Houston women make designs for celebrities

Lisa Freede, Jill Focke leave mark on entertainment industry

HOUSTON – Houston is known for many things, such as oil fields, the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo and good food. But, what about celebrity designers?

In fact, two Houston women are putting their stamp on the entertainment industry, one design at a time for Katy Perry, Rihanna and the Backstreet Boys, to name a few.

Just a few minutes with celebrity jewelry designer Lisa Freede feels like hanging out with a good girlfriend. But, not just any girlfriend, one whose jewelry designs are adored by pop stars and media moguls.

"We have celebrities and stylists that call all the time. Everybody from 'Entertainment Tonight,' to Katy Perry to Rihanna, to Tionne, of course, Gayle and Oprah," said Freede.

She started in Detroit, dressing some of Motown's finest and then moved on to some of the biggest stars in Hollywood.

"The dream was to become involved in fashion and bring something to the market that was simple with a twist," Freede said.

From there, Freede moved to Los Angeles and began styling some of Hollywood's biggest stars.

"I was working with Cher, Mariah Carey, Nicole Kidman, to name a few," Freede said.

But after years of accessorizing celebs in designer jewels from Harry Winston and Cartier, Freede felt it was time to create her own line.

"When I saw these jewels in front of me that I was able to call in from Winston, Cartier or wherever, I said, 'I want this,' and I bet you I could find a lot of people that would buy it," said Freede. "My real dream was to invent that at an incredible price point that the average consumer could absolutely afford. I think that a celebrity or an everyday person wants something that looks expensive, but isn't expensive."

Freede's affordable line of lightweight pieces, blinked out with Swarovski crystals quickly took off and even became a favorite of Katy Perry.

Perry's favorite pieces are Perry's hand-made bracelets.

"She has worn them for many, many years," Freede said.

Perry even requested Freede's bangle bracelets for her wedding day.

"Katy was in London and in route to India. She was literally going down from her hotel room into a tunnel, into a van. We had already FedEx'd the merchandise because her stylist requested it, and they held the van to wait for the FedEx driver to get there (with Freede's jewelry)," said Freede.

Houston fashion designer Jill Focke is living every girl's rock and roll dream. Currently on tour with Fleetwood Mac, Focke's fashion career started with a call from Bette Midler's costume designer inviting her to join Midler's tour in 1993. From there, her career took off.

"I'm a traveling wardrobe supervisor for different rock and roll bands. I've worked for Bette Midler, Fleetwood Mac, the Backstreet Boys, Miley Cyrus, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, Lenny Kravitz," said Focke.

Focke's job is to prevent wardrobe malfunctions from happening while the performers are on stage.

"There was a time where I was working for the Backstreet Boys and the designer had picked out this beautiful Armani shirt for one of the guys, but it was a very light-weight gauze fabric," Focke said. "So six shows a week, sweating profusely, the thing was just in shreds. I just went and bought some fabric, made him a couple extra shirts.

"He goes, 'You made this?' I'm like, 'Yeah, that's kind of what I do,' and he goes, 'Can you make me some for my own life?'" So that was a nice compliment."

Freede knows all about those "compliments" from celebrities can actually translate into sales. One of her other fans is Rihanna. Freede even has a chain necklace with crystals that is now affectionately dubbed, "The Rihanna Necklace."

"They can have a piece that Rihanna has for under $50," said Freede of her mainstream customers who too enjoy the same designs as celebrities.

Freede's work has appeared in the pages of Vogue, O Magazine, Glamour and In-Style, but she has not forgotten the mainstream customer either. Her items can be found on her website LisaFreede.com and at NeimanMarcus.com, and also in store at Tootsies.

"It makes me feel just as excited when Sue Smith or my mother call me up and say, 'Lisa, that's one of my most special pieces,'" said Freede.

When asked why she prefers to live in Houston over Los Angeles or New York, Freede said there's something familiar about Houston.

"I compare it to my life in Detroit where I was relaxed and I could be creative and be me," Freede said. "I didn't have to get dressed up and I don't when I'm here. And as a designer, my ideas are in my head. So, I chose to be here."

Freede plans to expand her brand over the next few years to include hair accessories, hand bags and belts. She is also very excited about two new upcoming projects, including one with Martha Stewart to create a line made in America.

The other upcoming project will allow her to join forces once again with R&B star Tionne, of TLC. The two met years ago when Freede worked as stylist for the group and have remained friends over the years.

With the recent announcement of TLC's tour with New Kids on The Block and Nelly, there was no question about who would style Tionne's jewelry for the tour. Of course, her old friend, Freede.

For more information on Focke's designs, visit her Facebook page at J. Ellen Designs.