On the Red Carpet: Stars, Diamonds and Style
New York Times, May 17, 2017
When Charlize Theron wore a mismatched pair of mega-diamond earrings to the Academy Awards in February, social media went into overdrive. Echoing the recent tide of populist sentiment, some asked whether it was appropriate for the actress to be wearing stones that big (including a 26-carat heart-shaped diamond and a 25-carat pear shape, both from Chopard) and, obviously, that costly.
When four jewelers with more than 60 years of collective red carpet experience gathered in late April at the headquarters of The New York Times, I asked them that same question, and some others.
Greg Kwiat became chief executive of Fred Leighton in 2009, when his family’s diamond design company acquired the vintage specialist — a red carpet presence since the mid-1990s.
Colby Shergalis is vice president for marketing and communications at Forevermark US, a relative newcomer to celebrity jewels. The sustainably sourced loose-diamond business, owned by De Beers, was established in 2008. It made its red carpet debut that same year, when Nicole Kidman wore a L’Wren Scott-designed diamond sautoir necklace with 1,399 carats of Forevermark diamonds to the Oscars.
Monique Péan, an independent designer based in New York, has achieved a strong following in Hollywood, where her prehistoric-chic designs featuring materials like dinosaur bone, conflict-free gems and recycled metals resonate with ethically minded celebrities. Michelle Obama, Natalie Portman and the “La La Land” director, Damien Chazelle (who asked Ms. Péan to create the ethereal diamond jewels worn by Emma Stone’s character in his Oscar-winning film), all have championed her work.
And Martin Katz is a Hollywood veteran, having established his Beverly Hills-based company in 1988.
The conversation touched on subjects including the value of red carpet loans and memorable moments. Mr. Katz was something of an agent provocateur, often leading the group back to the touchy yet unavoidable topic of paid appearances.
“It’s cold today,” he said. “Most of the celebrities don’t even know who they’re wearing.”
Let’s start with the 2017 season. Greg, you scored a coup when the “Loving” star Ruth Negga wore Fred Leighton at the Golden Globes: a gold bracelet designed to look like a shirt sleeve buttoned by a 25-carat Gemfields ruby.
GREG KWIAT: Gemfields approached us and asked us if we might be willing to design something for Ruth, working with her stylist, Karla Welch. We thought it was an interesting opportunity to work with rubies.
Halle Berry, Janelle Monáe and Octavia Spencer all wore Forevermark diamonds to the Oscars. Can you quantify the impact of those placements?
COLBY SHERGALIS: It’s hard to quantify exact metrics. We do look for spikes in search, visits to our website and social media coverage. But there’s also a tremendous opportunity to build aspiration for the brand with these high-profile celebrities.
Monique, you’ve had an especially exciting year. Beyond working with “La La Land,” the “Moonlight” star Mahershala Ali wore cuff links you designed for the United Nations Women HeForShe initiative to the Academy Awards.
MONIQUE PÉAN: HeForShe is a really important campaign supporting gender equality, so it was amazing to have such a prominent actor in my pieces, championing such an important cause. And I got to attend the Oscars.
MARTIN KATZ: Listening to her brings back old memories. I never thought I’d call myself this, but I think I’m the old dog here. I’ve been on the red carpet for over 25 years, longer than anybody except perhaps [Harry] Winston.
You first lent jewelry to Sharon Stone for the 1991 premiere of “Basic Instinct.” But you were initially reluctant. Why?
MR. KATZ: I was a budding private jeweler just moving into my own designs. I showed her a few items. The next day I get a call saying Sharon wants to wear the collar and the bracelet that you showed her. I said: “Whoa, whoa. I thought she wanted to buy these things.” I wasn’t interested in loaning them. She’ll look great, but I’ll take the risk if she loses or breaks something.
But you gave in when Ms. Stone agreed to credit you in the printed press she did to promote the movie.
MR. KATZ: It turned out to be the biggest movie in the world. My name was everywhere. For the next five, six years, I monopolized the red carpet. Once the stylists got involved, they wanted to control things. That’s how things started to spin out.
MR. KWIAT: Martin hits on a really important point: The most exciting times on the red carpet are when there’s a really authentic, creative moment. The first meaningful moment Fred Leighton had on the red carpet was when Miuccia Prada called and asked to borrow an opal choker for Nicole Kidman in 1996. It was the first time Nicole had walked as a budding style icon, and the attention that came with that placement made it clear how exciting and important this could be for building the name and the brand.
MR. KATZ: It was a heartfelt collaboration. This wasn’t a stylist with their hand out, a celebrity asking for a paid endorsement. This was real. That’s what’s missing from the red carpet today. I remember the year “Million Dollar Baby” was nominated . That was the first time I realized people were paying celebrities. I was at a party at the Beverly Hills Hotel, pre-Oscars, and a gentleman who was running Asprey at the time said to me, “So who are you paying this year to wear your jewelry to the Oscars?” And I laughed. I thought it was a big joke, and then I realized he was completely serious.