TEXT, VIVIAN G. KELLY
“I AM NOT A TREND DESIGNER” is one of the first things fine jewelry designer HELEN FICALORA tells us on a phone call following our visit to her Soho boutique.
BACKGROUND – GETTING THERE
Helen’s story is an example of some women’s ability to successfully multitask and successfully create, run and grow a business.
Helen’s a Montauk native, whose routine includes helping run her family’s Montauk beach resort while shuttling back and forth between her home in Olympia, Washington, and Montauk. Somehow, in the past 10 years she’s developed a highly successful fine jewelry line, which began as a mail order business out of her Olympia home.
The process began when she took some jewelry making courses in high school, and started making her own sterling pieces for herself. Eventually friends started asking her to make them some and a business was born. She kept slowly growing the business all the while running the business aspect of the line and homeschooling her two children.
THE ALPHABET JEWELRY
When she first started making the alphabet jewelry [@ 2002-3], she had them in a pink plastic cup in her desk at the Montauk Inn. They weren’t on display in the case in the shop; the charms were an insider thing. People would get off planes and say, “I saw my friend wearing one. I want one of those, can you make me one – now?” She’d oblige and whip one up. Then, the editorial started hitting and the charms became a “must-have” item that made the company a regular in fashion editorials and on TV and film sets.
THE PRODUCT MIX
Her signature is yellow gold with a muted/matte finish. She’s been offering the shorter more practical 16” chains long before they became the fashionable length.
There’s much more to the Helen Ficalora line than charms. One of the 1st designs was the gold angel, and some other sophisticated and eclectic designs including ring bands. Says Helen, “I made the ring as the wedding ring I couldn’t find. The alphabet disks came later. In 2003 the editorial started hitting and the disks were propelled because of the collections that came before. They filled a need for personalization at the same time as the monogram trend. That’s funny because I’m not a trend designer.”
TIMING CAN BE TIMELESS
In Helen’s case, timing was important but her intent was to design the perfect pedant that you can wear all the time – “something that becomes a personalized signature piece and becomes a part of you”.
OUR CONVERSATION WITH HELEN FILLED IN SOME BLANKS WE HAD REGARDING THE COLLECTION.
FE: WHICH OF YOUR PIECES DO YOU WEAR?
HELEN: The small hoop earrings with diamond disks on my ears.
On my neck, a pile! There’s the family necklace – charm paves, heart with roses on 16” chain, a diamond necklace, and a Montauk daisy on chain.
On one arm, I’ve got 10 bracelets [actually 13 – but they’re really thin].
On the other arm I wear yellow and rose gold bangles.
On my hands: A pansy ring with diamonds and a ring with my husband’s and kids’ birthstones on it, a lion with diamond, in his mouth, and a signet.
FE: P/S TELL US SOME MORE ABOUT YOUR BUSINESS MODEL.
HELEN: My whole business has been built by the kindness of others. People who went to see me when I was in Washington, people wore it into the City and helped promote HELEN FICALORA by wearing it. Others pay attention to stylish people.
H.F. is about good energy; it’s grown organically, people like to gift it.
Once someone got it as a gift, they wanted to share the experience, whether they’re in their twenties, thirties, forties or fifties. I’ll have women saying to me,
“I’m turning 50, I love this piece for myself, and I want all my girlfriends to have one too.”
FE: WHAT”S THE FUN PART OF YOUR BUSINESS?
HELEN: creating your own individual jewelry pieces. No one has my necklace, it’s unique to me and is about me as yours is about you.
FE: WHAT WOULD YOU SAY YOUR MISSION STATEMENT IS?
HELEN: to create signature designs to inspire beauty, love and peace.
FE: WHAT’S ONE OF THE STRONGEST POINTS OF YOUR JEWELRY?
HELEN: My jewelry is wearable. My 16” necklaces make the jewelry more wearable, something you want to sleep in, do yoga in, jog in.
FE: WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR PRICEPOINTS?
HELEN: Alphabet charms:
$115, plain alphabet charm – solid gold.
$450 for the pave
$185 for 1-diamond
$195 – $295 – for the gold hoops with diamond disk
FE: After visiting the NY store, it’s obvious you do much more than alphabet disks.
HELEN: I love the hammered gold large ring – “the big gold ring”. It’s tapered for mobility, and one of my all-time favorite pieces. I wear it every day.
FE: WHAT DO YOU HAVE THAT’S ON THE HIGH END?
HELEN: The pink sapphire beads with the gold lion head and diamond in the mouth.
These tend to be around $1800, this is the kind of collection you build.
There are some rings around $7,000, but they’re not in all the stores.
FE: YOU’VE GOT QUITE A FEW STORES NOW. HOW DID YOU DECIDE ON THE LOCATIONS YOU HAVE?
HELEN: Opening the stores has been about bringing the jewelry to the people. I realized that when a woman drove all the way from Nassau to Montauk just to look at some rings. That’s when I opened the New York store, but that was years after I started with a few orders I filled in Olympia from my kitchen table.
FE: YOUR NY STORE MANAGER, ANDREA, MENTIONED THAT YOU HAVE A PALM BEACH STORE NOW.
HELEN: I love Palm Beach; I discovered it 2 years ago. My customers down there like the paves, and the horsey people from Wellington come to shop, and so do people from Orlando even!
FE: TV & MOVIES HAVE BEEN GOOD TO YOU. YOU HAVE AN IMPRESSIVE # OF CREDITS. WHAT ARE SOME OUR READERS MIGHT HAVE SPOTTED?
HELEN: You’ve seen the jewelry “When In Rome” Kristen Bell, on Kathryn Heigel and Malin Ackerman in “27 Dresses”, on Sandra Bullock on “The Proposal”.
Tina wears it on “30 Rock,” and so does Mariska Hargitay on “SVU”.
Blake Lively’s been a fan forever and wears it on “Gossip Girl” as well as personally.
It’s also on characters in “The Royal Pains”.
FE: DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR YOUNG DESIGNERS?
HELEN:I financed this from my own personal cash flow. Think on your feet, and be resourceful. It’s also about how you measure your success. I never looked at the bank account part of things. I LOVE jewelry, it makes me happy, it’s like a meditative kind of thing for me.
FE: TELL US ABOUT YOUR NEXT PROJECT.
HELEN: I’m working on an engagement ring to complement the rest of the collection.
I’ve done stuff with rose cuts [diamonds], I love them, as well as the eighties’ side cut stone that ‘s cool, it’s old fashioned and has that old European style with facets all around. A diamond is like wearing a rainbow maker.
THE HELEN FICALORA BOUTIQUES
The boutiques have an appealing intimate jewelry box-like feeling. As always, the story’s in the details: the signature magenta color, mahogany floors, Madrona wood, glass-topped display cabinets, gold gilt mirrors, and chandeliers with soft pink shades.
21 Cleveland Place
9632 Little Santa Monica Blvd
240 Worth Avenue
2014 N Halsted
For Mail order:
Address: p.o. box 6316
For additional information, visit the official website,
Portrait of Helen Ficalora by Julie Skarratt,
Julie Skarratt Photography, Inc.
Images of the collection, courtesy of Helen Ficalora.