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That Girl: Payal Shah of L’Dezen Jewellery

This week’s That Girl is Hong Kong’s very own diamond darling, Payal Shah, the founder and designer of L’Dezen Jewellery. If you have never seen Payal’s stunning sparklers, trust us, you are missing out – her jewels are fit for a princess!

We find out Payal’s top tips for great Indian food in HK, what her guilty pleasure purchases are, how she gets inspiration for her designs and whether she’s encountered any sexism in the business world.

Fill us in on your background and where you grew up. How did you end up in HK?
I was born in Mumbai but moved to Hong Kong when I was just three months old. I was actually a honeymoon baby – my parents were married in March 1989 and I was born that same December! It’s always a joke around the family that I’ve been part of their marriage equally as much as they have as a couple.

Even though I’m completely Indian, I very much consider myself half Chinese (mentally of course!). I enjoy Chinese culture as much as I do Indian culture, which might be a result of my upbringing. I feel that some of the traditions can be very similar and Hong Kong, after all, is my ultimate home.

Where do you live? How have you made your home your own?
I live with my family in an apartment in Hung Hom that looks out to the most beautiful sea view. We moved into this particular apartment around seven years ago and I remember being very involved in its whole interior design. Eventually that is what I went to study in London (Architectural and Interior Design).

After a hectic day, I love coming back home, especially to a place that has a lot of facilities within the building. There actually have been days I haven’t left my building because it hasn’t been necessary! I also live very close to my office so it’s just a pleasant five minutes away from home.

How would you describe your personal style? How does it evolve and change?
I feel like I have a very wide-ranging style. I love all colours, shapes and sizes so I’m always looking to try different compositions – both with my style and the products I design. If there’s one thing in common throughout all of it, there always has to be a hint of elegance.

I’m very experimental too, so I plan out a lot of my styles before trying them on. I believe in colour – my closet has the least amount of black compared to other shades! I’m very drawn to prints and shapes; I enjoy wearing clothes with monograms and patterns. I also find the whole tech-geek style very sexy. I love wearing glasses (that don’t have a lens number!) and having my iPad on me at all times – I actually spend an hour before I go to bed on all my apps!

Where do you shop in Hong Kong? Any secret finds you can let us in on?
I shop from brands and labels to the streets of Mong Kok – it really comes down to what you are looking for. I travel a lot for work so I am always bringing back items from the places I visit, but in Hong Kong, it’s all about the boutiques. There are some beautiful boutiques in Soho that carry exclusive items. I don’t think I ever leave the house with a mind frame to shop, it’s usually just when I’m en route and I see something I really like. I guess the key is: walk to wherever you need to go as much as you can, because no matter where you are in Hong Kong, there are interesting retailers everywhere!

My favourite place to shop for work outfits has to be Sogo in Causeway Bay, especially the Moiselle concession. They use such beautiful combinations of fabric and they ooze elegance. They have a stunning range of white shirts in so many different designs.

My biggest guilty pleasure has to be handbags and shoes – I cannot stop myself from buying them! It helps that my mother and I have the same shoe size as well as share some of our bags… That makes me feel less guilty when paying for them!

What are your must-have beauty products? Where do you go for hair/nails/maintenance?
When it comes to beauty products, it’s all about the lips. I love having all shades of red. I can sometimes have NO make up on except a nice lipstick/gloss and my glasses at work and that by itself makes me feel confident. If I feel like I need to glam up big, one of my closest friends, Natasha Sajnani, is a make-up artist so she’s always there if required!

I go for a facial every month at Natural Beauty in Hung Hom. Otherwise, I put quick facemasks on whilst reading or watching TV; I even take them with me when I’m travelling and they’re the best things to put on the night before exhibitions. There’s an amazing eyebrow threading place I go in Tsim Sha Tsui called La Bellezza, off Cameron Road. I’ve been going for years, and usually get my eyebrows done every three weeks. I feel like there’s a sudden glow on my face as soon as they are shaped and cleaned up.

What five items can’t you live without?

  1. My iPad
  2. My phone charger
  3. My religious ring that I wear everyday
  4. My Dior Addict lipstick
  5. My SLR Nikon camera (It’s not like I can’t live without it but I’d be very sad if it was gone!)

What are your favourite restaurants in Hong Kong?
I am a HUGE foodie. I’m vegetarian but I’m also the least fussy vegetarian you will come across! I love Oriental cuisine and spicy food. I have a few favourites but Hong Kong being the vibrant and evolving city it is, there’s now always a favourite of the week!

I love Chilli Fagara, Yardbird and Brickhouse – they are a whole lot of fun with a great ambience and delicious food/drinks. For more formal, there’s always the high-end classics, such as China Club and Nadaman. For Indian food, I love Duetto in Wan Chai; alongside serving delicious Punjabi Indian food, they also do Thai and Italian cuisine so it’s a great place to take a group. I also love Woodlands in Tsim Sha Tsui for authentic South Indian food – the idlis and dosas (rice cakes and pancakes) are mouth-watering! It’s also purely vegetarian so is convenient if there are lots of vegetarian family and friends together.

What’s your favourite place in HK?
When growing up, I enjoyed going to the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade (now known as the ‘Avenue of Stars’). Every time I drive through the Hung Hom highway towards Tsim Sha Tsui, I always pass that painted picture view of the immaculate skyscrapers… And it still gets my heart racing!

