Asians in Fashion | Joomi Lim in KoreAm Journal, May 2013
  • by Audrey Archives
  • May 30, 2013
Cul-Intro-0513-Impact

Joomi Lim and Xavier Ricolfi at their New York City showroom.

Statement Jewels

Joomi Lim employs skulls, spikes and titanium for an edgy, high-end jewelry line.

story by DAVID YI
photographs by VICTOR CHU

It’s an early Friday afternoon, and jewelry designer Joomi Lim and her partner in business and life, Xavier Ricolfi, are running out of time. They’re conducting a meeting in their New York City showroom with a potential distributor, while simultaneously directing contractors on how to set up the lighting in the new space. They take time to speak with this reporter, before dashing off to an event at Saks Fifth Avenue to promote their line, Joomi Lim.

“It’s always this busy,” Lim says, chuckling.

 

The couple just came back from a whirlwind trip to Paris Fashion Week, where they participated in major trade shows and had meetings with many of the boutiques that carry Joomi Lim. The high-end jewelry line retails from $74 for rings to close to $800 for statement necklaces. The collection also offers earrings, cuffs and bracelets.

Today Joomi Lim is carried in major retail stores throughout the world, including Opening Ceremony, Bergdorf Goodman, 10 Corso Como in both Milan and Seoul, and Liberty London. The jewels are also often featured in fashion publications like British Vogue and Teen Vogue, and can be seen on celebrities like Rihanna and Miley Cyrus.

The latter paid a visit to Lim’s showroom a few weeks ago and handpicked a spiked necklace and bracelet, the line’s signatures and bestsellers. Lim’s chic, unique line, only four years old, is known for mixing and matching hard and soft elements—edgy and feminine, punk and luxe, sweet and tough. New York Magazine’s reputable fashion blog, The Cut, wrote that the brand was “a perfect binary blend of tough brass spikes and sparkling femininity,” and that the brand is a “stylist’s go-to.”

“It’s really crazy how we’ve gotten so big in such a short time,” says Lim. The line’s success is especially satisfying, given that Lim never expected her jewelry-making hobby to become a career. But the early hints were certainly there.

Back in the 1990s, when she was still in school and simultaneously working retail at Nordstrom, she wore earrings that she had made to work one day. “They were shoulder dusters the long earrings that rubbed your shoulders,” Lim recalls. “Mine were so long they could be boob dusters!”

Immediately, a buyer from Nordstrom approached her and put in an order on the spot. Not long after that, the earrings were deemed a “Top 5” selling product throughout the store. “I was in my early 20s,” Lim says. “I was just doing it as a hobby. I wasn’t thinking too much about my future, per se.”

But her true passion kept finding its way back to her. Even while working as a makeup artist, she found herself styling her high-profile clients with her own jewelry. That soon led to Lim starting her own high-end fashion and jewelry brand, Joomi Joolz, in the late ’90s. Her big break came when Christina Aguilera, the then fresh-faced teenage chanteuse, edged up her squeaky clean image when she sported a naughty, itty bitty blue tank with the words “Super Girl” encrusted with crystals for the cover of Rolling Stone. Then, Madonna wore one of Lim’s shirts for her “Don’t Tell Me” video. Press buzzed, and sales went through the roof.

“I was a kid when I started that,” says Lim. “I had, like an 8,000-squarefoot office with 50 employees for Joomi Joolz. I was good at creating trends and taking that to the market.” But in 2001, the effects of the 9/11 terrorist attacks were felt in the fashion industry, and many businesses went under. Lim saw sales plummet and had to take on a business partner, with whom she didn’t see eye to eye. That led to her selling her shares, leaving that partnership and setting out for a fresh start in New York City in 2004. It was a chance encounter at a Brooklyn furniture store that would set the stage for this new chapter in Lim’s life.

“I was with a friend, and all of a sudden, I meet this hot Frenchie,” she recalls.

“She talked to me, and in my best French accent, I said, ‘I’m sorry I don’t understand,’” Ricolfi adds.

“You know I’m obsessed with anything French,” says Lim. “You know I must be Korean because Koreans love their Frenchies. I told my Korean friends, and I was like, ‘I met a guy from Paris.’ They were like, ‘This is destiny,’ because I love everything French; I love the music, the food, the culture, décor, all the desserts, the language. Paris was my thing.” The two fell in love that summer. After Ricolfi went back to Paris in July, Lim joined him.

“I wasn’t going for him,” she clarifies. “I was going there, anyway, to study French, and I asked if he wanted to hang out.”

They ended up hanging out every day. It wasn’t until Lim came back to the States that she had the itch to get back into jewelry design. She brought on Ricolfi—who studied industrial design at Strate College in Paris and formerly worked for French product designer Philippe Starck as a furniture designer—to head the project’s art direction. She was freelancing for Victoria’s Secret during the day, developing its “Tee Shop” T-shirt collection, while she and Ricolfi worked at night on crafting the pair’s concept for their new jewelry line. Lim was more conceptual, and Ricolfi used his industrial background to find unusual materials for the jewelry. Lim focused on branding, while Ricolfi homed in on business. The two decided they’d go high-end, even after the market crashed and their peers were going more affordable.

“Whatever it was, we didn’t want to sell out, and we really wanted to make our brand authentic,” Lim says. They were among the first jewelry designers to incorporate titanium in their collection.

“I thought it’d just be boring doing rose gold, silver, gold,” says Ricolfi. “So we introduced titanium—something new. At the time people didn’t understand it—it’s a high tech process—but it soon caught on.” Today, other jewelry designers like Eddie Borgo incorporate the material. “But we were the first,” Ricolfi says. After launching in 2009 their first few designs—a mix of one- and two-row spikes with screws and skulls in-between—they held their breath.

“At first no one really understood the screwed spikes,” Lim says. But soon enough, young downtown boutiques like Opening Ceremony took notice and purchased everything from their first collection.

“Really, it was Opening Ceremony that gave us a chance,” Lim says. “We are so beyond thankful to them.” After the launch, the brand hasn’t looked back, and now the pair has to kindly decline selling to a few massive retailers.

“What my former business partner [at Joomi Joolz] underestimated about me is that I knew about branding,” says Lim. “He was all about the bottom line, selling to Macy’s. I wanted to keep the integrity of the brand, and be exclusive.” What’s next for the duo that’s always on the go?

“Our business is our baby, so we’re just trying to grow and constantly evolve,” she says. “We put all of our love into this.”

 

 

This story appeared in KoreAm Journal’s

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