Learn How Lulu Frost Designer Lisa Salzer Took her Vintage Jewelry Passion and Turned it Into a Business

Photo Credit: Andrew Willard & Meghan Eberlin

Photo Credit: Andrew Willard & Meghan Eberlin

Seamlessly blending tradition with modernity is something Lisa Salzer has mastered in her jewelry. The CFDA member has been designing antique statements for her brand Lulu Frost since it was founded in New York City back in 2004. She inherited her unique eye and taste for antique vintage pieces from her grandmother Elizabeth Frost, whom the company was named for.

However that didn’t stop Salzer from launching a unisex jewelry collection called George Frost, and a fun beaded collaboration with CFDA award winner Michael Bastian. With it’s rapid growing success, Lulu Frost jewelry is sold in department stores around the world, as well as in her very first flagship retail store that just opened up in the cute downtown neighborhood of Nolita, New York City. Read ahead to hear about how Salzer turned her passion for jewelry into a business and her tips and tricks to #Makingit in the indsutry.

What was the inspiration behind starting your own line? 

I started fourteen years ago, when I was twenty-one and in college. Just for fun, I was up at college in New Hampshire, and there are a lot of flea markets, and vintage stores around, so I just started spending time sourcing things and realized that vintage is like feeding my love. My grandmother was in an antique jewelry business. Her name was Elizabeth Frost. And Lulu’s my nickname so that’s how I named the company. It’s very sweet to me that's why I do what I do. It has to be meaningful. Over the years, the jewelry has become more and more meaningful, like our collections of zodiacs, and coverts. I'm just obsessed with giving people meaning through the things that we create so it really started, in vintage and antique jewelry. It’s just nice that you won't see any of these things again and they truly have a character and a soul to them, like whenever something new comes in we just kind of geek out. We’re like, this is incredible, this is antique Czechoslovakian celluloid from the 30s, or Japanese earrings from the 1950s, you know amazing Navajo things just all kinds of stuff passes through here and I really consider myself to be almost like an energy mover, it’s more than just jewelry. I take these old things that might have been forgotten or discarded or just passed on from one generation to the next and I try to give them a new life and pass it on to someone that's going to give them a new life and appreciate them again. Yeah, so, it’s fun.

Where would you say are some of your go-to places to search for things like this because that really must be hard to find?

Yeah, it’s tough to find really special unique pieces. My mom is our buyer and she has the best eye, her and my dad go to different antique sales, estate dealers, and at this point over the fourteen years we've cultivated great relationships with maybe 20 to 30 excellent dealers who are on a hunt for me, specifically. Most of the antiques are coming from Europe. Czechoslovakia in particular is one of my favorite places to source antiques. The old resin in celluloid, and their glass, they just have the best techniques, and true creativity. So most of the antiques are European or American. I've been getting really into Native American and in particular Mexican Sterling, from the1900s on, and even Tunisian vintage too, so I’m starting to expand, out of that colonial world of antiques and kind of broaden my horizons.

What inspired you to then create your contemporary line?

I think I got really lucky because when J. Crew and I collaborated about six years ago, I was really not aware of how to make jewelry on a larger scale. I was doing pieces really just from vintage, and it gave me this great opportunity to learn how to start designing in cast in pieces, making moles and cads, so from that time period, I really just expanded my knowledge, and my horizons, and learned about computer-assisted design and illustrator. I had been learning about wax carving and more jewel-making skills, and it was just a natural evolution, because we wanted more people to be able to see our aesthetic. But, at the core of Lulu Frost is always the vintage, and once a month I do a whole vintage edit on our site, which is always, of course, one of my favorites. It’s the thrill of the hunt, and that’s what keeps me interested too, no matter how many years I’ve been sourcing vintage, I always see new things. Which is so intriguing. Every time I go out hunting I'm going to see something new, so it never gets old and it keeps me learning which is really, what keeps people excited and young, is to be forever learning.

Do you feel that your vintage inspires your contemporary?