What inspired you to start L’Dezen Jewellery?
L’ Dezen Jewellery started off being a collection I was working on in my spare time during my job at a hospitality design firm. My parents are in the diamond industry so I already had a lot of the knowledge first hand… but I wanted to create something different. One day my father showed me these beautiful diamond slices and I started playing around with them, creating interesting, almost architectural shapes for earrings and rings. Slice diamonds have a flat glass-like façade that reflects the light beautifully – just like a glass skyscraper actually!

I eventually had about 60-70 pieces to exhibit at the JCK Las Vegas Show in 2011 – and the show went great! I left the hospitality firm and focused on L’ Dezen 100% from then onwards! It’s been just over a year now and we have done 14 shows across the world and are planning more. I have created a wonderful team that work with me; we have a very positive environment that makes work a lot more fun too!

You started out in interior design and architecture. Does your architecture background have any influence in your jewellery designs?
I was reading an article about Yahoo’s new CEO who said: “Some companies think of design as an art. We think of design as a science” – and I agree with her to a certain extent. When it comes to designing jewellery, it has a lot of the same elements as interior design – you work with shape, colour, scale and how realistic the design is when actually in use. Sure, you can have beautiful abstract pieces… but it needs to be able to work at the end! My jewellery pieces tend to be very 3D so they themselves are very architectural. I do still enjoy interior design – in fact, I design a lot of my booths for L’ Dezen Jewellery exhibitions!

Where do you get ideas for your designs? Is there anywhere you go to seek inspiration?
The stones I work with are very interesting so I create designs by looking at my materials and constructing and changing the shapes. I also read a few jewellery blogs (as opposed to magazines) because bloggers review designs on a personal level. A lot of my customers see me as a young passionate designer because whenever I’m showcasing my jewellery, I explain the personal influences in each piece i.e. why I chose a certain length or colour, or how the design evolved. It brings you and your customer to a more personal level and getting their comments is market research as to what and how I should design in the future!

Every city has a ‘jewellery district’ – New York has 47th Street, Dubai has Al Ras Gold Souq – so whenever I travel to shows, I always make a point to window-shop around these areas. It’s always good to know what is out there and what people are designing!

Have you ever encountered any sexism, either in business or through your culture?
The jewellery industry, ironically, is a very male oriented market so I do a lot of negotiations with men. It’s actually funny at times because a lot of them see me as this innocent 22-year-old female, but when it comes down to business, they end up experiencing a slightly more aggressive side to me – to their surprise! It actually also turns out to be a great sales strategy – triggering all your energy towards the end when you have to hustle.

I remember once when I did a show in Mumbai (where girls are typically not the owners of businesses), one of my father’s clients came in and wanted to buy a few items. After negotiating, I offered a great price. But instead on agreeing with me, he asked to wait until my father came; I didn’t argue much because I had an idea of what was going to happen. When he consulted my father, my father (being the best father in the world!) explained that he was unable to help and he didn’t want to interfere in my business matters – and that he should respect whatever my last price was. At this point, my customer was a little embarrassed because he obviously hadn’t experienced this much delegation by a woman before – and he ended up agreeing on paying my final price! This is more of a matter of cultural sexism; there is a constant growth of women from my culture standing up for themselves. My biggest role model has to be my mother; she is an immaculate businesswoman who works with my father, is always an inspiration and sets an example of how to stand up for yourself.

You’re constantly travelling to jewellery shows all over the world. What are your suitcase essentials? Do you have any insider tips for frequent travellers?
I always carry more clothes then I need – but pre-plan your outfits before to make life a lot easier. I always take a few facemasks because they are so effective for hydrating or brightening your face, especially the night before a big day. I use a lot of kit bags to segregate what items I need at different stages of getting ready; this makes it a lot easier to find what you need at that specific stage.

As for travelling, get a frequent flyer card with whichever airline you travel – they all add to awesome prizes eventually! Also I use this great website/app TripIt.com – it’s the best way to keep all your travelling records together and is all mobile so easily accessible! You will never forget any confirmation numbers or documents again!

What other exciting upcoming projects have you got in the pipeline?
L’ Dezen is growing and soon we will have retail fronts in many locations in the US and I am in talks to display in Istanbul. There are a few places we are speaking to for retailing in Hong Kong too. The company is only a year old and has many adventures yet to come! I add new collections on a seasonal basis.

I am also dipping my feet into a new industry – the tech/social networking wave. I am in the middle of designing an app for young entrepreneurs that makes planning and presenting a lot easier, as well as more fun and virtual! The app itself requires me to work with the FabriQate team in Guangzhou on a regular basis, which has also been a huge learning curve as the product develops. I don’t want to give away too much but the master-plan details will come soon!

What’s the best advice you have been given and why?
My best advice is do not be afraid to fail – failure might be the reason to your biggest success. The experience should make you stronger and help you foresee problems you didn’t notice at first. It’s all part of trial and error, which allows you to mature as a company as well as a person!

All photos in the That Girl article above were taken by the hugely talented Sabrina Sikora of Sabrina Sikora Photography – get in touch with her at sabrinasikora@gmail.com.

Check out the rest of our That Girls here!

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