The Gem Behind the Jewelry: lia sophia’s Elena Kiam
Meet Elena Kiam, the Creative Director and style genius behind lia sophia. lia sophia is based on what Elena calls social fashion, where “women get to experiment with jewelry in a judgment-free zone and feel confident and beautiful, all in the company of their closest girlfriends.” Founded in the 1970s, the Kiam family’s jewelry company is now a booming business, with millions of devoted customers, over 25,000 entrepreneurial advisors hosting lia sophia parties, and dozens of celebrity fans. And beyond Elena’s traveling for creative stimulation, designing timeless pieces, and inspiring others to start their own businesses, she’s also a devoted wife and mother. Her ability to juggle it all (while remaining impeccably dressed) makes her a role model and style icon for women everywhere. We had the chance to chat with Elena about her career beginnings, design muses, and wardrobe favorites. Find out what inspires the lia sophia looks, plus snag her advice on accessories for every occasion.
How did your career within the design industry get started?You know how things just kind of come together? I’d like to say that I had this master plan. I didn’t, but when I look back, it is interesting how these various pockets came together. My career began growing up in New York City as one of four girls, and I attended a 12-year all-girls school. After that, I studied architecture and design at Harvard, and took a year off to really learn about business because I thought it’d make me a better architect. I joined JP Morgan and was there for about 16 years, powering private companies and doing corporate finances. Every year that I was there, it made me doubt whether or not I wanted to go back to design—but that was my first love, and from the youngest age I always knew I’d be an artist. When I had my daughter Sophia, I took time off and became a consultant. During that time, I realized I didn’t like working alone, but I liked doing something entrepreneurial. It was then that I was fortunate to get involved with the jewelry company owned by my husband and his family.
Where do you draw your inspiration for each Lia Sophia collection?Part of what we do is very planned out—we have a design team and four casting agencies that travel all over the globe to go to fashion shows and keep ahead of the trends. Then there’s this other piece that’s less programmed, and that’s more so the inspiration that comes from travel—there’s so much of my inspiration that comes from places and architecture. Like the Red Carpet collection, which is all named after places I’ve been—like Rue Royale, my favorite street in Paris.
When designing the jewelry, do you have any celebrity or style blogger muses?I wouldn’t say anyone in particular—there’s really not one specific look that we’re after. But we care a lot about the intersection between women feeling strong and professional, because that’s what our women are doing; they’re changing up their lives, becoming empowered, and moving from something maybe not so sufficient to financial freedom. We’re inspired by people like Jeannie Mai: someone who talks about style and cares very much about the notion that when you look beautiful, you feel beautiful and confident enough to handle whatever the world throws at you. That’s really who we are. We like Self for that reason, too.
How would you describe your personal style? What are your closet staples?When you’re part of lia sophia, you do tend to plan your outfits around your jewelry! I prefer slicker, classic looks where the jewelry is the star. If you looked in my closet, you’d see a lot of black and a lot of white, with pops of color. I’ve traditionally been a black and white girl my whole life, because there’s something very chic about it. There’s been a huge infusion of color these past couple of seasons, and I’ve embraced it, but you’ll never find me head to toe in tomato red with yellow.
We absolutely love your style—any style advice for others?I just think we live in a great age where there are no rules, and it’s all about having your own style, and feeling put together. If you can invest in a few really quality pieces—a beautiful black dress, a beautiful cream top—and just change it up with jewelry, then that gives you 10-20 looks. In our jewelry, we try to create a lot of versatility: Some of our long necklaces can also be worn as belts, some of them have clasps so you can double them up. We think layering is fabulous, so the necklaces, the rings, the bracelets in our collections, everything is going to go together, but it’s not a matched set. We try to give women ways of creating a look that can be changed up so many times.
Speaking of your signature lia sophia pieces, which ones are your all-time favorite?I’m a cuff person. Particularly for people who don’t have a lot of time and want to transform themselves, one cuff or even two makes me feel confident and can change any outfit. I have some favorite necklaces and cocktail rings, too. Cocktail rings can change up a boring bland outfit or jeans into a little something that makes you feel dressy and stylish.
Any advice for novice jewelry-wearers out there?Number one: You should build a basic jewelry box with a stud, a hoop, a long throw-on necklace to wear with jeans, a great cuff or set of bangles, and an everyday delicate necklace that you might even sleep in. And then, for those who aren’t scared: a cocktail ring and statement earrings. Number two: So many people say ‘Oh, I’m not a jewelry person,’ or ‘I’m short, so I can’t wear long necklaces,’ or ‘My hands are too small.’ The good news is that none of these things usually really apply. It’s all about experimenting. Don’t be scared of trying something new, because chances are, you’ll get a lot of compliments and feel good about yourself. And don’t just look at the jewelry—you don’t know if it works for you until you actually try it on!
Pop quiz time! Which accessories would you recommend for the following summer occasions?
Everyday WorkYou feel put together when your accessories are put together, so a throw-on necklace (literally a long one that you can just throw on over your head) is the go-to that you must have. You could be wearing a simple black turtleneck, but with a great-length necklace with natural stones, you have a look. It transforms something from plain to ‘Wow, this woman has style’ with just one piece of jewelry.
Backyard BBQWith backyard barbecues, having that throw-on necklace is great, because you want to feel like it’s some kind of occasion, but not that you went to any trouble, either.
Cocktail PartyYou have to have a fabulous cocktail ring or some great earrings, and that’s all you need.
Day to NightNecklaces that you can double up have a greater impact—you can wear it long during the day, and then double it later for a date. If you’re wearing studs during the day, change your earrings to make you feel that there’s a moment between the work day and stepping out.
Wedding AttendeeThere’s a trend emerging now with this whole notion of glamour—feeling glamorous whether it’s day or night—and a daytime wedding is the pinnacle of daytime glamour. You want to feel like you’re luminous and shining, but not over the top. It depends on the neckline of your dress, but you can really achieve that with a beautiful necklace or stack of bracelets that are delicate but have some femininity to them. To learn more, visit liasophia.com.
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