You don’t need an introduction to Pamela Love. The New York City-based jewelry designer has been a household name to anyone following fashion for nearly a decade, racking up countless magazine credits, stockists, collaborations, and awards. The brand’s blend of on-the-nose aesthetics, careful material sourcing, and made in America production quality has proved to be the perfect storm for continued success in the rocky retail climate that’s emerged since Love began tinkering with jewelry making back in 2007. We spoke with the established-indie designer on dealing with copycats, price point backlash, design integrity, and more. Read on for more on the balance of art and commerce with Pamela Love.
CONGRATS ON TEN YEARS IN BUSINESS — THAT’S PRETTY REMARKABLE. Thank you! I kind of feel like it’s a cheat to say ten years because the first two years I was experimenting; I sort of sold stuff, but not really. It’s always funny to say we’re ten years old and we started the company in 2007 because I think from 2007 to 2009 was just me fucking around and I think I sold to one store. I don’t know if we’re allowed to count those first two years as, like, “doing business,” as much as it was like, “Pam playing around.”
WHAT WAS THE MOMENT WHEN IT FELT LIKE “OFFICIALLY” A BUSINESS? It got to a point where I had to get an office space, and I had to quit my day job because I didn’t have time to juggle both. It was a great feeling, but also really sad, because I loved my other job. But I couldn’t juggle everything, so I had to pick.
It was a great feeling to be creating something that was supporting me and other people, I was able to hire some jewelers. It was a great feeling to be able to see that I was able to support jobs here [in the US] and myself. As soon as I was old enough to work, I was working. So it was really nice to be able to be a business owner.
AND NOW YOU’RE DOING YOUR FIRST STORE, WITH THE CFDA RETAIL LAB. Yes, we have a temporary retail space through the end of September. We’ve done little shop-in-shops, but this is the first time I’ve gotten to curate a space and, for the most part, get to represent the brand the way I would if I had my own store.
IF THE PERFECT STORE SPACE PRESENTED ITSELF AND YOU COULD DROP IT INTO ANY NEW YORK CITY NEIGHBORHOOD, WHERE WOULD YOU OPEN? Probably on the Bowery. I’ve been obsessed with this one building forever — it’s right across the street from the Bowery Hotel — that’s housed a variety of brands over the years, and I’ve had this dream that I would one day occupy this space on the Bowery. I don’t know if that will happen or not — it seems to be occupied currently.
WHAT DRAWS YOU TO THAT SPACE? I love that neighborhood, I love the architecture of that building, the interiors are really great, there’s a lot to work with. I just always found it to be a really magical spot.
I CAN’T IMAGINE THIS IS THE FIRST OFFER THAT’S COME FOR YOU TO DO A STORE. WHY DID THE CFDA OPPORTUNITY FEEL RIGHT? We love the CFDA. They’re so supportive and they make projects like this available to brands who may not be able to front [the money]. Their programs allow us to experience things we wouldn’t otherwise get to experience. I’ve always wanted to open a store, but I never thought it made sense for us, financially, to do that right now.
THE CFDA HAS BEEN REALLY GOOD TO YOU. I love the CFDA.
HOW DID YOU GET HOOKED UP WITH THEM TO BEGIN WITH? We applied for the Vogue Fashion Fund many years ago, and we didn’t get in. And we applied again the next year, and I was finalist, and then a runner up. After that, we applied to be a CFDA member, and since then my brand has won the Swarovski accessories design and the CFDA Award for accessories design. That was something we were nominated for three times, and in the third year we won. I think it’s actually kind of cooler, because I got to go through it three times, which puts attention on your brand for three years. I was so excited to win the third time instead or the first time — or at least that’s what I told my team.
WHAT DO YOU IMAGINE YOUR GROWTH WOULD HAVE LOOKED LIKE WITHOUT THE SUPPORT OF THE CFDA? I don’t think we’d be here without Vogue, without the CFDA. I think I would have given up at a much earlier time. The access to mentors and people who can help grow and guide you was so integral to the growth of my business.
There are so many factors that go into whether or not your brand is successful, so I don’t think the CFDA is a silver bullet, but I do think it is an integral ingredient and wonderful support structure for finding success.
