style.

At Ralph Lauren, Abigail learned the importance of producing a quality product and delivering it in handsome packaging. She was so impressed by Ralph Lauren’s consistent, classic branding that she now presents her own pieces in beautiful custom-made gift boxes with distinctive bags that she designed.

Abigail, an outgoing brunette with long chestnut hair, spends her free time hiking with her dog Huck, sailing on her parents’ boat, skeet shooting, skiing, antiquing, reading historical fiction and traveling — in essence, leading a lifestyle that mirrors the image of her brand.

Her jewelry making began as a sideline, something she did for herself and for friends. Soon she hosted a few trunk shows from her mother’s Old Greenwich home and had such positive feedback that she decided to try and turn a hobby into a business. She says, “That was three years ago, and I’ve never looked back or regretted the decision.”

Now a Stamford resident, Abigail explains that after years of practice and experimentation, she is totally self-taught. “Stones have always excited me, and I feel I took to it naturally at an early age.”

From the beginning, she knew that her clientele would want precious and semiprecious stones and would be willing to pay a price for them. She says, “This was my market, and I made what I loved and knew that the women who bought my pieces would be discriminating, fashionable and particular. This has proved to be true, and I look forward to expanding my higher-end business because I see such interest. I’ve been doing custom designs lately, incorporating clients’ stones, adding mine and designing beautiful clasps and closures to enhance a necklace.”

She has developed a devoted following, gleaned from local boutique shows, such as the Junior League’s Enchanted Forest, Antiquarius and the United Way Sole Sisters event, as well as private trunk shows. Many repeat clients have joined the mailing list on the company’s revamped website, and others will surely be knocking on the door of her newly opened store.

This energetic dynamo even makes house calls. “I have visited peoples’ homes who wanted to match pieces to their different outfits.”

Another big part of her business is weddings. “I’m at a point in my life,” she says, laughing, “that I am going to lots of weddings. I send special pieces all over the country. I’ve done beautiful necklaces and earrings for brides, mothers of the bride, mothers of the groom, bridesmaids. This is a very big part of my business. Brides come to my store with their wedding gowns; their moms ask my advice to accessorize outfits for the rehearsal dinner; flower girls wear their first jewelry. It’s fun for everyone.”

Taking inspiration from the beauty that surrounds her — nature, a lovely room, great fabrics — Abigail explains, “I buy stones that I love in varied colors and styles and sizes. They hang on the wall in my studio, and I just grab a variety and experiment with colors, textures and placement.

I rarely plan a design on paper before I make it. It’s important to me to have all the raw material in front of me; it just flows. I love the variety, the imperfections, the sparkle or the opaqueness. I end up with a unique, one-of-a-kind necklace, bracelet or earrings, which my clients appreciate. Often they participate in the process, choosing the stones and style that suit them best.”

Abigail, who does not have a business background, is learning on the fly, reading business books and networking with entrepreneur friends she meets at shows. She says, “I have found that everyone is so helpful and willing to share what they know. Maybe because I started when
I was only twenty-five with just a dream and a willingness to work hard, people seem to want to help me. And I appreciate it and have learned so much in a short time.”

At its core, Abigail deG. Fox Designs is a one-woman show, although Abigail leans on her parents David and Patricia Fox to keep things running smoothly. She says, “My mother helps with the day-to-day, nitty-gritty tasks, such as mailings and deliveries, and she often accompanies me on buying trips. She has a classic, sophisticated personal style, looks great in my jewelry, and we make a good team at trunk shows. My father is my business consultant and mentor. They are my public relations team.”

One of her proudest achievements is her new store. “It is,” she says “a dream come true to open a store in the town where I grew up. It has a fun and welcoming ambience. In the front, I display my pieces in unique ways. My bloodhound Huckleberry snoozes by my side and keeps me company while I work!”

With so many balls in the air, Abigail still has time to think about growing the business, particularly the wholesale side. She says, “I am very selective about who I want to represent me. Right now I am sold at Saturnia in Greenwich, Dovecote in Westport, the Drawing Room in Cos Cob and Takashimaya in New York. I am also featured in Vail’s Golden Bear store, website and catalog.” Naturally, she has plans to expand her fine jewelry line and to grow her client base via the Internet — this is a girl who is clearly making her dreams come true.

To view Abigail’s work, visit her store, Abigail deG. Fox, 187 Sound Beach Ave., Old Greenwich, local retailers, Takashimaya in New York City or go to foxyladydesigns.com.