FASHION

Jewelry designer Irene Neuwirth cooks up something new: A cozy boutique on Melrose

Booth Moore
Los Angeles Times Fashion Critic

Irene Neuwirth has taken up residence on Melrose Place — almost literally, since her first boutique is an invitation into her world, kitchen table and all.

The Venice, Calif.-based jewelry designer, whose 10-year-old brand is recognizable for carefully balanced constructions of bold, rough cut and semiprecious stones, has upped the retail game with the gorgeous store, an impressive mix of whimsical-wonderland chic and at-home-L.A. ease.

"When you go into Cartier, it feels a little intimidating," Neuwirth says. "I wanted this to be the opposite. It's like a traditional jewelry store in the front, but as you walk back, it feels cozy and residential."

Designed with the help of L.A.-based design firm Commune, the 2,000-square-foot boutique sits between Marni and Isabel Marant. It has some of the same eclectic spirit as Tony Duquette's famous Beverly Hills estate Dawnridge and is festooned with a few pieces owned by the late artist/designer, including shell lighting sconces and a large painting of a Persian horse.

Shoppers are greeted on the sidewalk by a trio of flamingo topiaries, a hint at the playful zoo to come inside. Neuwirth's labradoodle Teddy, the brand's unofficial mascot, is depicted in one of several animal portraits hanging on the walls. In fact, there are animals everywhere — a giant brushed silver hippo sculpture in the style of Les Lalanne, a sheep with a curly mane, a life-size, custom-designed wood donkey, a tiny blowfish nestled on a shelf. Even the black-and-white rug in the sitting area resembles downy bird feathers.

It's been a big year for Neuwirth. In addition to opening her first store and celebrating it with a star-studded party on Oct. 30, she won the CFDA Swarovski Award for Accessory Design in June, and she launched her first fragrance with Barneys New York in February.

All the while, celebrities, including Reese Witherspoon, Lauren Hutton and Elizabeth Banks, have been flocking to her for designs to wear on the red carpet and in their private lives.

At the store, jewelry is displayed in glass cases with dioramas designed by L.A. artist Clare Crespo. Earrings made from opals, moonstones and tourmalines dangle from branches, and sparkling bracelets drape across rocks, while birds, flowers and butterflies fashioned out of cashmere, snakeskin and suede surprise and delight.

A $250,000 Mexican fire opal necklace sold before the store even opened for business on Nov. 1, but there are more than 200 other new pieces from which to choose. Of particular note are new turquoise and pearl designs, including an elegant choker and killer hoop earrings, and a range of nontraditional diamond wedding bands. Neuwirth has also introduced some less expensive pieces, charms starting at $425 that can be worn as pendants, clustered on a chain.

The designer wants shoppers to be able to linger. A pink velvet couch and a pair of shearling chairs are set up in front of a fireplace hung with a colorful painting by her mother, artist Geraldine Neuwirth. Book shelves are filled with titles covering everything from the artist Elizabeth Peyton to Audubon animals.

In the back, but still in full view of the store, there's a working kitchen and walnut table to seat 10, so Neuwirth can entertain friends, just as she often does at her home on the Venice Canals.

"The kitchen was the number one thing I wanted in the store," she says, joking that at least one patron has come in and confused the place for a restaurant. "I feel like when people come over to my house, they get a real feel for my brand and me through eating and drinking. The kitchen is where people feel most comfortable and want to hang out. So it's about how to make this a precious but not too precious experience."

If it sounds as if Neuwirth may be gearing up to create a lifestyle brand, that might or might not be right.

"People have always pushed me to expand, and I would love to eventually," she says. "But when I first applied for the CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund back in 2008, I had to sit down and think about what my long term would be. And I wanted it to be about jewelry. That's what I'm good at."

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Irene Neuwirth

Where: 8458 Melrose Place, West Hollywood

When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday

Info: (323) 285-2000, ireneneuwith.com

booth.moore@latimes.com

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