Interview with celebrity jeweler Layna Friedman on how the Red Carpet process works

Have you ever wondered how celebrities get those gorgeous jewels to wear on the Red Carpet?   How does this work? Do celebrities borrow the jewelry, buy it or is it given as a gift with a publicity ROI in mind?  Well, jeweler to the stars and owner Beverly Hills and online shop Alan Diamonds, Layna Friedman knows the ins and outs of this and shares her knowledge with us.

Layna came from a huge Irish Italian family in pennsylvania where she was the sixth of 10 kids.  She always has a penchant for design, but when she first moved to Los Angeles, she was producing large scale events.  Her life changed in many ways when she met future husband and creative partner, Alan Friedman who himself was a third generation jeweler.

The pair of them were a powerful team in the jewelry world that even extends beyond the grave. Sadly, Layna was widowed when Alan passed away about 18 months ago. However, they still go on as being en trend with jewelry and they were among the first to use colored diamonds.

It is always a good thing to speak with someone who loves what they do, and Layna Friedman really does and it shows.  You can see why people keep coming back to her time and time again.

She spoke candidly with about her experience, what brings her the most joy about her line of work, how her work gets on the Red Carpet, some stories about celebrity clients, advice to would-be jewelers, current jewelry trends, and more.  Hi, Layna. Nice to meet you.

Layna Friedman:  Hi, nice to meet you too. And I love your site. It's really fun. I love it. My 22-year-old daughter loves it [laughter].

TCC:  I think it's fantastic. The writers and the editors are fantastic too. It's a great place to work.

LF:  And my daughter loved that you featured the Joe Jonas [laughter]. She was at an event with me, because she goes to a lot of the fun events. And she met his brother, and got some cute pictures. It was at a Best Buddy event. Because I ride on her theme every year for Best Buddies. And so, she thought it was just so fun to see him in his Guess underwear [laughter].

TCC:  Well, I'll definitely pass that on.

LF:  Are you in New York, or are you in L.A.?

TCC:  I am typically in New York, but I'm actually in California for one more week.

LF:  Oh, fun.

TCC:  So, where are you from?

LF:  I grew up in a small town in Williamsport, Pennsylvania where they have the World Series little league and it was just a fun place to grow up in the snow and all the green open fields and it was just a great place growing up. One of ten. Big Italian Irish family. One of ten kids.

TCC:  You're one of ten kids?

LF:  Yes, I'm number six. Six girls and four boys.

TCC:  Well, please tell me a little bit about yourself before we go into the jewelry.

LF:  Well, I always loved designing jewelry when I was young even though I was quite the tomboy. But it was kind of a fun combo of all the girly things and then swimming in the rivers and hanging off ropes and swinging off under the bridge with all the boys and skiing and all of that fun stuff. So I came out to L.A. and I was producing celebrity sporting events internationally with the royal family in Monaco and Frank Sinatra. I produced a big event in New York called the Great Chefs of New York. We did like a four day event of food and shopping and chefs and just golf. I met my husband and we he did the first fashion show with all of the jewelry. He was third generation jeweler. So we started the business together, and we had a big fashion show for Barbara Sinatra in the desert and became kind of a permanent fixture in Beverly Hills. So we've been here for the past 23 years. My husband passed away a year and a half ago.

TCC:  Oh, I'm sorry for your loss.

LF:  Oh, thank you, but I'm carrying on. I love this business. I love my clients. I'm doing a lot of engagements. As a matter of fact, I just finished with a couple that we were just designing the engagement ring and wedding band and his band. And I just love working with clients. It's just all about romance and love and all just happy stuff: new babies, anniversaries. So it's just been such a joy to continue the business. And I also specialize in vintage collectible watches, just the most incredible watches, and a lot of custom designs. I just got excited about this because I really love this is enough.

TCC:  How does one become a jewelry designer?

