Talking Shop With Roxanne Assoulin

Growing up, one of my absolute favorite films was Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. You know the one: Gene Wilder in the slick purple blazer, poor little Charlie and his Grandpa Joe, the Oompa Loompas. I would rewind that VHS over and over again as a little girl, infatuated with the colors and sounds and — let’s face it — the bookus of candy. As I pushed the “up” button outside the elevator in a sleek, marbled NoMad office, I could sense my Charlie moment unfolding. It was November, and James and I were in Manhattan on business, conducting various shoots and interviews of women we so deeply admired in hopes of launching a new kind of media site for all types of females, the media site that would months later become Bleu as we know it today. The snow had just begun to fall; something we were not prepared for, as exemplified in the measly clothing choices the both of us packed. But, this touch only added to the magic.

As the elevator climbed five floors to its destination and the mechanical doors began to uncover what lied behind them, we entered into the world of color and splendor that is Roxanne Assoulin. And, just as I imagined, everything was instant inspiration. We were greeted with M&Ms — color-coated I might add, just like the shelves of coffee table books that sat behind them — rows upon rows of beads and jewels, and Roxanne Assoulin herself, dressed casually, albeit sleek AF and fresh out of a meeting. We spent the afternoon touring the space where RA gets to play, meeting her team, and making custom bracelets of our own. And, lucky for you, the 60-something powerhouse and color maven has opened up her doors to let us in on all of her little rainbow-spotted secrets to success.

Was it always jewelry design for you or were there other dreams or previous ventures?  “I haven’t really tried it, but for me it was clothing first, always. I tripped into jewelry. I actually fell into hair accessories first because it was instant gratification, and all you needed was glue. Then, I fell into jewelry. I got the glue, put a stone, and I had something.”

What motivated you to start your namesake brand, Roxanne Assoulin?  “I actually started 40 years ago. I started in 1977 doing hair accessories for Fiorucci. You know, the opening of Studio 54. I did jewelry for Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass, Stephen Sprouse, and Marc Jacobs when he was at Perry Ellis. So, I’ve been around for a really long time. About three years ago is when I tripped into the colorful enamel stuff that we’re doing now.”

The colorful bracelet bug bit when? — When did the idea first spark for colorful bracelets? Have you always loved them?  “I actually had these little, baby tiles in my office that I had used 30 years ago to make mosaic jewelry. I was playing with them one day with some of my designers because we do a lot of private label work for bigger companies. I lined them up on my desk and I thought, ‘Oh that would make a pretty bracelet.’ So, we said, ‘Let’s try it. Let’s make it!’ And, we did. That’s really how it all started. It was a complete accident.”

To what do you attribute the growth and success of the brand?  “I mean, I honestly don’t know. I think there are a lot of things that make the perfect storm, and that’s kind of what happened with us. I knew enough people at the time that I launched to ask their opinions about it. These people championed me right through the process. When I got insecure, they would remind me, ‘No no no, this is good.’ Because we all go through that [self-doubt]. I think it’s colorful. I think it’s happy. I think we’re going through times where we maybe aren’t very happy. And for me, I don’t wear a lot of color, so to wear it on my wrist has always been easy. I have a red coat that I never wear because it’s too flashy. But, I definitely will wear my jewelry in crazy combinations. Also, if someone’s wearing [RA], it’s very noticeable. It’s not like wearing a navy sweater. It sparks conversation, ‘Where did you get that? That’s so nice!’ or ‘I have the same thing.’ I have had people meet each other in Europe and connect over our jewelry; it’s kind of crazy. And, in a way, it kind of is this friendship thing. It’s something you can connect over. I think most people want connection, and this is a good way to do it.”

Did you have any mentors when you first started out?  “Well, I think there were people that I’ll call champions. Leandra Medine was one of my champions. Selby Drummond over at Vogue. Sam Broekema — he’s out at InStyle now. Jesse Derris of Derris PR firm. These people held the space for me, you know. Rosie, too. My daughter-in-law, Rosie Assoulin. My kids were constantly saying, ‘Mom, you can do this!’ And I’m thinking to myself, ‘I have a lot of nerve. What am I doing? I’m like 100 now!’ And, they would continue to remind me, ‘No, you can do this.’ I took it from wherever I could get it, believe me. And, it was fun because a lot of influencers contacted us right away, and they wanted it and then they became friends of ours. So it was really full of grace, if you want to call it that.”

