Q&A: Kelley Pillman of KEP Designs
“I want one of each!” That’s the first thought that crosses my mind when I encounter Kelley Pillman’s jewelry, KEP Designs. This classic, colorful, charming collection is full of summer colors—pink and green bangles, fresh water pearl necklaces, enamel flower-shaped earrings, and beaded necklaces of all shapes and sizes.
One stroll into Pillman’s boutique on the Upper East Side of New York and desire strikes anew. The petite space is decked with fabulous pieces. And just enough of them: The collection is comprised of necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and rings, and displayed with as much class as the pieces possess themselves. The line veers toward the traditional, but Pillman has expanded it to include such work as filigree and the chunky smoky quartz necklaces that are so the rage right now. What one loves most though is the latter-day prep feel of it all. With the resurgence of wardrobe favorites that have made a comfortable comeback—the feminine ruffled blouse, the swingy skirt, the shirtdress—you could find a suitable piece from the KEP collection to wear alongside. Don’t think it’s all confined to the privileged set though: KEP’s price point is well in the three-figure range, and one of her famous customers? Rihanna.
Indeed there is something for everyone here—a traditional graduated green opal beaded necklace for grandmother; gold wrapped hoop earrings with turquoise stones for mom; a fun bright cuff for your sis; a pair of cool 18K gold filigree earrings for your cool friend.
Pillman got her start nearly 10 years ago when she had a hard time finding the right necklace to match the simplest of pieces for a black tie wedding—a black dress. One would think with the jewelry options out there would be multitudinous; not so. Pillman took to the design table to make her own, and soon her pieces took flight—right into the hands of friends, colleagues, and perfect strangers who saw her jewelry and wanted a piece of it for themselves.
Now, the Chicago native makes her home in the Big Apple and has settled into her new career, as well as her new family (she is now happily married and has a new baby girl). Life can’t get much better.
LadyLUX: You’ve thrown parties with Lilly Pulitzer, like the one you did last week, to promote the line. Do you sell in their stores?
Kelley Pillman: No, but it would be great. Their style is a great fit for our pieces.
LL: Where can I find KEP?
KP: We’re carried in specialty boutiques all over the United States, and we do trunk shows in private homes-especially around the holidays we are crazy with trunk shows-as well as through charities and other organizations, and we do lots of bridal sales. We’re not at any large retailer yet.
LL: What are online sales like?
KP: Online sales are great as well, although it depends on the time of year. We do work with The Gilt Groupe, whom I consider like a larger specialty store. We’re doing our third sale with them, and they were amazing to work with, a great company. They let us design pieces especially for them.
LL: You’re now doing more modern work, like the filigree earrings, yet you have the great traditional work like the enamel necklaces and earrings. I could buy one in every color!
KP: Those are great—and stores love them. They’re also at a great price point-the 16” necklaces for $100; the 42” for $130; or the earrings for $45 and $55. It’s kind of a no-brainer.
LL: Do you do custom work?
KP: Yes, our customer requests it often.
LL: What is your best seller?
KP: It’s hard to say; We can’t keep the filigree in stock, but the enamel has been doing really, really well.
LL: There’s something for everybody here. What kind of women wear your pieces?
KP: We have 70-year-old women buying pieces, and we have 14-year-old women too.
LL: Who is your biggest customer?
KP: Boutiques for sure. Wholesale is definitely the biggest part of our business.
LL: Are there any famous faces who have worn your jewelry?
KP: Definitely. Nicole Ritchie bought a pair of earrings at Spread Eagle Village, a boutique in Wayne, Pennsylvania. Reese Witherspoon bought a pair of filigree earrings while vacationing on The Vineyard. Natalie Morales from “The Today Show” recently has been wearing a lot of our earrings on the show—and we’ve been e-mailing back and forth about it. She’s so nice! Katie Couric too has worn pieces on air. Even Rihanna has worn our pieces with a great outfit when she had her haircut with bangs. She looked adorable!
LL: Inspiration comes from a lot of different people and places. Where do you find it?
KP: When I look for inspiration, I look at old vintage jewelry, fine jewelry, even coffee table books that I like where I find great imagery.
LL: Will we see another KEP Designs on another charming New York City block?
KP: Not for now—not yet! I think I’ll just be working on our present shop. I love the location.
LL: What’s next for KEP?
KP: Right now working with bigger stores, like Lilly Pulitzer, and on more sizable orders at department stores.
KEP Designs is known for its classic, elegant line of jewelry made with precious and semi-precious stones, enamel, and fresh water pearls. Go to kepdesigns.com to view the whole collection, or if you are in New York City, visit their boutique at 157 East 71st Street, NYC, 10021, or call 212-288-5314.