clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Inside a Superstar Jewelry Designer’s LA Studio

Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.

Architect-turned-designer Elena Howell's jewelry line, TomTom, is marked by impeccably clean lines, deceptively simple silhouettes, and a minimalist approach to luxury. It's no surprise that her keen eye extends beyond her collections to inform her interior design aesthetic, and the small studio she keeps in WeHo is as modern and clean as her accessories.

Loved by Jessica Alba, Leandra Medine, Ashley Greene, and Alicia Keys, TomTom's ever-increasing celebrity following is a testament to Elena's clear vision and Type A approach; she runs every aspect of her business, directs all her manufacturing in DTLA, balances her own books, and imbues her designs with a uniquely accessible and covet-worthy vibe.

We were afforded a rare glimpse inside Elena's studio space to see where the magic happens, and we left with major envy and new ideas (they include throwing out most of our stuff and painting everything white). Additionally, we got a chance to get to know a little more about Elena's design inspirations, her favorite career moment, and where she loves to shop in LA.

How does your background in architecture inform your designs?

I am constantly looking to architecture for design inspiration. I specifically tend to look toward mid-century modernist architects like Charles and Ray Eames, Oscar Niemeyer and John Lautner and contemporary Japanese architects such as Tadao Ando and Shigeru Ban for inspiration. I often find myself trying to translate the geometric details, architectural lines and broad gestural movements of their buildings into jewelry.

What are your favorite places to shop in LA?

Garde in West Hollywood for the homewares, Collection in Echo Park for vintage, the new LCD store in Venice for cool hard-to-find designers, Acne in downtown for denim, and Aesop for my face.

Favorite moment you saw a celeb wearing one of your pieces?

In 2013 a photo surfaced of Alicia Keys wearing the gold Chevron Prix collar at a private benefit concert. She looked stunning in the necklace, but what I loved most about the photo was the look of sheer joy and emotion in her face. You can tell from the photo that it must have been an amazing performance, and I felt like I was a part of it in a small way.

A photo posted by TOMTOM jewelry (@tomtomjewelry) on

What inspired your upcoming fall collection?

The fall collection was inspired by the modern sculptor Richard Serra and his mesmerizing large-scale twisting and undulating steel sculptures. The collection called Rotation is somewhat of a small-scale interpretation of his monumental forms.

What makes an item something for an It Girl?

I think you can make almost anything work if you wear it with confidence. That said, a simple gold geometric piece like our Vespa Collar or Mini Moto Cuff can always lend a cool girl vibe to an outfit.

Who are your style icons?

Charlotte Gainsburg, Emmanuelle Alt, Jenna Lyons, and vintage Kate Moss. I love a good androgynous French look.