Nikki Gewirtz never wanted a career, but this week the designer behind a multi-million pound business received an MBE for services to jewellery design.
“Not bad for a girl who never wanted to go to school or work — from being a normal Jewish Princessy type of girl, I now have to deal with legal letters.”
By her own admission, the 44-year-old founder of Lola Rose was unambitious growing up. As the youngest (and only girl) in her family, expectations were reserved for her two elder brothers.
She, by contrast, was not academic. She enjoyed show-jumping, owned four ponies, left school with four GCSEs and went to St Godric’s finishing school in Hampstead, where she learnt to type, express herself through art and expertly step out of a car while balancing books on her head — in short, she learnt “how to be a lady”. She even spent some time on kibbutz before taking on “temping” jobs.
“I was coasting through life,” she says. “I had two brothers who were extremely talented and academic, and it was a case of ‘I was a girl’. I don’t think there was as much pressure as there is today.”
But Gewirtz was facing social pressures. Aged 30, she broke up with her long-term boyfriend and found herself at a loss. “I sensed the disappointment in my family when I broke up with him — I was done-and-dusted in their minds,” she recalls. “I didn’t have a home, I didn’t really have anything.”
Then, a friend gave her a bracelet made with semi-precious stones for her birthday. “I reckoned I could make it myself — so Jewish,” she laughs.
“So I went off to a Covent Garden bead shop, bought some semi-precious stones and books and literally started to bead bracelets.
“My family were, like, ‘what’s she doing now’.
“Friends of friends started buying them and saying ‘they’re great’. The Jewish community in Hampstead Garden Suburb were fantastic to me. I met a lot of inspiring women who introduced me to the right people and gave up their houses so I could have jewellery parties. They gave me the encouragement to do this and that’s what I needed. I found something I was good at!”
Armed with a wicker basket, she started approaching high-street chains with her semi-precious wares.
Now, her business is thriving and boasts high-profile customers from the Duchess of Cambridge to singer Nicole Scherzinger, who have been pictured wearing Lola Rose.
Gewirtz now hopes her story will inspire other women to take the plunge and “I would love to mentor”.
I meet Gewirtz at her new office in West Hampstead, not far from the north-west London home she shares with her husband and two young sons, Freddie and Oscar. Her new collection has just arrived and she’s excitedly looking at the display box.
Sat over a glass table, leaning in for a tangerine (she’s “juicing” today), she admits that juggling work and a family life can be tough. It is Friday morning and she has already been to a Golders Green butcher to buy the Shabbat chicken.
“I’m a mum,” she says happily. “I live this weird glamorous life at Lola Rose and then I’m undressing as I walk through the door and I’m in bed by 10pm.
“I go through the day doing major deals, and then when I get through the doors I’m changing nappies.”
In the room surrounded by display boxes of necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and now scarves, the entrepreneur says she loves creating pieces with colour (jangling a vibrant set of bracelets on one arm).
She hopes one day to expand into Israel but, for now, part of her team has just gone to exhibit Lola Rose at a high-end trade show in Paris, even though the French have a well-known penchant for all things black.
She shrugs when I highlight this: “I think the French think they are the best and do the best — and that’s why the French market is quite a hard one to tackle from a British brand point of view.
“But I consider British fashion to be the best fashion — we do step outside the box.
“European brands don’t necessarily do that because they do follow this ridiculous suit of ‘we are the chic-est, we are the best, plain is the way forward’. It’s nonsense.”
She adds: “I started Lola Rose purely because of a frustration of not being able to find accessories that I felt were accessible.
“I would go and buy a dress for a wedding or a barmitzvah, and the necklace would cost as much as the dress — and I knew at the time that I would only wear that necklace once.
“Opportunities were few and far between for affordable luxury jewellery. That’s why I use semi-precious, real quality stones.”
And what is the essential ingredient that has made her story a successful one?
“I think the success of Lola Rose is because, as someone who never wanted to work, I never stop working. I don’t ever stop.
“I can step back and coast, but I want more from it.
“Being so naïve helped me. I asked people for help the whole way along. If you don’t ask for help, no one will help you. That’s really important, too.”