United by Design

Frankly Fabulous

Liseanne Frankfurt portrait

Jewelry designer Liseanne Frankfurt maintains a storefront, LFrank, on 1stdibs, in addition to a shop in Los Angeles’s Venice (photo by Peden+Monk). Top: Rings from the 2012 collection incorporate rose-cut diamonds, sapphires, an aquamarine and a Tahitian pearl (photo by Carly Kenny).

Six years ago, jewelry designer Liseanne Frankfurt was on a flight back home to Los Angeles after a particularly grueling round of trunk shows and meetings during New York Fashion Week. Finally free to think, she replayed the events of the past few days in her head: one department-store buyer after another culling favorites from her carefully arrayed family of gold rings, earrings, bracelets and necklaces, choosing a few would-be stars to grace some distant velvet-lined display case. Until that moment, Frankfurt hadn’t quite realized the aesthetic force bound up in seeing the collection as a whole — and what was being lost by not presenting it that way.

“Something crystallized for me,” she says. “I decided, after years of never wanting to have a store, that I needed one. I had it up and running in three weeks’ time.”

True to Frankfurt’s conviction and her exacting design sense, LFrank, on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, in Venice, is not in any way an ordinary store. There is no sign. There is no merchandise in the window. But there are multiple beeswax candles burning, and there are espressos, cold teas and chocolate-dipped figs for the customers who come by to shop or simply to chat with Frankfurt in the darkly glamorous salon, which looks more like the drinks den in her own home a few blocks away than it does the type of place that might have a layaway plan or even a cash wrap.

“I remember when a Bergdorf Goodman executive came in and noted that the basic set-up of my store goes against Retail 101 in about a thousand different ways,” says Frankfurt, obviously pleased. “I think there is a graciousness to the space, an inviting sensibility. I don’t subscribe to the intimidation school of thought.”

Liseanne Frankfurt necklace bracelets

Left: Coral-and-18k-gold Arc necklace; 18k-gold rough-amethyst ring; 18k-gold-and-turquoise ring; 18k-gold Heavy Bent band; wood bracelet. Right: Wooden bangles with 18k-gold discs and diamonds; 18k-gold-and-turquoise King’s ring. Photos by Pascal André for Estylo Magazine

No one in her right mind could be intimidated by the ringleted, boho-pixie designer or the jewelry she’s been making for the past two decades. Not easy to categorize, Frankfurt’s wares, which are available on 1stdibs, range from the daintiest of stacking rings, their Moghul-cut rubies or black diamonds the size of pinpricks, to collarbone-sweeping “feather” earrings of Keishi pearls strung on knotted violet silk cord. But taken together — and that’s how she likes to wear them, with as many as 14 rings and four bracelets on her hands at any one time — they emanate a romance and exoticism worthy of tomb-raider spoils.

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Unsurprisingly, the designer finds most of her inspiration far from the confines of her Venice neighborhood. “I have an extreme case of wanderlust,” she admits. “I literally itch to travel.” Her trips, often made with her husband, Peter, and their two children, stoke her fascination with native metalworking traditions (Roman, East-African, Russian — the list is never static) and her obsession with the natural world, one that began, as did her jewelry-making, during a childhood in Palm Springs where her gregarious father worked in the hotel and restaurant business.

“What I love about Liseanne’s work is that it’s so personal and unselfconscious and yet at the same time so luxurious,” says Vogue’s Sally Singer. “You put on her pieces and then forget how precious they are — until you stop and think, Yikes, I’m surfing with diamonds!”

Singer and Frankfurt met when their now-teenaged children were small. “I’ve watched as she’s grown into a formidable woman,” Singer continues, “one who can raise a family, run a business and remain committed to craft and conscientious design. She’s completely lovely, in every sense.”

