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The Dreamy, Bi-Coastal Life of Broken English's Laura Freedman

Welcome to Better Know a Store Owner, a weekly Racked feature focusing on the people who run our favorite boutiques around the city.

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New York City is in the midst of a jewelry boom. And right at the center of the action—halfway between the ultra-delicate, all-stacked-everything and raw crystal, plucked-from-the-earth schools of thought—is Broken English. Owner Laura Freedman opened the original L.A. outpost back in 2006, and just six months ago she brought her stash of boulder opal pendants and diamond-studded ear climbers to Crosby Street. "I really have the best of both worlds," she says. "A month will go by and then I'll escape the snow and go back to sunny weather and rainbows and sunshine and beautiful sunsets."

After hearing about Freedman's upbringing, it's easy to see how she honed her magpie eye. Her mother was a Vegas showgirl ("I was impressed by the costumes...big feather headdresses, stone-encrusted bras and panties") who later moved the family to Zion National Park, where Laura scoured the desert for arrowheads and looked forward to the annual Tucson Gem & Mineral Show. "I like a little bit of Southwest, I like a little bit of New York City," she says. "With the store, I like curating jewelry that is really interesting and different. And I like to find people that I believe are at the forefront of fashion, innovation, style." Read on for her tips on buying vintage jewelry, her thoughts on anklets, and why, if given the choice, she might not do it all over again.

Tell us a bit about your background! Did you study fashion? How did you get into jewelry?

I didn’t study fashion, I actually have a business degree. Growing up, my mom was very eclectic. She was a showgirl in Paris and Las Vegas, and I definitely think I was inspired by that. When I was a kid, we moved to Zion National Park, so we would go to the gem show in Tucson, and we would hunt for arrowheads. I was really inspired by the natural beauty and the rocks. And my mom owned a bead store at one point.

Did you spend part of your childhood in Vegas? What was it like living there year-round?

My mom was a dancer, so a lot of the time I was backstage in the casino. It was really fun, and we’d go to Circus Circus and all those things. Now I only go once a year for the couture show.

So you were surrounded by showgirl costumes! Were you into sparkly things from a young age?

I was very into it. I’m impressed that my mother was able to do that, as her calling. And, yeah, I was impressed by the costumes. I would definitely run around in them. They would drown me, but they were fun to play dress-up in—big feather headdresses, stone-encrusted bras and panties. Everything that you’d imagine.

What did you do after you graduated from business school?

I got a job working for Quincy Jones. He has a non-profit called the Listen Up Foundation that raises money for inner-city kids and kids in Africa, builds housing, promotes education, and improves access to healthcare. He’s a wonderful human being.


How did you go from working for a non-profit to deciding that you wanted to open your own jewelry store?

That job came to an end, and I needed a job, and my dad was like, ‘Listen kiddo, the train has come to the station. You have to get a job.’ So I got a job working at a jewelry store on Sunset. It’s no longer there, but it was called Caviar and Kind. Right after that, I opened my own store.

Did your time living in Zion National Park influence your style at all? You have this great mix of traditional pieces and chunky, raw stones in your store.

It’s high desert. Really beautiful, majestic, sandstone mountains. One hundred percent, I definitely carry that wherever I go.

Are you into Southwestern style?

I think so. I’m very laid back and I think that growing up there definitely had something to do with that. I really like a little bit of everything. I kind of like, fall in love with every city I go to. It could be Kansas City, and I’m like, "Kansas City is amazing." Wherever you go, you pick something up.

I like a little bit of Southwest, I like a little bit of New York City. With the store, I like curating jewelry that is really interesting and different. And I like to find people that I believe are at the forefront of fashion, innovation, style.

How did you go from working at Caviar and Kind to opening your own store?

You know, it was fate. I had no plan. I was kind of transitioning out of that job. I was engaged at the time, and my boyfriend was a musician so he was getting ready to go on tour, record an album, all of those things. So I was probably just going to follow him around, and then I got an opportunity from the man who owns the Brentwood Country Mart. He wanted a jewelry store and he had heard about me, and he really pursued to me open up a store. He believed in me, which made me believe in myself. And I did it, and that was ten years ago.



Do you remember your opening day? Were you nervous?

Oh, I was so nervous. But I was so young, so I didn’t know what failure was. I didn’t know that it was a possibility. I just was going full steam ahead. In hindsight, it’s so hard to open up a store, and it’s so hard to own a business for yourself. I don’t know if I would do it again. I don’t know if I would be brave enough now, knowing about recessions and going through a recession. But having said that, I’ve just been so blessed and I’m really lucky that the designers I work with believe in me, and give me the opportunity to sell their goods.

When did you decide that it was the right time to open a store in New York?

I always wanted a store in New York, ever since I was a kid. I would come here with my aunt, and it was just so impressive. If you can make it in New York City, you can make it anywhere. Coming from L.A., New York feels daunting and big—the hustle and the energy of the city is like no other city in the world. I was looking at stores for years. I would come and look at spaces and walk around, get a feel for a neighborhood. And It was really hard. After the recession there was a lot of turnover in spaces.

How did you pick Soho?

I definitely 100 percent in my heart knew I wanted to be in Soho. I always stayed downtown, and now I live in the Bowery. My friend owns this company, AllSaints. I was looking at spaces—there’s this realtor who was working with me, and he was showing me around for months—I was going to take on of the storefronts by Saturdays. My friend said, "Well why don’t you just take over the Crosby side of All Saints?" And I was like, "Huh, okay, really?"

How do you split your time between the two stores?

