By Wendy Donahue
Jewelry designer Loree Rodkin has just picked a cookie off a plate in the cafe at Ikram, the high-end women’s clothing boutique in Chicago, when she sees a smiling face approaching. It’s Sting’s manager, Kathy Schenker, who’s in town with him for his new musical, “The Last Ship.”
“I had no idea you were here,” Schenker says. “I’ll tell Sting.”
“Maybe we all can meet up for a drink later,” Rodkin says.
The stars have always seemed to align in this way for Rodkin.
Through three careers spanning more than 40 years, she has decorated the homes of rockers such as Alice Cooper and Rod Stewart.
As a talent manager, she scored a young unknown, Brad Pitt, his role in “Thelma & Louise.”
A hobby making jewelry landed her Elizabeth Taylor as a client. Rodkin went on to drape Michelle Obama in diamonds at the 2009 inauguration. Those pieces now reside in the Smithsonian’s permanent collection.
It all started with a move at age 19 from her native Chicago to Los Angeles. There, a party-planning job led to a relationship with Don Henley of the Eagles.
Later, she dated and decorated the home of Bernie Taupin, the lyricist for Elton John. That spiraled into other interior-design gigs for rockers and pop stars, and countless connections. (Cher became her best friend.)
Rodkin credits one client from her days as a talent manager, Robert Downey Jr., for her most recent reinvention, as a designer of fine jewelry.
Coveted for a “Game of Thrones” edginess, her signature pieces include full-finger bondage rings that articulate over the knuckle like miniature suits of armor.
She sat down during a recent trunk show to talk about her “affliction for rock ‘n’ roll” and her revisionist history. What follows is an edited transcript.
Q: You started out as an interior decorator?
A: It was really my escape clause from Henley. I had designed an apartment so I could move into it. I was kind of over our relationship.
Later I dated a Russian ballet dancer who had just defected, Alexander Godunov. I was going to ditch him, so he asked me to manage him. That’s how I became a manager.
I managed Brad Pitt, Sarah Jessica Parker, Billy Zane, Kyra Sedgwick, Judd Nelson …
Q: You managed Brad Pitt?
A: I got Brad “A River Runs Through It” and “Thelma & Louise.” The producers (of “Thelma”) were like, “Please don’t call us back. He’s very cute, but he’s not very talented.” We stalked them, and they just couldn’t find “the guy.” Brad got the part, as the last choice.
Q: You made jewelry as a hobby at age 12. How did it become more than that?
A: When Robert (Downey Jr.) was drugging so badly, I made jewelry to keep myself awake at night; I would rescue him from wherever he was partying. I made myself a diamond skull ring in 1988 in the midst of Robert’s madness, and the L.A. store Maxfield saw it and launched my career.
Q: What do you consider yourself first and foremost?
A: I consider myself an aesthetic. Everything has been about design. Management was just an offshoot of having an opinion, an aesthetic opinion, of how their careers should look.
It was the ’80s; there was nothing very serious. We were paid to play and show up at restaurant openings. It was a fun, mad, not very mature time.
But I was so square: no drugs, no alcohol. I don’t like the taste. I’ve probably still only had four drinks in my life. I lived through the madness completely straight.
Before Maxfield saw the diamond skull ring, a girlfriend who was one of the Gettys saw it and hired me to do some presents for Elizabeth Taylor. I started at the top by accident. Elizabeth would come to my house in her pajamas, or I’d go to her house in my pajamas, and she’d say, “Let’s look at the blue ones today.”
Q: Name some major milestones as a jewelry designer.
A: Elizabeth was one. Then Steven Tyler (of Aerosmith) went on TV and said he wasn’t cool until he had my jewelry.
Then Madonna went on the radio and said the only thing she wanted for her 50th birthday was more of my jewelry. Then Ikram (Goldman, the Chicago fashion magnate who provided style counsel to Michelle Obama) put me in the White House.
The inauguration was extraordinary for my career. Mrs. Obama had worn a pair of my earrings on election night. I thought, those earrings look so much like mine; someone knocked me off. Then I realized they were mine, and I just couldn’t wrap my head around it.
When I got a call from (former White House social secretary) Desiree Rogers, I said, “I think you might have the wrong person; do you know what my jewelry looks like?” She said, “No, it’s you we mean. Would you like to design something for the inauguration?
But you can’t tell anyone.” I hung up the phone and called Cher. I said, “You can’t tell anyone.” Then she hung up and called her whole family.
Q: How did you develop your dark jewelry aesthetic?
A: I’m an absence-of-color girl. I was a rock chick, and there was nothing of interest to me on the market. It was Van Cleef and Tiffany and Cartier and all serious grown-up stuff.
I had this suit of armor in my entryway, and I’d always play with it, I was mesmerized by the way it moved. The articulated ring (inspired by it) was certainly not anything I thought would be trendsetting.
One day I called my secretary and gave her my (talent management) company. I said, “I’m going to be a jewelry designer.”
Then Brad became Brad Pitt. My accountant was like, “Next time you change careers, please don’t give your business away. Sell it.” But it all turned out the way it was supposed to. I got lucky. I take nothing for granted.