A lotus grows in New York

20170605_194821.jpgThe early-to-mid 2000s were formative years for my personal style – most importantly – via my jewelry box. Long before I became fluent in the language of Waxing Poetic, I was prostrate at the altar of Me & Ro.

The brand was launched by Robin Renzi and her now former partner in design, Michele Quan, in 1991. The pair was thrust into the limelight eight years later, when opportunity “buzzed” their intercom as they worked in their Lafayette Street studio in NYC.

Renzi recalled the incident to People magazine in 2000, “The man downstairs says, ‘There’s a woman here looking for you.’ I said, ‘We’re not a store; we’re not open.’ But the woman got on the phone and said, ‘Hi, this is Julia Roberts, do you make jewelry? Can I come up and see it?’”

I spotted Me & Ro pieces in nearly every scene Roberts filmed in 1999’s Notting Hill– as did millions of others – and Me & Ro was On. The. Map.  Roberts is rarely photographed without at least one piece from Me & Ro; she accepted her first Oscar wearing  the line.

“Loving Me & Ro is like loving chocolate—it’s a no-brainer,” the actress told InStyle magazine in 2011. Dozens of other actresses have followed suit: Mariska Hargitay and the majority of the female cast of Law and Order SVU and Marisa Tomei are just a few. I was delighted to see Sandra Bullock wear a necklace identical to one I had, while she filmed Two Weeks’ Notice.

I can only imagine it must have been a defining moment for Renzi and Quan when THE Elizabeth Taylor discovered Me & Ro’s delicacies. (She did write a book about her lifelong love affair with jewelry, so it’s fair to consider her an expert.)

While my pocketbook couldn’t compete with the buying power of those leading ladies, my adoration of the brand, could. The attention to minute detail, devotion to symbolism, substance and craftsmanship was unlike anything I’d ever seen.

20170606_120319I bought my first piece – this 10k gold slate engraved in the Sanskrit word for truth – on a slow night in the newsroom in 2003 in the beginning of my journalism career. Over the coming years, I added to my collection; rings and pendants, earrings and the tiniest of diamonds. I took immaculate care of each of them, thankfully so, as I ended up financing a career change in 2006/7 by selling off the bulk of my pieces.

Rooted in Buddhism, eastern cultures and Bohemia, Me & Ro’s first offerings are engraved in Tamil and Sanskrit, pendants hanging from natural leather cords, rough cut gemstones honoring the natural world. The pieces are finished with a satiny, brushed texture, a quiet nod to luxury.

Renzi told the Stone Set, “I fall in love with jewelry because it speaks to me on many levels. The way it looks, the craftsmanship and quality, and what it represents. I want people to fall in love with my pieces for all of those reasons. Like when something hits you and you have to have it! I am inspired by life—it all melds together and comes out in jewelry.”

The line, now a quarter century old, has expanded into more trendy fare, including pave diamond pendants reading “kiss me.” Me & Ro touches on every faith and every style.

“I like personal jewelry that I wear and doesn’t wear me,” Renzi says. With Me & Ro, that’s a mission every accessory aficionado can accomplish. (Keep in mind, the price point on some pieces has nearly tripled over the past decade.)

In 2009, following Quan’s departure from the business to pursue fine art, Renzi went as far as to launch a special, purposely affordable take on the line for HSN: Robin by Me & Ro. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in being less than thrilled about the venture; the departure from quality was obvious – metals were plated, gemstones were created… Thankfully, the move was short-lived.

In its place, Renzi in 2016 launched a line of sterling silver pieces exclusive to Amazon.

“The jewelry for Amazon is about symbolism and inspiration. I am not elitist. I had tried to do jewelry at a lower price point myself, but I refused to go to China. Everything for Amazon is produced in my factory where my fine jewelry is made on 47th Street. It’s really pretty. I think it’s well-designed, made in America and has a really good price point—and Amazon has allowed me to do that. It’s a great opportunity.”

20170606_120845Speaking of opportunities, I’ve begun rebuilding my collection, with different pieces this time. I tracked down a now-discontinued tiny 10k lotus petal and Iolite necklace, engraved in Sanskrit, which I pair with sterling and 10k earrings engraved in Tamil.

Just last week, the gorgeous sterling silver and ruby mandala (at top) arrived in the mail to accompany a matching ring I often wear. (Thank you, hubby, for succumbing to my mooning over it on the Internet; it was on sale!)

Renzi, too, has spent the last few years rebuilding.

She told Flair, “When market crashed in 2009, I had four stores and 100 employees. I thought ‘this is crazy, I don’t know how I got here’. So I built my website, pulled out of department stores and ultimately got out of wholesale.

I’ve completely revamped and restructured and now we have 20 employees. I think it’s nice to have a smaller company–to take better care of myself and my employees.”

It’s a good move, in my humble opinion, exemplified by the pieces released last year to mark the company’s silver jubilee: limited edition, labor intensive and intended to “feel like a second skin.”

Much like a lotus flower pushing through the mud to bloom, (and that often appears in her pieces) Renzi has succeeded by evolving and refusing to give up.

“To me jewelry empowers you to believe in yourself, and I think people are ready for that now,” Renzi says.

She’s right.