Stretch bracelets from the lia sophia Red Carpet Collection. (lia sophia )
Celebrities headed for the Golden Globes or Oscars may drape themselves in "loaner" diamonds from Harry Winston or Cartier, but less formal occasions call for a different kind of jewelry — perhaps even costume jewelry.
The choices seem endless, but a line called lia sophia has made an impression in Hollywood (Jennifer Aniston and Gwen Stefani are among those who have been photographed wearing pieces from the collection). What's surprising is that the pieces can't be purchased from celebrity spots such as Kitson, Fred Segal or Barneys New York. The acquisition of lia sophia has more to do with a display on someone's dining room table than the counter of a high-end store.
Lia sophia was started in 1986, a jewelry division of what was then personal-care product empire Lady Remington, the company that famously hawked items such as women's electric shavers and men's moustache trimmers. When Lady Remington owner Victor Kiam died in 2001, his son, Tory, took the reigns of the jewelry business, revamping the brand's image and relaunching in 2004 with a new name (his daughters are named Lia and Sophia) and a more modern feel. Tory Kiam and his wife, Elena, run the Chicago-based company (its lis sophia collection includes more than 200 piece) as a direct-sales operation that aims to appeal to Hollywood as much as America's heartland.
The company issues two catalogs each year with price tags that range from $20 to more than $100. The Kiams also created a separate, higher-priced line called the Red Carpet Collection, which includes the more fashion-forward and expensive pieces often worn by celebrities and a younger generation of women whose mothers may have bought Mary Kay cosmetics in the same way their daughters buy these trendy jewels.
The Red Carpet Collection, with items priced from $125 to $1,000, is designed by Dani Stahl, style director for Nylon magazine, a publication devoted to street fashion. Although the items vary each season, they generally have a Cleopatra-meets-'80s-hip-hop aesthetic. The company showcases the Red Carpet Collection at celebrity-heavy events such as the Sundance Film Festival and parties in West Hollywood or Malibu, where celebrities such as the Kardashians and Cameron Diaz are invited to accept gifts of items from the more fashion-forward line. The hope is that they will wear the pieces on red carpets or shopping and get photographed, and that those photos will appear in magazines that will list the source of the jewelry.
"It's been fantastic marketing support to have the red carpet halo," says creative director Elena Kiam. "We live in a celebrity-obsessed world, and it's very powerful for advisors to say, 'Oprah wore these.' Having that third-party credibility has been incredibly helpful to our advisors."
The "advisors" are the people who staff the multi-level marketing business, which, Tory Kiam is quick to say, is "multi-level, not a pyramid." Advisors make money from their individual sales as well as commission on items sold by recruits. There are 30,000 lia sophia advisors, most of them female, in the United States and Canada who sell jewelry at "shows," typically held in a home. (The top-earning lia sophia adviserearned nearly $4,000,000 last year, according to the company.)
Becoming an advisor requires an upfront $149 fee for a starter kit with a few items of jewelry, order forms and catalogs. To expand her business, an advisor has to pay more for additional jewelry, catalogs and supplies.
The Internet is full of testimonials about the earning power of advisors and more than a few complaints about alleged late orders or defective merchandise. But the complaints haven't stopped the power of celebrity; a CNBC report said the company makes "hundreds of millions of dollars." And when Oprah Winfrey wore a pair of the gold Coliseum hoop earrings on the August cover of O magazine, the hoops instantly became bestsellers — more evidence that the power of celebrity continues its romp through the marketplace.