IN YOUR EARLY DAYS, YOU WERE KNOWN FOR A CERTAIN AESTHETIC: THE TALONS, THE DAGGERS. WHAT’S YOUR RELATIONSHIP LIKE NOW WITH THOSE PIECES? It’s a funny thing that happens when you start a company at 25, 26 and then you grow up. I was a single girl living in Greenpoint, wearing cut-off denim shorts and combat boots, started getting tattoos, I thought I was so cool, I smoked cigarettes, and the [brand] aesthetic was very much that. And at some point it started to transition to be more bohemian, but at some point you grow up and you want to make things that you identify with, that you would wear every day and not just things that you know will sell whether or not they appeal to you any more. That’s been an interesting transition for us. Some of the pieces won’t really die, for lack of a better word, and at a certain point you say, “This isn’t who we are any more, so I don’t offer this.”
And we’re changing again. Next season [spring 2018] is going to be very interesting, because we’re sort of going to be closer to going back to home but with a very different point of view. It’s going back to the origins of the brand but with more of a sense of humor and not taking itself so seriously.
Those transitions can be hard because people do think of you as one thing, and it’s hard for them to think of you as something else. There are definitely some mistakes I’ve made, from a design perspective, or designing on the requests of a retailer versus going with your gut. It’s a learning process. You’re not going to do everything right every time.
WHAT IS THAT LIKE WITH RETAILERS, WHEN THEY HAVE ASKED YOU TO REPRODUCE SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE INTO ANYMORE, BUT THAT YOU KNOW WILL MAKE YOU MONEY? I definitely have made mistakes making things I didn’t stand behind because it satisfies something the retailer needed, but I’ve learned that’s not the way to do it. If you wouldn’t wear it, if you don’t stand behind it, it doesn’t matter if it sells well or not because ultimately it’s not going to communicate your brand properly, and it’s going to detract from your brand’s strengths. So I decided I’m only going to make things I want to wear, and if that works, great, and if it doesn’t work for a retailer, unfortunately that’s it.
I’ve been doing this a long time, and it’s a learning process. Right now, we’re in the process of learning what it’s like to listen to ourselves 100% and follow my gut and the gut of my team, and see what happens.
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED OVER TIME ABOUT PRICE POINTS? It’s still kind of a mystery to me. It’s harder now because there’s always a cheaper alternative to what you’re doing, and that can be challenging, because people are always looking for something more affordable, but at the end of the day you have to stand by your quality and your manufacturing, and if it’s more expensive than someone else, and someone else is able to do it cheaper, there’s really nothing you an do to control that. We just try to stand behind our work and how much it costs.
It does get to me some times when people complain the product is too expensive. That’s always hard, because you want everyone to be able to afford your stuff, especially people who love it, but at the same time we don’t want to compromise quality.
I posted a picture of a ring on Instagram yesterday, and somebody commented, “I loved this, until I saw that it was $2,400,” and it was a piece of fine jewelry. I didn’t want to respond or say anything, there’s nothing to do. That person doesn’t understand how much something like that costs and that’s the end of it.
I love how democratic it is to work in sterling or brass, because of how many people you can reach with it. But I also love creating one-of-a-kind things with some of the best materials in the world, and that, unfortunately, is not so democratic and affordable.
HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH COPYCATS? DO YOU REMEMBER THE FIRST ONE? Yeah. I remember the first time. It hurt so much. It was some random brand in Europe. It was a girl with a blog who also made jewelry, and she knocked off the talon cuff, which was our best seller at the time. I was so upset, and I tried to reach out and contact her and ask her to stop. Apparently that’s a big no-no — you don’t contact them. But I thought if I could explain how important it was to my business and to my livelihood that maybe she would stop. But she didn’t. And then there were a lot of copies after, and ultimately what you realize is you just have to keep doing what you do. If you get tired of a piece, you move on from it, if you love a piece and you’re not ready to move on from it and it gets copied, you still make it as well as you can, and nobody can really take that integrity from you. If a high street retailer copies you, [their product] isn’t going to have that integrity or that craftsmanship, and a customer who cares about that isn’t going to buy it from them, they’re going to buy it from you. A customer who doesn’t care about that is probably going to go to the high street retailer anyway, and they weren’t your customer in the first place.
WHAT’S YOUR ATTITUDE TOWARDS CELEBRITY FANS OF THE BRAND AND INFLUENCERS? It’s always very, very flattering when anyone you admire wears your product, but I never want to make [celebrities] too much of what we’re about. We’re more about every girl. We’re excited about girls from every walk of life doing cool, awesome stuff and trying to change the world. And whomever they are — a celebrity or your neighbor who works at Greenpeace — for me, it’s about righteous women who are doing awesome stuff. I want to support them and I want them to support me back. If those women are celebrities, that’s awesome, but I wouldn’t share that more than someone else I look up to who is maybe in another field.
By Nicola Fumo
All photography by Chloé Horseman