LF:  Since I was a little girl, I always loved designing. I love business but I have such a creative streak and I love designing and I loved working with different materials and colors. It was already something that I was doing kind of on the side while I was doing events. When I met my husband, when I met Alan at the time, it was just like this perfect synergy that we just kind of came together. He was such an incredible designer himself and just such knowledge of the jewelry business and of diamonds. We brought diamonds to the forefront in the early 90s when nobody was even looking at pinks or colored diamonds. We just went into the pink diamonds in a very big way. We started with your traditional engagement rings. People would come in, get engaged, and we always were adding pink diamonds to it, always adding colors. It just really, really took off and become such a phenomenon. It's funny how how the colors now they've become so rare, the pinks and the blues and the yellows, but especially pinks. So rare. And a lot of the award shows everybody's always trying to get some color in their jewelry.

TCC:  Now, when you design a piece does it start with an idea or with the stone?

LF:  It always starts with an idea. For example, I'll have someone come in - it can be an engagement, or it can be for a custom piece. I had someone come in around the holidays, and he wanted to do something very unique and very special for his wife, and we sat down and I size up what their passions are and what he's looking for. And if I know her, I can size up through her passion and her style, and if I don't I get a lot of feedback from-- in this case, I got a lot of feedback from her husband what she loves to do and I had him show me a picture. So we came up with some ideas of the type of golds and the cuts we wanted on her piece and we-- I'm sorry, they're just shutting my door because a couple more customers have come in. It's been so busy here. The store has just been crazy busy. People getting ready for some of the upcoming shows and also just a lot of engagements.

TCC:  Sounds great.

LF:  I know. I love it. That's the best. The engagements are just the absolute best. So we come up with this design, an idea. Then what I'll do is kind of draw out some different designs. Then I do a CAD design on the computer that shows more of the sensibility and the durability of it and the actual design on the computer. Then I show my clients that. Then I often will have my setters make a mold. A wax mold that they can try on or just kind of see the shape. Or if it's a design that-- for example I made a yellow diamond cross the other day. I actually set each marquee diamond in the wax and then showed them a picture of that as it sat in the wax. Then what we'll do is I typically will sit and show them. If it's a very special piece, I'll show them all of the diamonds before it actually goes into the piece. I really try to encourage as much time spent with them for them to really enjoy the process of the design. I know a lot of jewelers will just say, "Okay, great." And they make it. And it is more time on my part, but I love walking my clients through it, because at the end of the day, they feel like they were part of it, and it's such an emotional whole experience for them, especially the guys. And then, they can share what they did with their girlfriend or wife. And it's just so special. Really sweet and really special.

TCC:  What is the process of getting one of your pieces to a star for a red carpet event?

LF:  Getting ready would often-- a stylist will come in, or I'll go visit the celebrity at their home. And I'll bring them some pieces after I see the dress they're wearing, or they'll give me an idea before they buy their dress. Often, I'll give them jewelry to look at, and then they get inspired what type of dress they want. And often, they'll just be thrilled with the exact pieces I show them. And once in awhile, we may customize something, especially if it's one of my special clients that I really, really adore then we'll customize something. And I also dress a lot of the producers' wives and the gentlemen going with gorgeous, vintage watches, or diamond stick pins, and just some very cool pieces, as well, not only for the women but for the guys, as well.

TCC:  Now, do you sell these products to them, or do you gift them, or loan them? How does it work?

LF:  I find so often that-- and it's just been really, really fun. I find so often that I will loan them pieces, and then they end up buying so many of the pieces. Or often, they'll come in and say, "No. We're going to buy something. Okay, loan us something, but we want to buy something, also." So it's a combination, sometimes, of pieces they've purchased and loaner pieces.

TCC:  Now, what was it like to work with your husband? I'm sorry that it's in the past now.

Alan an Layna Friedman

LF:  He was a bundle of energy, so much fun. Everyone loved him. He had the biggest heart. He was a little edgier with his style and my style's a little more of that feminine romantic,so we were just a great combination together. It was always a lot of fun. It was like a big celebration. And all of our clients have become friends. So we're sitting in our store, and it's more like we're entertaining from our home. People come in and hang out with us. I don't care if it's someone from down the street, one of the servers at the restaurants or one of our celebrity clientele. They would just pop in to sit on the little sofa in our showroom and hang out. We're pulling out bubbly water and always have some yummy sweets around. It's more for both of us together. We just felt like we were always entertaining our friends.

