Alabama native Theresa Bruno loves the look of a classic string of pearls—but she’s even fonder of making the famously prim and proper jewels look twisted and fresh. Her collection, Jordan Alexander, mixes uniquely sliced pearls with pavé diamonds and even wooden prayer beads, putting a youthful spin on those lustrous white stones. We caught up with Bruno to ask her about her favorite Alabama shopping destinations, accessorizing Michelle Obama and—of course—what exactly makes pearls so powerful.
When our First Lady wears your designs, that’s a pretty good indication that you’re doing something right. What was your reaction when you found out Michelle Obama was a fan of your jewelry?
The First Lady was one of the first well-known women to wear my jewelry and to say that it was amazing would be a major understatement. I couldn’t have asked for a better woman to love my designs from the start. She’s a strong leader and the epitome of the modern female. To have her wear my pieces was amazing because she wore them in the way I pictured them being worn—on the baseball field and to elegant evening events.
I love how you use pearls in such unconventional ways. What is it that draws you to pearls as your main material?
I’ve always loved pearls—their luminescent quality and what they stand for. Growing up, I adored my mother and grandmother for their elegance and poise. They were my beauty and style icons and I wanted to recreate that attitude with my own jewelry—but traditional pearls just aren’t me. When I design, I use big, baroque pearls in almost every piece. And as I’ve come to find with my most recent "Slice Collection," pearls are stronger and more versatile than we give them credit for.
You’re originally from Alabama. What are some of your favorite shopping haunts from back home?
To me, there’s nothing better than shopping the streets of New York City—except to go shopping in my hometown [Birmingham, Alabama], in my favorite boutiques where everybody knows me by name. Laura Kathryn is a favorite and has been a staple in my rotation for a long time. Judy Abroms, who first owned Etc., taught me so much about style. Gus Mayer is another fabulous boutique and is hard to beat in any city.
What are some of your own suggestions when it comes to shopping for fine jewelry?
Shop for what you love rather than for what people tell you to love. That’s why I got into the jewelry business in the first place. I wanted a certain look to my jewelry that I couldn’t find elsewhere. Consider the quality and individuality of each piece. If you’re going to invest in something, make sure it feels special and unique to you.
For a woman trying to build a fine jewelry collection of her own, what few pieces do you suggest she start with?
I keep going back to pearls, but I think they really can mean something different to every woman. I remember when I was given my first set of pearls in fourth grade and they’re still so special to me. I think of women who have passed down their family treasures and then of those who have bought great pieces for themselves, hoping they’d become heirlooms someday. I think pearls are timeless, and a great start to any collection.
You split your time between L.A. and New York. What are some of your favorite shopping destinations in both of these cities?
In New York, I’m addicted to Intermix in Soho. Opening Ceremony has an amazing eclectic, downtown aesthetic. And there’s nothing that compares to Bergdorf Goodman for shoes and bags. In L.A., I like to shop the boutiques on Robertson. The L.A. Alice + Olivia is awesome and the L.A. Barneys shoe department is wicked!
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