This is my first “World Of” post on jewelry and lingerie designer Liseanne Frankfurt of LFrank. While all the women in fashion, design and beyond that I’ve profiled have well-tuned, singular aesthetics, there are some whose sense of flair imbues everything they touch. The “World Of” is not only a chance to have them talk about what they do, why they love it and what inspires them, but to also get more of those extra-layer details—from the artists and books that move them, to how they entertain to what’s always in their handbag. Because I’m curious. And thought you might be too. While Liseanne has been a jewelry designer on some level since childhood, she opened her first Venice, LA boutique in 2007. Liseanne’s designs are romantic and bohemian. Personal luxuries that make women feel beautiful are her forte. Here, Liseanne’s world.
Please introduce yourself to TFI readers and tell us what you do:
I think of myself as a designer. I don’t usually say jewelry designer because now I have the lingerie collection and we just started doing men’s sleepwear as well. I also think of myself as a designer because I feel like that’s what I do across many different facets of my life. Yes, the jewelry design is first and foremost. It’s how I started my career when I was in college at UCLA. But I also did styling after college which also led to some interior design work and then ultimately back to jewelry design. Then after a number of years, introducing the lingerie. That’s something that has become really important to me and a bigger part of my business. I also foresee designing other things down the road, most likely things in the interiors realm. I think there are things for the house I’d like to design. I’ve sketched things for years: furniture, lighting, all sorts of things along those lines.
What drew you originally to jewelry design? What does jewelry mean to you? Why do you love it so much?
Jewelry has a deep personal meaning for me. My grandmother had Alzheimer’s and didn’t really know who anyone was. My grandfather took incredibly good care of her, she had her hair and makeup and jewelry and clothing done every day. For some reason all of my conversations with her revolved around jewelry. She would say, “Oh, I love your earrings!” She would call me by my aunt’s name or something else because she didn’t really know who I was, but we could talk about this tangible, functional thing of beauty that was important to her and became important to me. It’s sort of the touchstone of my relationship with her.
That sort of started me collecting and loving jewelry. My parents used to give me jewelry to mark special occasions. Through that I became interested in cultures that use ritual adornment and mark significant life passages and milestones with jewelry and different kinds of adornment. I started dabbling in making jewelry out of whatever bits and pieces of things I could find, whether it was glass or shells from the beach, interesting things I would find in the garden, in the desert. I would always remake things. I might buy some vintage earrings and make them into a necklace, things like that.
In college, I made so many things and had so much inventory it felt indulgent to keep it all. I decided to go to Montana Avenue in Santa Monica and visit some shops. I ended up selling everything I had, and then got orders for more things. It started very organically.
To me jewelry is like personal armor. It tells a story. It’s very personal, as is lingerie. I like to make connections with people, and I like to connect people and their stories and what’s important to them. I like to be a part of that process, whether it’s through engagement rings, wedding rings, or the redesign of an engagement ring after a divorce, for instance, or a gift for the birth of a child. Designing jewelry, I become involved with things that are very personal. I love that aspect of it. It’s deeply important to me.
When you start to work on a collection what’s your first step?
A lot of times the first step for me is working with the stones themselves. I’m constantly seeking out beautiful stones, color combinations. Travel is a huge inspiration. I’ll return from a trip and be buzzing with lots of different ideas, whether they’re color or texture or shape. Sometimes a collection will be based around a group of stones or color, and then other times it’s something that’s been inspired by art and architecture, or even as simply as something I feel is missing in my personal jewelry wardrobe. I don’t necessarily work in neat, segmented collections. I’m designing all the time. Things evolve.
You answered some of this, but what inspires your work?
People inspire me a lot. My daughter inspires me, my close friends inspire me. I’m a big reader. I read a lot of biographies and a lot of non-fiction, so I get inspired by people and their lives and things they’re doing. That’s on a more contextual level. Of course I’m inspired by art and architecture, as well as interior design. Sometimes high fashion. A lot of antique collections or historical time periods are inspirational to me and thinking about what’s modern now and what’s a modern interpretation of a beautiful family heirloom.
What makes jewelry modern now? How is it different than it used to be?
It’s an interesting time on a lot of levels. For one, I think jewelry used to be more special. Women in particular didn’t buy jewelry as much for themselves as they expected to receive it as a gift. Now that’s completely turned on its head. I’ve always had a clientele of women buying for themselves, but it’s a grown exponentially, especially in the last decade or so.
I think another is people used to really feel like ‘this is my everyday jewelry, this is my special jewelry, and this is for that one occasion,’ and then whatever magnificent piece that would be, it would then be relegated to a jewelry box and not see the light of day for a year. I don’t think people are doing that as much anymore. I feel that people are wearing their bigger stones, they’re wearing their bigger pieces. The pieces that used to be reserved for special occasion wear have become everyday. I think that people are more emboldened by the fact that the pieces make them happy. It’s not really about ‘I’m going to bring out these big diamonds so everyone else can see that my husband bought these for me and I’m really special.’ It’s more of a personal statement, without being a ‘looking for attention’ statement.