TCC:  Did you go to school to be a jewelry designer or did you just do it on your own?

LF:  I didn't go to school until I started the business, and then I over the years took a lot of courses at GIA.

TCC:  What is GIA?

LF:  GIA is the Gemology Institute of America. Because I wanted to get my gemology degree. And your gemology degree, it's far more than just designing - learning all about the diamonds and all of the different stones whether they're sapphires or topaz or tourmalines, and where they're mined, and how they're mined, and the whole history behind them. So, that's a very cool experience. And then, you go through all the diamond grading courses. But I think the design part is just something that you really are kind of born with that gift, that just having that eye, and that creativity, and that love for it too.

TCC:  What advice would you have to someone who wants to become a jewelry designer?

LF:  I would say work with somebody, intern with someone, spend as much time with someone that's in the business, that loves what they do, and then go to the GIA, get your gemology degree. I think because you would have a much better understanding of actually how it's put to use. I know often people say, "Go get your education, and then go work in the field." I would suggest work in the field, give yourself a good solid year or two years in the field, and then go back and get your gemology degree, which will give you a much bigger understanding of the whole history the stones, and where they come from, and the history over the years. And just look at as many stones and as many images of the most beautiful pieces in the world.

TCC:  Now, who are some of the celebrities that you supplied jewelry for?

Courtesy of Alan Diamonds

LF:  It's funny. Some of the current one for shows, it's always kind of a hush-hush, but we've done beautiful earrings for Lady Gaga. We actually replicated the logo on her ear beats. This big gorgeous black and white diamond earrings. We've made pieces for Pierce Brosnan, Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey years ago. Virginia King, beautiful pieces. A lot of our rocker clients. Someone just got a piece for Ringo Starr. Now that his birthday's over, I can tell [laughter]. And Richie Sambora, who's a dear friend and just such a beautiful person. So talented. And a lot of the musicians that tour, Matt Thorne, and the guy from REO Speedwagon. We just have a really diverse group of clients, producers, directors, my incredible neighbors on Canon Drive. I'm right in the heart of Beverly Hills. It's all the most incredible restaurants, and the owners, and the managers, and the servers come in. We have fun with all of them.

TCC:  Now, where is your store located, please? It's on Canon? Is it in Beverly Hills?

LF:  Yeah, the light at 350 N Canon Drive and it's right beside the well-known Caffe Roma.

TCC:  For people not familiar with L.A., is it in Beverly Hills?

LF:  Yeah. It's Beverly Hills. It's right in the center of Beverly Hills. We have all the wonderful restaurants such as the Montage hotel, Spago's restaurant, Caffe Roma. We've got the most incredible restaurants on this street and I just love it. It has such a European flavor. We have people from all over the world passing by our doors and gazing in the windows and coming in the store. I also carry, kind of interestingly, vintage guitars because I have so many musicians. So, I decided to carry some vintage guitars like original Les Pauls and signed guitars from very well-known musicians. It's been a lot of fun.

Alan Diamonds

TCC:  Now, what are some current trends in jewelry?

LF:  I'm seeing a lot now with a lot of color, just really big bright color. And a lot of big, big, big pieces but incorporating a lot of color. A lot of big, big neck pieces and it feels like we're doing more big earrings, like one piece, two piece. And just a lot of big dangle earrings, high neck-- big dangle earrings, big pieces, but a lot of color, too.

TCC:  Now, is your brand involved with any charity work?

LH:  Oh my gosh. We have been involved with so much charity work. Really big with the Midnight Mission. Matter of fact, Carrie Fisher was honored a few years ago. At the same time, my friend, Richie Sambora and his manager were honored. But, the Midnight Mission, which is wonderful. Best Buddies. My heart just overflows with Best Buddies anything I can do with them. And there is a lot of local charities too.  And then I'm really a big fan of Wounded Warriors and the vets. A lot of our customers have their different charities, and I try never to say no to donating to anybody.

