Debi Mattingly was in the middle of a low-key night when she got an excited phone call from a family member: "Is that Carrie Underwood on the Country Music Awards wearing your bracelets?" It was, and Underwood is far from the first celebrity to be seen adorned in Mattingly's Houston-made jewelry line, Debi Lynn Designs.
"I'm the best-kept little secret in Houston!" she says with a laugh.
Debi Lynn Designs
9426 Katy Freeway
(By appointment only)
Mattingly was raised in Louisiana, with Creek and Creole heritage, though she's lived and worked in Houston since the 1980s, owning an art gallery before starting her jewelry line in 1994, so she dubs her line's look as "bayou gypsy meets cowgirl chic."
The jewelry features a mixture of materials, from leather straps to vintage and antique stone beads and turquoise from Mexico, and most pieces are designed to be stacked together to create a bold look.
"I'm known a lot for my crosses, but for an American Indian a cross doesn't always signify Christianity, it also symbolizes the four directions," says Mattingly. "I always give the story behind the materials, too, like maybe there's a bead from Paris from the 1920s. My customers love to be able to tell someone 'This means this and this.' My great-grandmother, who practiced voodoo, believed in spirit so I let the spirit guide [each design]—I never know how it's going to come out."
A screenwriter friend introduced Mattingly into the world of celebrity stylists, who have in turn introduced her jewelry to their clients, although Mattingly makes it a point of pride never to gift any of her designs. In addition to Underwood, her fans include Miranda Lambert, who has been buying her necklaces and bracelets for years (and who wears them in her new Dodge truck commercial), as well as Demi Lovato, Lana Del Rey, Ireland Baldwin and Britney Spears, all of whom have been photographed in her work.
"As a designer my most 'Oh my God' moment was Joan Rivers, because Joan never bought jewelry, she had her own line, and not only did she wear one she wore two necklaces. To have the queen of fashion herself, who could literally wear anyone, in my pieces, that was major."
Despite her embrace by celebrities, Mattingly hasn't raised her prices—bracelets start at about $40, although versions featuring lots of turquise of other stones can range to over $200. And she donates 10 percent of sales to a different women's charity every year—for 2015 it's Hope 4 Women International, which helps empower Native American women in Arizona and women in Uganda to start their own businesses.
In Houston, Debi Lynn Designs can be found in her Memorial-area showroom, which also stocks vintage and designer dresses that Mattingly finds in her frequent trips to Los Angeles. For fall, she's working on new designs that have a red carpet vibe, featuring vintage velvet and Herkimer diamonds, one of the last crystals to be mined in the United States, with a history that appeals to Mattingly because they were featured in the ceremonies of the Mohawk tribe.
"I never planned to be some huge, fancy designer. That's not who I am," says Mattingly. I'm just here for the average lady. The piece will speak to whoever it's supposed to speak to."