What does a typical work day look like for you?  “I’ll start with a 9:00 a.m. breakfast meeting and get to the office around 10, and then it just depends. Some days are all meetings, one after the other. Sometimes that makes my head spin. So, other days I’ll reserve part of the day for design. There will be meetings in the morning, but then I go right to design. My day usually ends at 6:30 p.m. I spent many years overworking, and it wasn’t healthy for me. So, when I leave work, I do leave work. But, when I need to come in early, I come in early. I do what I need to do. Sometimes I come in on Saturdays alone when nobody is here and just play with color.”

Lunch order?  “It changes! I’m habitual, so I’ll find something and I hook onto it for a month or two. Right now, it’s a burger with no bun and a salad. I get it from Pecora Bianca, right around the corner from our office.”

Take a break or power through?  “I’m definitely more power through. I may take a short break if I need a matcha or coffee, but I like to power through. When I’m at work, I like to work. When I’m at play, I like to play. I don’t like crossing the boundary.”

#1 secret to productivity?  “Sleep. I don’t get enough, between six and seven hours a night. But, if I don’t sleep, I’m not productive. And, that’s really the truth.”

Who, what, where inspires your work most?  “For me, I get the most inspired when I’m relaxed. If I’m not relaxed and if I’m tense, there’s no room for creativity to come through. It could be something like taking a walk, or even when I’m out in nature walking from my apartment to work that I’ll get an idea. I plan my day, so that I can walk to and from work. Because even if it’s just putting some music on or just walking and looking, I get inspired. Colors also inspire me — flowers. Nature will always be inspiring to me.”

One of many of Roxanne's mood boards.
One of many of Roxanne's mood boards.

Tell us about the amazing mood boards that double as art throughout your office. Do you put them together?   “Yes, I curate them. I have been doing these books that Rosie keeps telling me I need to publish. And, I’ve been doing them since the ‘90s. What I do is find tear sheets that I like and I put them together. So, when we started to do Roxanne Assoulin as it is today, I had put up this mood board that I had created even before our line existed. It’s always been the same girl that I’ve designed for. We keep growing and moving and changing, but the girl remains the same — the essence of who she is really remains the same. And it’s not just about fashion, right? It’s that light inside you, that joy.”

How did the concept for Play RA come to light?  “It’s actually how I do my bracelets. My dexterity is not great, so I don’t string them. The sample makers here do the stringing when I do samples. So, what I do is put double-sided tape on a piece of paper, and that’s how I play with the patterns and the colors. We draw them out first, then we get them made. When we were toying with ideas for our first editor breakfast back in 2017, I said ‘What if they make bracelets like I make bracelets?’ So, we did it and they loved it. Everyone posted! So, people started asking and it just grew into this little night event that we do once a month or once every six weeks or whenever we feel like it.”

RA Play.
RA Play.

Preferred work uniform?  “In the winter, it’s usually an Acne jean, a Reebok sneaker or a boot, and a sweater either by The Row, Celine, or Everlane. Then in the summer, it’s Converse sneakers, the same jeans, and some kind of a shirt like an oxford.”

In such a competitive time, how do you keep up with the Jonses?  “I used to be that kind of person that looked at what other people do. And the only time I get really upset is when I get knocked off, like a blatant copy. But, I read an article this morning about people copying and it basically said you are the secret ingredient. They can copy, but they don’t have the energy to put into it what you do. I also had one of my mentors, Jesse, tell me one time, ‘Don’t look behind, look ahead. Don’t let that negative energy get you. Stay creative. Keep pumping out great stuff.’”

Top 5 work essentials. Go…  “Matcha, an iPhone charger, a clipboard with sticky tape, a Pantone book, and a paper and pencil.”

Dream day off?  “A snow day. I would be in bed watching the snow fall. That’s my idea of heaven — quiet.”

What’s next for RA?  “I have no idea! People always ask, ‘What’s your strategy?’ And, I don’t have a strategy. We just make the best decisions for the day we’re in, and it kind of forms itself. That’s it! We’re really lucky. I’m in a place where I feel very, very lucky.”

Written by: Tiana Gidley

Tiana Gidley is the 20-something Senior Managing Editor at The Bleu. She binge-watches reality TV on Bravo, throws a mean murder mystery party, and makes her bed every morning.

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