IT'S a steamy September night in the Meatpacking District, and Waris Ahluwalia leans against the counter at the crowded-to-capacity Earnest Sewn denim store, casually chatting with the Oscar-winning screenwriter Stephen Gaghan. Ahluwalia is one of the newest additions to Wes Anderson's curio cabinet of characters. Following a small role as a crew member of the Belafonte in "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou," he has been cast as the chief steward aboard "The Darjeeling Limited."
Thin and regal, with a full beard, jet-black turban and wide smile, the 32-year-old Ahluwalia is the kind of quirky overachiever Anderson would create, a Manhattan mover and shaker, a world traveler, accidental actor, muse and designer of astronomically priced jewelry for men and women that sells in some of the planet's most exclusive boutiques (www.houseof waris.com).
Tonight, dressed in a pair of faded blue jeans, a white T-shirt and navy blazer and crisp white sneakers, he's playing the role of socialite, though he admits he doesn't like to use the S-word. Still, he's entitled. He's just returned from the "Darjeeling" screening at the Venice International Film Festival, and the following night he will be cohost of a fundraiser with the likes of Paul Haggis, Penélope Cruz and Martin Sheen. For now, though, he's about to head out the door with his girlfriend, filmmaker Chiara Clemente, to catch a Blondie show.
Tomorrow's itinerary will also include dropping by the Bergdorf Goodman jewelry counter, where his handcrafted House of Waris rings, pendants and earrings are fetching up to $66,000.
Ahluwalia has no formal training in jewelry making, yet he has managed to quickly succeed where other designers have struggled for years. Ask him to describe his technique and he will tell you that he simply sketches the pieces that he wants and delivers the specs to teams of artisans in Rome and India who translate his vision into reality.
The work has a certain delicate garishness. A tapered crystal pendant, the size of a baby carrot, is wound with an 18-karat-gold wire holding a handful of tiny emeralds and hangs on a miniature chain of hand-hammered gold links. It is $7,500. Another pendant features a trio of tiny rubies surrounded by a slender round of ebony, all of which hang by gold chains. That would be $3,800. Blingiest of all, a nearly golf-ball-sized crystal encased in a network of fine gold wire supporting a constellation of rubies is $12,500.
To hear Ahluwalia tell it, what's selling -- or who's buying -- takes a back seat to the very idea that his creations sit in high-end boutiques such as Loveless in Tokyo, Maxfield in West Hollywood (which placed the first order), Colette in Paris and the Dover Street Market in London.
"It's surreal," he says. "I was at the Venice Film Festival and this woman came up to me and was wearing a pair of my earrings and I was, like, 'How in the world could you afford those?' "
Born in Punjab, India, Ahluwalia immigrated at the age of 5 with his parents to the United States, where mom became a teacher and dad opened women's apparel shops. He grew up in New York, and was already jacked in to the city's social scene when mutual friends introduced him to Anderson at a peace rally at the United Nations in 2003.
"It was late January or February, and we just hit it off," Ahluwalia recalls. By April, the director had offered him a role in "The Life Aquatic" and by September he was headed to Italy for the shoot.
Although he'd already sold a few pieces to Maxfield, he didn't focus on the jewelry business in earnest until after that film wrapped. By then, he had picked up a few things from Anderson.
"One of the things I learned from Wes was that unless he can do things his way, he doesn't want to do them. That's a valuable lesson."
Ahluwalia believes that having his jewelry handmade in Rome and India gives the pieces a soul they would otherwise lack. "It's Old World, and it's romance," he says. "I need to be the first one romanced in the process."
Sharp-eyed viewers may be able to spot some of Ahluwalia's handiwork on the big screen. His character wears a silver elephant pin on his tunic throughout the movie. A version is being sold online (at yoox.com, $75) to benefit a London-based charity called Elephant Family, which helps protect the endangered Asian elephant.
Next on the docket? "A friend of mine is doing a vampire movie called 'Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Undead,' and he's asked me to be in it, so we'll see."
Can a House of Waris silver bullet on a chain be far behind?
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Movies that made the man
Much has been ballyhooed about film's influence on women's fashion. But menswear too has benefited from a few good men with signature style.
'50s: Marlon Brando, in motorcycle leathers, epitomized the biker lifestyle in "The Wild One."
'70s: "Shaft's" Richard Roundtree, cool in a three-quarter-length black leather jacket.
'70s: John Travolta popularized the disco suit in "Saturday Night Fever."
EARLY '80s: Giorgio Armani was in, thanks to Richard Gere and "American Gigolo."
MID '80s: Tom Cruise ushered in bomber jackets and mirrored aviators in "Top Gun."