Jumping to interior design, how did you get into that? Did you design your store?
I designed my store. I have a huge passion for the decorative arts, furniture, fabrics and things. Interior design is incredibly satisfying to me. When I was in my early 20s, I had just moved here from New York and I was working as a stylist a bit which I did just to be out in the world because jewelry design is a very solitary endeavor. I was assisting on a Gap commercial and the model was married to a doctor here in LA. It was a 3-day shoot and over the course of time, we got to be close. She said, ‘I love your style. I really need help with my house. Do you think you could help me?’ I said, ‘Absolutely.’
Also my friend at the time said, ‘I want you to meet this friend of mine. You two will get along like a house on fire.’ She did, and it was Michael Smith, the decorator [Michael worked with Michelle Obama on the White House]. He’s still one of my closest and dearest friends. As soon as this woman ask me to help with her house, I called him. ‘Can you help me? I need resources. I need to find fabric, outdoor furniture, lighting.’ He said, ‘Sure, come to my office.’
We became really good friends. I ended up working for him for a few years. That was an incredible education and a really fun time and a unique situation because we were friends before I worked with him, and we remained friends afterwards. He’s the godfather of my son, and a really close friend.
Recently I’ve had people come into the store and ask me to help them with their decorating. I’m really tempted to take it, I just don’t have the time. We’ll see. I never rule it out.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
I’m definitely not a minimalist. I really love textures. I love patterns. It’s a similar approach to the jewelry. It’s a layered approach. I like to take things from different periods of time that somehow cohabit incredibly graciously and look for those common threads. Not in the sense of more is more, but in the sense of there are so many things I love and so many different layers of things that I love. I like them to all be together. I also am completely allergic to beige as a concept. I don’t like things that look monochrome. I really love color and I love jewel tones, which is not a big surprise.
When did you launch the lingerie? And why?
I’ve always been a collector of lingerie—slips, camisoles, dressing gowns. I would treat myself to lingerie whenever we would travel to Europe, because I feel like the US doesn’t really have a strong background or a tradition in fine lingerie. I mean, we have Victoria Secret. That’s our donation to the lingerie world as Americans. Which is great, but it’s not for me. But it became more and more difficult to find things that I really loved and to find things that were made with the attention to detail and the quality that I really wanted.
I was getting discouraged. I called my friend [who made bras], and said, ‘You used to tell me about this lingerie trade show in Lyon in France. Does that still happen?’ She said, ‘They moved it to Paris. I think it’s next week.’ I literally got on a plane, and flew to Paris. I thought, ‘Okay, this is a little extreme. Maybe I’ll go to Sabbia Rosa and find something to buy, and that will satisfy whatever is going on with me.’ I went to Sabbia Rosa, and it all felt dated to me in a way. Even though I have Sabbia Rosa pieces that I love.
I went to the trade show and got sufficiently intimidated but did my due diligence. I found a pattern-maker that had been Paris couture trained and worked in lingerie and swimwear. I worked on it for probably a year and a half. It was finally ready just before Christmas of 2015. It was in my store, then I took it to London on a trunk show and sold it well. Barneys picked it up not too long after that. I’ve just been continuing to work in the silks, the Swiss cottons, and then we’ve brought in Italian men’s shirting cottons. I love that combination of Italian men’s shirting with lace. I’ve been working with that.
My husband and son were feeling completely ignored. My son was actually asking me at the time for a smoking jacket to wear to prom. It got me thinking. This last Christmas we started selling men’s pajama pants, we’ve just done the tops, and beautiful robes.
Women who buy your lingerie, what do you want them to get out of it? Why do you love it?
It’s been so interesting to me because the jewelry is so personal and that’s easily understood. Lingerie is also so personal, and a lot of that is very deep-seated. You have a lot of women who completely turn it out to go in public and wear incredible things, and at home are perfectly happy to sleep in an old t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants.
Here’s what I want to say. I love converting people to sleep in a slip or a beautiful dressing gown or something silky, because when you wake up in the morning you feel beautiful. We’re all surrounded by beautiful clothes; there are incredible things now that are available to buy and wear. My feeling is, if I’m wearing something beautiful all day, I don’t want to go home and put on something less beautiful than what I had on. I want to be in something equally as beautiful, that makes me feel great. When you’re wearing something kind of junky, it’s harder to access that feeling.
When I was in college, I used to go and buy really beautiful bras and matching panties, sets of everything. I kind of just felt like it was this inoculation against depression. There’s something about a nude-colored T-shirt bra that I was never going to go within ten feet of because it just seemed bad. I don’t know why. It’s very personal. I’m not making a judgment of anyone who wears these things. I personally wouldn’t feel super great in that. I think ultimately it’s all about how you feel and how you treat yourself.
