BY MAXINE DOVERE / JNS.org //
Iconic Israeli costume jeweler Michal Negrin, who for more than 25 years has been bringing romantic and vintage-inspired designs to the global fashion scene, is expanding her brand to a new level in the U.S. this summer.
Negrin plans to open more than two-dozen U.S. boutique locations over the next few years. June 21 marked the opening of a location at the Westfield Garden State Plaza in Paramus, NJ, and Negrin’s New York City flagship shop, in the fashion-focused SoHo area, launches Aug. 15.
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Asked what has inspired her designs, Negrin—a native of Kibbutz Na’an, a large manufacturing-focused kibbutz about 20 minutes away from Tel Aviv—said she was encouraged by her mother to “create her own world.”
“The Victorian design [of my jewelry] comes from many inspirations, especially childhood memories that are a part of my roots,” Negrin said in an interview with JNS.org.
Negrin said she “always wanted to think differently.”
“I preferred to stay at home, do the things I loved, and follow my own directions,” she said.
In 1988, with the encouragement of her husband Meir, Negrin launched her first official jewelry collection. Negrin’s first retail store, on Shenkin Street in Tel Aviv, was designed as a reflection of her childhood home, using that home’s furnishings, clothing, pictures, and flowers to create a complete, recognizable package. The design of the first piece she sold was based on her Russian grandmother’s jewelry.
Negrin began designing jewelry as a child. Her first marketing was at street stands, as she sold her wearable art pieces one by one. Her personal life and her business career were changed forever when she met and married Meir, who took his wife’s designs from street sales to a larger commercial scale. About 15 years ago, amid the growing success of the Tel Aviv store, Michal and Meir opened their factory in Bat Yam.
Now Negrin is at the forefront of a dramatic change in the Israeli jewelry industry. In 30 years, a once male-dominated industry that was widely known as a world-class center of diamond cutting has become the domain of female designers. In addition to the pioneering work of Negrin, Aya Azrielant has been creating Mediterranean Sea-themed pieces and has gained retail placements in such prominent stores as Saks Fifth Avenue.
“I consider it very good that women have taken the lead in the industry and can express their creativity,” Negrin said. “Everyone can follow her own design. Israeli women are creating a new language of beauty.”
Negrin’s company now includes 60 stores in two-dozen countries worldwide, including Japan, Israel, Italy, Russia, France, Austria, Mexico, China, and the U.S. (Paramus and Atlantic City, NJ, Boston, Los Angeles, and on Aug. 15, SoHo). All of Negrin’s shops use the same conceptual design.
“She creates here own world of beauty and design,” Ifat Pasternak, marketing manager at Michal Negrin, told JNS.org. “People just fall in love with Michal—the reaction is universal.”
Negrin credits her initial worldwide success to the suggestion of an Israeli man who visited her shop after traveling in Japan. The man carried her designs to Japan, where they were an immediate success—today there are 13 Michal Negrin shops in that country.
But despite the company’s global expansion, all the manufacturing at Michal Negrin is still performed in Israel.
“Everything is designed in Israel and handmade in the factory,” Noam Hanuka, Michal Negrin’s CEO, told JNS.org. “Even the packaging, which is very special, is all made in Israel.”
At the Michal Negrin Visitor Center in Bat Yam, items ranging from linens to shoes to yarmulkes—and, of course, her signature jewelry and clothing lines—are on display. The facility is part of the company’s manufacturing complex, employing more than 400 people. Within her workforce, Michal makes a concerted effort to employ individuals with special needs and disabilities.
The Michal Negrin jewelry collection is about 90 percent costume jewelry, made with materials not considered to be “precious.”
“The shiny parts are Swarovski crystal,” Hanuka said. “Negrin is the second-largest buyer of Swarovski crystal in the world.”
A small percentage of the Michal Negrin designs are more traditional. Those are created in gold and use real or semi-precious stones. Overall, the Michal Negrin designs “intend to evoke images of a fantastic world filled with optimism and happiness,” Hanuka said.
“The home décor items designed by Michal celebrate romance and spirituality,” he said.
Looking forward to the opening of her flagship store in Manhattan’s SoHo district this month, Negrin said, “New York is a dream come true.”
“New York is a city of great love,” she said. “It has an attitude of excitement with many surprises. The shop has the attitude of holiday all year round. Its creativity is unique.”
The Michal Negrin boutique will join several other Israeli-originated businesses in Soho.
“The Israeli shops [in SoHo] are kind of a symbol of Israeli-Jewish entrepreneurs doing business in the city,” Hanuka said. “We are trying to bring the same giving Israeli spirit to the United States. Everything is done according to the ideas of thebrand: open-mindedness, love, tolerance, and respect for other cultures. They say that there is no household in Israel without some piece of Negrin jewelry or some household items—a menorah, earrings, linens—something.”
Negrin said that in the future, she would not limit her business to material goods—she is planning to launch a new line of cafés.
“I want to create gallery-coffeehouses, place where people can meet, enjoy cultural events, and come together in the common language of beauty, art and culture,” she said. “I am proud to be a woman able to express my art and happy to see my co-designers showing the world a side of Israel that is positive and colorful.”