Our first look at the new Jordan Alexander Jewelry atelier couldn't have been more Houston. Designer Theresa Bruno, who's crafted high-end pieces for seriously high-profile names, celebrated her permanent presence here by doing what Houstonians most love to do— giving back. With the help of friend and prominent philanthropist Hallie Vanderhider, Bruno debuted her new space last month with an event to support the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women campaign, donating 50 percent of all jewelry sales that evening to the initiative and specially designing a $250 heart-shaped diamond pendant for the cause. AHA's Go Red for Women encourages women to take charge of their heart health—about 1 in 3 die from heart disease in the U.S., the leading cause of death among women here.
Bruno was Vanderhider's guest at a Go Red luncheon last May, where a slew of heart disease survivors appeared together on-stage. "What I saw was the American Heart Association putting its arms around those women and giving them safety, and as we all know as women, finding safety in the world is a really hard thing to do," Bruno said. "They had a shoulder to cry on; they had a community. I was just so moved by that. A year later, I'm here opening this atelier with the American Heart Association."
Bruno lives in Birmingham, Alabama, which also serves as Jordan Alexander's HQ with a storefront there (manufacturing takes place in Los Angeles), but she's no stranger to Houston. For years, she's sold her pieces and crafted bespoke designs for a loyal cadre of Bayou City supporters—Vanderhider, dripping in pearls, chief among them.
"I know you're thinking, could you put one more set of pearls on? Probably I could," she said at the atelier launch. "This collection was a journey, but everything I have is Jordan Alexander. Obviously I'm a huge fan of Theresa's work. In fact, one time they took my collection to show to a store to see if they'd be interested [in carrying Jordan Alexander] because it was such a vast collection."
Now, more Houstonians can build their own collections in Bruno's elegant, glass-walled showroom—her second over a decade in business—at the Five Post Oak Building. Designed based on Bruno's preferred palette, the space feels more like a chic living room than a storefront thanks to a glam blush sofa, gold-draped light fixtures, massive tapestries of jungle cats and tropical flowers, and a bevy of burning candles. And new Houston customers will be in good company: First Lady Michelle Obama, Oprah, Julia Roberts, and Kristen Stewart have all worn Jordan Alexander jewels.
We spoke with Bruno—a classically trained musician who, believe it or not, is a self-taught jeweler—ahead of her Houston atelier opening to learn more about her journey.
You've sold privately in Houston for several years; why did you decide to open a physical showroom here?
I try to live this way: I feel like Houston has told me what it wants of me, which is really neat, and I've waited on. I don't think I've pushed it or gotten ahead of anything; I've waited until the demand [was there]. In a few instances there are people in Houston who are doing some bespoke work, but not a lot, and that's how I really got my footing. These women have consistently said to me, "there's nobody here who's doing that for us."
How do your Houston clients differ from those in other cities?
I can't say enough about the women and men in Houston, because they have been so open-armed to me as a designer. I do predominantly fine to very fine jewelry, so I'm up against some names that have been around for a very long time and who have extreme depth in terms of brand recognition. What's been so great about Houston is that hasn't seemed to stand in the way. They've really looked at my work for the talent of it, for the artistry of it, for the materials used. They haven't needed to be brand-driven, which has been just incredibly refreshing. It's such a cool market. They accept those of us who are fairly new, and yet they give us our due—they give us a chance to shine and build our businesses. It's a very different climate than especially the big eastern markets.
What was it like working with the former First Lady?
Michelle Obama was just amazing. She wore my pieces when I wasn't even incorporated yet—literally, I had to incorporate because she wore my pieces, and she wore them consistently over a period of about three years. She asked me to do a series of bracelets for both the girls. She would make sure I got photos of them at a baseball game wearing them, things like that. Honestly, I don't think I'd have the brand I do without Michelle Obama. I just credit her so much.
She really has been instrumental in building brand awareness for smaller American designers.
I think she was, aside from Jackie Kennedy, the most powerful force for the fashion business in politics. She wears brands from high to low, and she wears them all so beautifully. Wearing Milly for her portrait? That's incredible. She was a force.
You have other famous fans, too. What's it been like designing for celebrities?
Sometimes you don't have as much of a personal association with a client. I have had quite a lot of wearings by Oprah, and she has worn the jewelry a lot on the covers of her magazine and in other places. I've worked pretty tightly with her stylist and got a lot of nice feedback there—her stylist would run off into another room and come back and say, "oh my gosh, Oprah loves the color for this." Your peacock feathers go up. I've not had an experience with any famous person or celebrity that has been unkind, and I'm really, really grateful when they wear something.
You're a Juilliard-educated musician. How did that influence your design career?
I've lived my entire life in the arts since I was a really little girl, mostly as a musician, and then it kind of feathered into other things like filmmaking and graphic design and running a graphic media company. But it's always come from the same place. People are always so surprised when I say I'm a completely self-taught jewelry designer, but to me it seems like the most natural thing in the world. I can play a Chopin ballade, and that to me in my head feels like the same thing as cultivating great stones and putting them in a beautiful setting. It all comes from one place.