Frankfurt sold her first pieces of jewelry when she was just a sophomore at U.C.L.A., finding enthusiastic buyers among the boutiques of Santa Monica’s posh Montana Avenue. Before long, her pieces were retailing at Fred Segal and Barneys New York and Japan. Studies in geology and gemology, not to mention the requisite pilgrimage to the Gem Palace, in Jaipur, India, were all checked off the syllabus, but her unforced style and unorthodox mind for business are as much a result of her life outside the jewelry world as in it. She is a student of dance and finds it wildly illuminating; art, architecture, fashion and literature also feed her, as does the work of her husband, whose company produces graphic media of a decidedly new-tech sort. Her late mother-in-law, the New York decorator Suzie Frankfurt, has also been a creative touchstone.

“Suzie was a wonderful character, and someone who really demonstrated a way to live a rich, creative life, with an unabashed sense of luxury,” says Frankfurt. “She was a true Russophile — my heritage — and had great enthusiasm for artists and for talent in general, and an extremely discerning eye.” A member of Andy Warhol’s inner circle, Suzie Frankfurt was partial to the Empire style, creative cuisine (she and Warhol wrote the cult cookbook Wild Raspberries together) and shades of “poison” green; the younger Frankfurts live with a pair of her mother-in-law’s malachite silk damask sofas in the living room of her mid-century Gregory Ain house in Venice.

“You put on her pieces,” says Vogue’s Sally Singer, “and then forget how precious they are — until you stop and think, Yikes, I’m surfing with diamonds!”

Liseanne Frankfurt Venice store

Frankfurt’s Venice store, shown here at its grand opening in 2007, resembles a luxurious salon. Photo by Mimi Haddon

For a time in the 1990s, Frankfurt took a hiatus from jewelry-making, working as a fashion stylist and interior designer. At one point, she helped launch a retail shop and furniture collection for decorator Michael S. Smith, a longtime friend who is the godfather of her son. Her gift for friendship is Olympian: Among her open circle are art dealer Shaun Caley Regen, rug and textiles designer Christopher Farr, fashion designer Gregory Parkinson, accessories designer Kendall Conrad, perfumer Alexandra Balahoutis and landscape architect Mia Lehrer. Lunch at the Frankfurts’ usually involves a few too many people elbowing for places around a table on the terrace, and an epic farmer’s-market salad making the rounds in a bowl almost the size of the nearby pool.

“I was genuinely seduced by the way Liseanne lives,” says her friend Farr, who recently asked the jeweler to design some bespoke carpets for his London- and L.A.-based rug company. “She’s top to bottom — the way she cooks, the way she dresses, the way her house looks — everything has that considered quality, that love of beauty. We kind of call her superwoman behind her back…there’s no bead of sweat, ever.”

Clients may not all experience the epic salad or the ornamental grasses that Lehrer has artfully arranged in the Frankfurt garden, but many count themselves as friends and benefit from the designer’s gift for matching them with pieces that go on to become extensions of their personalities. “Jewelry is such a personal thing to collect,” she says. “I feel so validated when I see my clients really layering and enjoying their jewelry, not just saving pieces for special occasions. The way they start with something sort of signature and simple and over time feel confident buying the pieces that they used to covet but didn’t really feel comfortable wearing. It’s a transformative moment, that leap of faith and of confidence.”

Lately, Frankfurt’s been marking her own evolution, venturing into faceted stones, more varieties of diamonds and playing around with scale and proportion in ways that feel new to her yet completely familiar to anyone who knows her work. “The fact that I have pieces from my very first collection in the store next to the newest piece, and they are happy together, is a testament to this ideal,” she says. “Recently, I’ve been inspired more by the past, by Tsarist Russia and pre-Raphaelite England — and also by what the concepts of fantasy, beauty and grace would look like in the twenty-first century.”

That’s rich material, and, in Frankfurt’s hands, it’s likely to deliver rich results. “I’m a Libra through and through, so balancing past and present is basically a pathological condition for me,” she says. Maybe so, but some might simply call it her creative license.

New rings Liseanne Frankfurt

Frank’s rings come in a variety of shapes, cuts and colors, including, at center, a statement-making piece with a green paraiba tourmaline center stone surrounded by gray diamonds. Photo by Carly Kenny

Liseanne Frankfurt’s Quick Picks on 1stdibs

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