TCC:  That probably is a good policy. You get lots of loyal customers.

LF:  Yeah. It's hard to say no [laughter]. Really hard to say no because everyone's so passionate about what they're behind. And then I've also worked a lot over the years with the John Wayne Cancer Institute. They're such a group of passionate people involved with that, and they're all a lot of my neighbors and they're just terrific. They've been very actively involved with that as well. I get requests from donations to making jewelry pieces for them. For example, Saturday night, there's a big event for the Midnight Mission and it's all these top musicians that are going to be performing. So I made music note-- we're going to auction off a guitar and I made music notes in white diamond necklaces for women, and then some really cool rocker jewelry for the guys. So, we're going to include that in the auction with the guitar signed by some of the musicians.

TCC:  Wow. Now, where can people find you if they want to learn more information about you?

LF:  You can go to Alan Diamonds which is A-L-A-N Stop in our store at any time. It's just so warm and cozy. They can call us at our telephone number 310-278-4944. Or, they can email me directly at [email protected] You're welcome to reach out to me directly, too.

TCC:  Oh, great [laughter].

LF:  Thank you I'm always available. I give my cell phone number on my business cards, and let me tell you. When I say I'm available all the time, I definitely get calls all the time [laughter] evenings, early mornings, Sundays. But I love it. I love it because I overall love the clients. It's such a wonderful business and such a happy, positive business.

TCC:  It sounds like it and you sound like a lovely person.

LF:  Thank you. And I can say proudly, I have never helped anyone with an engagement ring that she didn't say yes or the partner didn't say yes [laughter].

TCC: That's a plus.

LF:  That's such a plus. Someone asked me the other day, "Has anyone ever said no?" and I said, "No." That would be horrible to have that experience. And I get-- you know what my favorite thing is? Getting that late-night text, "She said yes. She said yes." I love it. Oh, that's great.

It's the best [laughter]. That's probably the happiest moment for me and that someone shared that with me. It was someone the other day. I made an engagement ring for someone in Florida. They FaceTime'd me on the cell phone, and the whole family's there. And she's crying, and they're sharing it with me. And I can't tell you. It's just overwhelming because I am part of that, and it's so beautiful.

TCC: Well, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with me. I'm looking forward to running this piece. It's going to be great.

LF:  Oh, thank you. Are you kidding? I'm proud to be part of it. I love, love, love your site. It's a lot of fun. If you're ever in LA, stop in and say hi.

TCC:  Will do next time I’m there.

LF:  Oh my gosh, stop in. We'll crack open a bottle of champagne [laughter]. That sounds fun.

Alan Diamonds

Layna Friedman of Alan and Layna Friedman Designs, aka Alan Diamonds may be found here.

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Michelle Tompkins

Michelle Tompkins is an award-winning media, PR and crisis communications professional with more than ten years experience with coverage in virtually every traditional and new media outlet. She is currently a communications and media strategist and writer, as well as the author of College Prowler: Guidebook for Columbia University. She served as the Media Relations Manager for the Girl Scouts of the USA where she managed all media and talking points, created social media strategy, trained executives and donors and served as the organization’s primary spokesperson, participating in daily interviews with local, regional, and national media outlets. She managed the media for the Let Me Know internet safety and Cyberbullying prevention campaign with Microsoft, as well as Girl Scouts’ centennial Year of the Girl To Get Her There celebration in 2012, which yielded more than 800 million earned media impressions. In addition to her extensive media experience, Michelle worked as a talent agent in Los Angeles, California, as well contracting as a digital content developer and her writing has appeared in newspapers and online. She is passionate about television, theater, classic movies, all things food and in-home entertaining. While she has lived and worked in NYC for more than a decade, she is from suburban Sacramento and gets back there often to watch the San Francisco Giants on TV with her family.

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