Recently Christina Binkley from THE WALL STREET JOURNAL sat down with Alfonso and I at THE SPARKLE FACTORY. Here is the article as it appears on WSJ.com:
THE SERIOUS BUSINESS OF PRETTY PINK THINGS
THE SERIOUS BUSINESS OF PRETTY PINK THINGS
Pink. Plastic. These adjectives aren't usually applied to fashionable jewelry. But Tarina Tarantino has changed that. With stores in Milan, Los Angeles and New York, she is the haute designer of playful jewelry for grown women.
Her nostalgic Barbie rings are not for your kindergartner. Nor are her banana earrings, studded with tiny Swarovski crystals and topped with Lucite bows. There are Hello Kitty pendants and earrings and a current collection that she calls "Beastly Bijou." It's the sort of pavé-and-spikes jewelry that your pet dinosaur might wear. Her designs are often arch or camp. For Valentine's Day this year, Ms. Tarantino made pink tiaras but also a black "I Hate Hearts" skull collection.
Ms. Tarantino, 37, has developed a huge list of celebrity clients, many of whom have a dark side. Katy Perry, Avril Lavigne, Beth Ditto and Kelly Osbourne are fans. Lindsay Lohan wore her black cameo bow headband at a recent Viktor & Rolf fashion show in Paris.
The trick in this business, Ms. Tarantino said, is to elevate a product that might feel dime-store to the level of high fashion. Her baubles—sold in stores from London to Zagreb and Hong Kong—don't come cheap, considering the lack of precious stones, gold or silver. The "Topkapi Sunset" necklace is priced at $465. A ring with a 1950s-era Barbie head is $63.
To elevate the brand, she manufactures the pieces to be weighty—literally. Lucite "stones" in the shape of hearts or flowers can be big and heavy. Many come laden with Swarovski crystals. It's a fine line. "I go right to the edge sometimes with color and girly and cuteness," she conceded. One more step and it could be tacky.
She is frequently approached for co-branding collaborations and has done them with Barbie and Hello Kitty; she has even worked with Disney. But she's careful to avoid subjects that lack the irony or nostalgic twist that keeps her customers in the 25-to-40 age range. She says she wouldn't do pure-kid-stuff brands like Smurfs or My Little Pony.
Designing 15 eclectic collections a year requires Ms. Tarantino to generate a steady stream of new ideas, often on deadline. On many mornings, she sets aside a couple of hours, shuts the door of her office, which is chock-a-block with the kitsch that inspires her jewelry collections, and wills herself to be creative. She turns to children's books, her own dreams and music for inspiration. A Roxy Music song inspired her "Strange Delight" collection, which features a zany jumble of colorful baubles. A collection called "Magic Hour" was inspired by the views from her Hollywood Hills home.
"If you looked inside my brain, it's like a stove full of pots," she said. "Some are simmering, some are boiling, and some don't have anything in them yet."
Ms. Tarantino manages a staff of design assistants and factory workers, which also requires creativity, she said. Recently, one of her employees wasn't happy with her performance review and asked Ms. Tarantino to discuss the review with her mother. "I told her that her mother doesn't work here," Ms. Tarantino said.
The mother of two girls, she lives and works in Los Angeles. The office and factory are in a downtown facility known as the Sparkle Factory, where Christmas music plays year-round, from Wham! to Burl Ives.
Hot pink hair is part of her brand. She's had it for 13 years and uses the same colorist to get the perfect shade each time. Her colorist mixes four colors to produce "Tarina Pink." "I got married with pink hair. I had two babies with pink hair. And I'll be an old lady with pink hair," she said, sounding committed. She wore a black Marni dress with lavender lace pantyhose and bright pink nail polish.
It all started when she was a child in Southern California, with a mother who more than once took her to see Mummenschanz, the surreal Swiss pantomime group. She began making jewelry at age three, out of materials including Bakelite, an early plastic. She later worked as a fashion model until she grew tired of "starving" herself to stay thin. As a model, and working as a makeup artist after that, she created collage-style jewelry out of found objects, and people bought her creations right off her body. She was soon in business.
When Cameron Diaz spotted one of her turquoise-colored Lucite bracelets on a friend's wrist and wore it to the 2002 Oscars with an Emanuel Ungaro wrap gown, Tarina Tarantino "fashion jewelry" was on the map.
"My hobby became my business," Ms. Tarantino says. "So suddenly I have no hobbies."