Message in a Bauble

Alison Chemla lets her jewelry line Alison Lou do the talking.

By Roxanne Robinson

Throwback to 2012: social media and its conventions were still a burgeoning pop culture phenomenon. For Alison Chemla, the snappy new way of communicating over tech resonated with her in a unique way — she envisioned the new medium’s emoji-dependent alphabet, in fact, as a clever way to adorn fine jewelry. Ac Magazine sat down with Chemla over Zoom to catch up with the jeweler and founder of Alison Lou and chat about the charming and often tongue-in-cheek jewelry brand born at the dawn of the messaging and sharing social app boom.


“I was obsessed with jewelry and used to wear many pieces with names and words. For me, it was about communication, and I remembered each piece and its meaning,” Chemla recalled. “During the height of this new way of communication, which was the emoji on BBM, the Blackberry messaging function, I came up with the idea for an emoji jewelry line that played with messaging aspects.” Along with happy faces, sad faces, hearts, and stars, the enamel-heavy Emoticore collection also included expressions such as ‘love you’ and ‘screw you’ and was an instant hit.

“It was like a perfect storm to use them as a style motif; it got so much hype, allowing me to create other pieces to launch my brand. It was also when Instagram started taking off and you got followers organically. When people posted your designs, you could see and feel the traction it got,” she recalled. The collection was also carried at Fivestory, Claire Distenfeld’s Upper East Side novel retail concept, which was also having a super buzzy moment. Before taking jewelry design courses and getting a GIA diamond certification, Chemla worked in marketing for the jewelry brands House of Waris and Finn FineJewelry.

The latest Alison Lou collection, In Our Feelings, revisits that premiere offering but expresses just how far the brand has come in the decade-plus since its debut. For instance, specially cut stones in the shapes of lips, hearts, and teardrops, along with freshwater pearls, mark this updated and streamlined iteration. The inaugural group, by comparison, relied on enamel and pavé stones.

Happy sad

The standout hero piece is the In Your Feels Wheel necklace, made from an array of colored sapphires with a diamond bezel set spinner that spins to land on various mood indicators such as happy, calm, strong, loved, angry and sad. “It reflects the mood of the wearer as feelings change,” she explained. “I wanted to revisit the faces that launched this brand because to this day they are some of our best-selling pieces and elevate them into 2024. Jewelry has such an emotional connection; what better way to show your emotions than through diamonds.”

The initial whimsy has guided the brand’s development, leading to theme-centric releases and many clever collaborations. Recent themes have included a Coney Island collection — hot dogs, sno-cones, and ice cream — and a nature-themed collection — tree stumps with words carved into the bark. “It always involved messaging,” she confirmed. “It’s also about thoughtfulness. A huge part of my business is custom word necklaces and baby bracelets. My friend created a necklace the other day; it was the letter of her husband’s last name which is different from hers. He thought that was sweet. That is why I do this work. I love these stories.” The witty side of Alison Lou has been a gold mine for the brand. Most recently, she was approached by Barilla, the Italian pasta company, that had taken notice of a previous 2017 group called Mamma Mia that featured charms in the shapes of fusilli, penne, shells, and bowties.

“When Barilla approached us, it just felt right. I am always selective about our collaborations because I genuinely want them to be organic and feel like an extension of the brand,” she told us. “Last September, we received an email about creating a giveaway item for a brand with great Italian heritage; it made sense and was a fun project, and they gave me creative freedom.” Another cheeky collaboration came about when Chemla discovered Caviar Kaspia, a famous Russian restaurant in Paris, was opening nearby. The result was three charms: an open tin of caviar made from black diamonds, a tiny spoon, and a closed tin designed with the Caviar Kaspia logo. The collection was also sold in the flagship location of the trendy restaurant.


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The retail proximity of Alison Lou and Caviar Kaspia is exhibit A of a natural partnership. Both share a landlord, the Mark Hotel, with commercial spaces on its property. Chemla moved her store there in September 2022 after two previous retail experiments: one on East 69th Street, which closed just before the pandemic, and another in East Hampton, which proved to have staffing challenges. The Madison Avenue location is “the dream jewel box,” said Chemla. “Our customer base is very much the uptown woman. I grew up here, and this area holds special meaning for me. Our offices are ten blocks away, which makes it easy to pop in.” (Currently, she lives in Tribeca with her husband and two young children.) Much effort and time was invested to make the space feel on brand for Alison Lou. Chemla created a space where customers can get up close and personal with the jewelry. It also allows Chemla to have another creative outlet, creating miniature mise-en-scène window displays every six to eight weeks. Currently, she is showcasing an Italian restaurant scene designed with miniature décor and handmade clay creations.

“When I got the store, I thought, ‘what can I do with this tiny space to make people stop and look at my jewelry,’” she said, “It’s become such a thing now. People know; they stop and look. I like to get my creative juices flowing, so I do anything to get hands-on projects. Often, I get lost in the business side and lose out on the creative side.”

Indeed, with the growth of the business and brand, Chemla says these days she makes a concerted effort to find space to get inspired and design. “There’s a lot of administrative stuff in the office, so the creative part happens outside the office. Sometimes, I go away for a weekend without any distractions with my husband or take an afternoon to explore a museum or Central Park to get my head out of the office or home; that gets everything going.” There must be an emoji for that feeling — just waiting to become a new Alison Lou piece.