The most surprising thing about West Hollywood's Gray Gallery isn't that in the 13 months since opening its doors the combination interior-design studio and jewelry boutique has emerged as a key resource for stylists looking to borrow unique jewelry to accessorize their celebrity clients. The surprise is how much of that red-carpet clientele is male. Pieces from Gray's collection of vintage cuff links, watches and rings have appeared on A-list actors including Johnny Depp, Jeremy Renner, David Boreanz and Ryan Gosling.
"We expected stylists would pull jewelry for women," said co-owner and jewelry designer Vram Minassian, "but since we've been open I've been really surprised at how many men were looking for watches, cuff links and studs." So far, 40% of his celebrity loaner business is going to men.
That unusually high percentage is due in large part to the contents of a single men's jewelry display case in the back left corner of a store otherwise dominated by luxe-looking women's baubles and high-end home furnishings.
"Sometimes when we are designing our dwellings, it is the woman who is doing the job," he explained. "She's the one picking out the carpet, the fabric and the furniture and meeting with the interior designer. I don't expect men to be here — even if they're here physically — and I didn't want to leave them out. So when they come in I kind of have this department of 'car parts.'"
Minassian laughs when he says the words "car parts," but the pieces are as simply straightforward, masculine and accessible as any of the myriad moving parts under the hood of a luxury roadster. Since the original assortment of timepieces came from Minassian's personal collection (at one point he had as many as 300 watches), the vintage collection reflects his understated aesthetic with brands including Jaeger LeCoultre, IWC Schaffhausen, Omega, Piaget and Rolex, all from the 1950s, '60s and '70s and many with crocodile leather bands. ("My personal aesthetic, for as long as I can remember, has been 'To Catch a Thief,'" he says.)
The cuff links are equally as interesting, if a bit bolder. One pair from 1930 consists of 14-karat gold and enamel fox heads set with diamond eyes ($3,500). Another pair, from 1969, are golden bull heads by Kurt Wayne, also set with diamond eyes, sporting horns long enough to spear a martini olive ($3,650). A more modern pair, designed by Minassian as part of his Vram jewelry line, is made of 18-karat white gold with Tahitian gray pearls ($3,800). The last of those, Minassian says, has been among the Gray Gallery's more popular loaners. (The most popular of the watches has been a $2,200 1960s-era LeCoultre Memovox.)
"They've got unique vintage pieces," said stylist Thomas Carter Phillips, who routinely pulls from Gray Gallery's collection to accessorize both male and female clientele. "Especially a wide variety of watches that kind of sets them apart from any other location to pull from. … And it's not your typical go-to place as a stylist because of the unique watches that they have."
Minassian says celebrity loans will occasionally convert into an outright sale. "Out of every five to eight pulls we might get one sale," he says. "Robert Pattinson recently bought two watches he had been wearing." (And the star could be seen wearing a Gray Gallery 18-karat Tourneau triple-calendar chronograph at Wednesday's People's Choice Awards.)
But the far bigger benefit comes from the opportunity to leverage star power into brand awareness. Through photos posted to a celebrity gallery on the Gray Gallery Facebook page and frequent Twitter updates about which celebrities are wearing its wares, the store is, at the end of its first year, where Minassian estimates it might otherwise have been after three.
"We could have opted to say: 'We're not going to do the red carpet,' and then sit tight for three years," he said. "But we happen to be in Hollywood, where things happen at warp speed. So we weren't going to sit tight.
"We live in L.A., and the best way to let the world — Hollywood — know that the baby is born, is to do the red carpet."
Minassian says requests for the current award show season have yet to really heat up, so he won't forecast what kind of presence Gray Gallery will ultimately have on this year's red carpets — on the men's or women's side. But thanks to that carefully curated collection of "car parts" and an awareness fueled by the power of social media, even Hollywood's most style-challenged men have a shot at shifting their looks into high gear.
Gray Gallery, 8751 Melrose Ave., West HollywoodCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times