A nod from Forbes Magazine earlier this year gave Del Campo High School graduate Michelle Campbell Mason a lift, but the most memorable press she has received was when Vogue.com told its readers in 2011 that she was one of three jewelry designers they needed to know.
Mason launched her business, Michelle Campbell Jewelry, the year before Vogue hailed her work. This year, Forbes ranked Mason as one of its “30 Under 30” to watch in the fields of art and style.
Although she’s only 29 years old, Mason was no neophyte to the world of fashion when she began designing jewelry. She had been modeling since the age of 15, with her mother Clarice Campbell-Mason chauffeuring her from the family’s home, then in Gold River, to assignments in San Francisco. After Mason went on to study theater and sociology at UCLA, modeling became her college job. Her slender 5-foot, 10-inch frame has displayed haute couture from such esteemed houses as St. John, Dolce & Gabbana and Armani.
Campbell-Mason, a therapist, told me that she was hesitant to let her daughter launch a modeling career, but Mason’s resolve persuaded her to allow it. “Michelle is very intelligent,” said her mother. “She is a person who is more than what she is on the outside. She is also beautiful. She’s gotten a lot of attention for that, and yet she’s not into her own looks.”
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Mason was seeking a creative outlet beyond modeling and acting, so she started sketching jewelry designs. She had inherited a large collection of fine jewelry from her paternal grandmother, Mary Ellen Mason, a longtime schoolteacher in the San Juan Unified School District. The elder Mason had designed a number of the pieces herself, and that gave her granddaughter the idea.
“I was living in L.A. in Laurel Canyon, a very inspiring creative neighborhood,” Mason told me in a telephone interview from New York. “It’s overgrown with trees, and a lot of musicians and artists live there. I would walk around the neighborhood and get inspired to create the jewelry.”
Nature and urban architecture inspired her designs of the perennially popular knuckle-floater ring, the classic honeycomb cuff, the talon hoop earrings and other pieces.
“The knuckle-floating ring is … I think, our most defining silhouette,” Mason said. “It’s one of the first pieces I ever made, and … it looks like two bars that are floating on your skin. That’s my aesthetic in a nutshell, a really clean modern line where the metal looks like it’s floating on your skin.”
If not for her experience as a model, Mason said, she would not have known how to get started in the jewelry design business. After completing her sketches, Mason used her contacts to find a manufacturer in Los Angeles and produce jewelry samples. She took her samples to a trade show, where buyers came by her booth, asked questions, took notes and ultimately made orders. One of her first big customers was Shopbop.com, an influential fashion trend-spotter.
The editors of Harper’s Bazaar gave Michelle Campbell Jewelry its first major print recommendation with a photo insert in 2011.
“That was the first time I ever saw it in print,” Mason said. “It was hard to believe. It was like, ‘Oh, my God, I did that.’ It was suddenly real. It was official.”
Although Mason continues to manufacture her jewelry in Los Angeles, she now lives and works in New York. Her parents, Michael Mason and Campbell-Mason, wish their only child was closer to home, she said, but the move has proved to be the wisest choice for her company.
Her pieces have won favor with celebrities such as Taylor Swift, Beyoncé and Natalie Dormer. They have been recommended by the editors of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle and Glamour. They sell at brick-and-mortar stores such as Club Monaco, Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus and online sites like Shopbop, IntermixOnline, and AhaLife. Mason’s customers span the globe, including some in China, Japan, France, England and Germany.
“What’s important to me is to create something classic that has staying power,” Mason said. “I did a fine jewelry group of honeycomb pieces about a year and a half ago, and I have one of those pieces that I personally wear every day, and it’s the honeycomb necklace, a very beautiful simple geometric shape.”
Mason said she puts much of her profits back into expanding the business and to developing more cost-effective ways to manufacture products. Although success with consumers relies on creativity, she said, success as a business depends on hiring and managing the right personnel and keeping a sharp eye on the bookkeeping.
Call The Bee’s Cathie Anderson, (916) 321-1193. Follow her on Twitter @CathieA_SacBee.