I hope to inspire women to treat themselves in the best way they can, and to feel beautiful all the time. I’ve had people, clients, where I’ve literally just said, ‘Take this slip. If you hate it, bring it back, but just sleep in it one night and tell me what happens.’ They feel better. It’s not about wearing a slip so your husband thinks you’re beautiful. It really is not. It has nothing to do with that. It’s really you and how you feel when you wake up in the morning and how you’re ready to face the day. I think it makes a really big difference, psychologically and fundamentally.
That’s a good argument.
There’s also the bridal piece of it. I think that bridal lingerie is a category that is very scary. There’s really scary stuff out there and most of it is very inexpensive. There’s very little at a certain level for people to buy. I wanted to fill that void and to have options for bridal that were beautiful and not tawdry or kitschy or predictable.
What’s next for LFrank?
We’re launching the men’s sleepwear. Also I’d like to expand on our men’s jewelry. Past that, I’m not sure. I think some collaborations are in the future. I did some in the past. I did a collaboration with the London-based rug designer Christopher Farr.
I love to cook. But I’m not sure how to incorporate that into something that I’d like to do. We had a party–I always do the food whenever we have a party, and someone from The Row called to ask us who catered it to see if they could hire them. We had such a good laugh about it. If I could show up at The Row, catering their party, it would be really funny. That’s not the outlet for that, but there’s something in the future. I’m not sure what it is.
What does being a Californian mean to you?
I’m noticing more and more it means that I have a compulsive need for sun. I’m so happy when the sun is out. It’s my dirty little secret. I like to sit in the sun. When I moved to New York, I never thought I would move back here. Interestingly enough, I do feel more comfortable in New York City than I do anywhere in the world. I don’t know what that means, in terms of being a Californian, but I really am a Californian. I think that there’s something about the light and the way that we see things here. There is a laid back energy that I think is pervasive to anyone who is from here or lives here. There’s just kind of a real ability to kind of slow down and take it all in.
Three words that describe LFrank: Timeless, chic, and exquisite.
Three words that describe you: At the moment I would say curious, inspired, and grateful.
Women you identify/admire include: I’m inspired by the work that Marian Wright Edelman has done with Children’s Defense Fund, as well as Christy Turlington with Every Mother Counts. I also am inspired by Isabella Stewart Gardner, both for her philanthropy and her vision for living with art. The artist Carmen Herrera is incredibly inspiring, she’s still working at the age of nearly 102.
You never feel dressed without: Jewels. A camisole or a slip, and something wonderful from either Gregory Parkinson, I Pezzi Dipinti, or Pamela Barish.
A perfect evening is….Spent with great company, incredible food, low lighting, and dancing!
A table is never set without: Candles, Gregory Parkinson napkins, silver, flowers, good intentions.
Favorite flower: I love dahlias, peonies, ranunculus, anemones, and orchids.
Hand written notes or email? Handwritten notes on letterpress Amalfi paper.
Favorite artist(s): Al Taylor, Kazuo Shiraga, Giovanni Battista Moroni, Velasquez, Florine Stettheimer, Egon Schiele, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Agnes Martin.
Four things that make a perfect room: Light, a scent, a comfortable place to sit, and something green and alive.
Always on your bedside table: Books.
You can tell a lot about a woman by: How she treats her friends, how she wears her jewelry, and her hands.
Do you collect anything? If yes, what and why?
- Makoto Kagoshima ceramics, which I love for the fact that they are completely delightful.
- Books, for a million reasons. I don’t own a Kindle.
- Hourglasses because I was captivated by them as a child, and still am really drawn to them. I have a wonderful carved wooden one with pink sand in the shop.
- Beads, which tell many stories, and are always fun to find on travels, and make into colorful necklaces.
Travel wish list destination: Morocco, Japan, Iceland.
Biggest splurge you don’t regret: Travel. I never ever regret a splurge on a trip.
Favorite small indulgence: Grether’s Pastille, baguettes from Gjusta, a jar of avocado honey from Honey Pacifica, fresh flowers from the farmer’s market.
Album currently on repeat: My daughter’s playlist which features Anderson Paak, Childish Gambino, Aretha Franklin, and Al Green. Also, the new the new Leonard Cohen.
Scent that brings back memories: Swiss Performing Extract from Estée Lauder. My mother always used it and the smell was like heaven to me. I hope they still make it the same way.
Lucky charm: LFrank guardian angel charm necklace.
Favorite hour of the day: Sunset.
Sunday morning means: Sleeping in, a trip to the farmer’s market, reading the Sunday NY Times by the pool. Sometimes, a class at the Dailey Method if I’ve slept well and feel especially motivated!
Follow LFrank: Instagram.