Absolutely. I mean there's just a myriad of techniques, colors, juxtaposition of materials that gets my mind revved and excited. Our Calla Lily Collection, which was a big part of our Spring collection is a great example. I had an amazing hat pin from the 30s that was made of Bakelite, and I put them together. I carried Calla Lilies for my wedding, so I thought they were stunning but the real inspiration came from an amazing antique Bakelite hatpin, from the 1930s that looks a lot like this. It was two Bakelite pieces connected by a wire and it was used in the thirties as a hatpin. So women wear them through the brim of their hat, and I was just so in love with it that I cut it apart, added in some Deco elements, and that's a pair of earrings that I wear all the time and they're one of the kind. I kept them for myself of course but the shape was just too beautiful to not share. So it inspired a whole grouping in my modern day collections. So that’s kind of how things turned from vintage into modern.

With both your grandmother and your mother in the jewelry business, how do you feel that impacted you, growing up surrounded by it?

Hugely, our whole family was so blessed, all the women in my family every Christmas or Birthday, they would get a piece of jewelry from my grandmother. So Christmas was really amazing, we would all kind of gather in this wonderful little living room and each of us would get a box from the estate store where my grandmother was the manager for many years and be really excited to open it up and we would pass it around, each one, one at a time, it was a ritual. And to this day my aunts on my mom's side and my cousins and my sister and I, we all still have those pieces that are my grandma gave each of us. it was something that I think at the time we didn't realize how special and amazing and lucky we all were, but it was a very loving time for our family where just so much positive energy was shared, and those pieces now have all those memories.

Being that your pieces are so deep-rooted in vintage, now with social media, how do you feel that has affected your business?

I think it's a great thing and what's really awesome about Lulu Frost is it's all about reinterpreting the past and making it modern, so that enables me to have one foot in the past but it almost calls me forward to keep being modern and progressive. Social media is something that I've totally embraced and that I love, even though it's modern and fast, and sometimes overwhelms our life, I think that it's really nice that I can give some traditional knowledge and show pieces that are one-of-a-kind that people won’t see again, via social, and really communicate with my customers, because the point of why I am doing this whole company is to connect to people, and to have people feel like they're connecting to something that's deeply meaningful in their life, whether it's their lucky number, their anniversary, a birth date. 

Could you tell me a little bit more about your Plaza series?

So in 2005 the Plaza hotel closed for renovation, and I was very very lucky to come across the room numbers which are originally from 1904 and they were being thrown away. They were salvaged by a great architectural salvage company and I bought a few at first, made them into pendants, and quickly realized “I think I have a hit here”. So I went back to the store praying that they’d still be there, and they were and I bought all of them. I spent my entire life’s savings really, on the rest of the numbers, but I knew that it was going to work. And we were selling at Barneys New York at the time, right next to The Plaza and they just took off. That's what got us into Vogue, and, Anna Wintour took notice, and it really put my company on the map, one year after starting. from there I just really gained a deep understanding of how people all over the world, are very connected to numbers, letters and the deeper meaning behind those. it's really cross-cultural, it crosses barriers and it enables you to get close to a stranger, really quickly, like I've had people in Japan or Ireland or the Dominican Republic or Canada tell me something very intimate about their life, based on maybe a relative that passed on, that was their lucky number or a number that connected the family, or three siblings in the family. Or now that we’re doing the Zodiac signs, that’s an incredibly powerful connector for people, both to the deeper aspects of themselves, but also the people that they surround themselves with in their lives. That's the mission of Lulu Frost jewelry, is really to celebrate the past while making it modern, but to have people be able to connect deeply to themselves or to loved ones in their life.

What ready-to-wear designers inspire you?

I’m a huge Marnie fan, that’s basically all that I need in life. she has such a sense of fun, and wittiness, and she’s not taking herself too seriously. I also really love Creatures of Comfort, that’s the kind of thing I find myself wearing not only, to be comfortable, but also to look the part, of a designer. I also I love Rachel Comey, just kind of more thinking girls, sort of intellectual, artistic. I also love WHIT. WHIT is a big brand and a dear friend of mine, and she’s got that wittiness.


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