I really have the best of both worlds. A month will go by and then I’ll escape the snow and go back to sunny weather and rainbows and sunshine and beautiful sunsets. It’s such a dream being in L.A. And then I come back here, and I’m like "wow, it’s so amazing." New York’s so incredible and even though its snowing, I really enjoy being back.



Do you buy differently for this store versus the L.A. branch?

No, I really don’t, but there are a few lines I carry here that I don’t have in Los Angeles, just because of logistics. This is a much bigger store, so we can carry more things. I also think that New York is a little bit more progressive as far as taking risks in fashion. So if things are really avant-garde or a edgier in a certain way, I’ll stock more here than I would in Los Angeles. But the world is really small now. With the internet, with Instagram—it’s surprising to me how many people knew about the store, and the designers, when I opened it.

Is there a particular piece, or particular jewelry style, that sells better in one store?

It’s hard to gauge, because the New York store isn’t even six months old yet. So we’re really figuring out who our client is, and really getting to know the community and all of that. And L.A. is so different because we’ve been there for 10 years. The Brentwood Country Mart, where our store is, is like the happiest place on earth. I have such a high volume of repeat customers, we kind of become your jeweler once you start shopping with us. So yeah, certain things there definitely sell out, and certain lines do incredibly well there because of that. All the little girls, from the time they’re eight or whatever, their parents are coming to the store, and now I’ve seen them all go off to college, which is crazy. Every bat mitzvah, every Christmas—all of those things—we’re catering to a community.

Who is the Broken English woman?

It’s really everyone. We cater to people from all different walks of life. I think that’s what sets us apart from a lot of other stores. I really try to curate designers that are special and unique and different, and I also curate vintage and antique jewelry. I try to carry price points all across the board so no one feels like they can’t come in and buy something that commemorates a moment or a milestone—anniversary, engagement, a birth of a child. I grew up very poor so I want to walk into a nice store and not feel excluded. We try to create a very relaxed environment and I think that attracts a lot of people. So we have very, very wealthy customers and we have the girl who saves up every last penny to come in and get something.

How would you describe your aesthetic? You have such a great mix of jewelry in here! Is there a common thread?

I would say quality, design. There isn’t a certain style that I think pigeonholes us. But I’m in love with the idea of creating and making art, and I really love supporting artists. I love going to a flea market and finding that amazing piece, and for me finding designers is kind of the same process. So no, I don’t think there’s a certain style, and it’s constantly changing and evolving, and I look for designers that are on the same page.

Are people more interested in jewelry now than when you opened your first store 10 years ago?

That’s a really hard question. Yes and no. A certain type of person likes to adorn themselves with accessories. I think that either you’re into accessories or you’re not. And you’re willing to buy accessories or you’re not. So no, I think that certain people are attracted to jewelry, certain people are attracted to art, certain people put all their money into clothing. But also yes, because—with the internet, with Instagram—everything is so accessible now and people can see what other people are doing. There’s been a huge increase in new lines, and the only problem I really see with that is that now there’s a lot of copying. That’s the one thing that I really try to stay away from. Anyone can see a picture and try to recreate something.



Has tiny, stackable jewelry been a big seller?

For sure, that’s a trend right now. Definitely layering in every way shape or form, whether it’s the ear, the neck, the hands. It’s kind of like, adding more and more is better right now, it’s just so pretty. We definitely sell a lot of stuff.

How do you feel about anklets?

I like anklets. We have some anklets. I actually forgot to bring them, they’re at my house. I think anklets are gonna have big comeback, especially as you go into summer and things like that.

What about fancy septum rings?

We don’t have any in the store right now. There is the line that does it really well, and I was thinking about picking those up, especially New York. I don’t really know if would really fly so much in LA.

Is there anything you don’t see coming back? Toe rings? Belly button jewelry?

Listen, everything is cyclical. We’e not a piercing store, so I’ll probably never have belly button rings and things like that, but everything comes back. All the ear jackets that everyone is doing—that’s really a design from the seventies. I think now more than ever you can really do whatever you want and mix and match, and put vintage jewelry with contemporary jewelry. It’s really about what feels good to you.

Which jewelry lines are you really excited about?

I love Wwake. I think she’s so sweet and I love what she’s doing and I think it’s very delicate and pretty. I just picked up Jennifer Meyer, she’s not new but I’m really happy to welcome her into the store. So many of these designers have been with me since the beginning, and it’s incredible because we’ve really grown and changed together.

You have such a great eye for vintage! Do you have any vintage jewelry buying tips?

I think that quality is obviously important, but in vintage, I really feel that you should find pieces that you’re emotionally connected to. Or pieces that have some sort of interesting artistic value. Like Aldo Cipullo, for example, who originally designed the Cartier "Love" bracelet, was an icon, and you can’t even get your hands on his pieces nowadays. And if you can, they’re ridiculously expensive. So if you’re in the market for something like that, I would say grab it.

All the Victorian chains and things like that are so hard to find. And the craftsmanship that they had back then is unlike anything that we can even replicate today. They were allowed to use these alloys that would basically kill people. It’s illegal now. So you can never recreate those colors or that patina. Opals are so hard to get your hands on now, so if you see one and you connect with it, you should get it. Whatever you buy shave meaning and you should want to pass it down from generation to generation.

What do you look for when you’re hiring?

I go for nice. I don’t really look for people with that much jewelry experience because I can teach them, and I have to spend time with these people so I really want to like them. Customer service is really important, I don’t like that kind of hungry, aggressive salesperson. So I look for people that I would be friends with.

Time for the lightning round!

8am or 8pm?

8pm

Cats or dogs?

Dogs

Beer or Wine?

Wine

Whiskey or tequila?

Whiskey

Beach or mountains?

Beach

Bagels or croissants?

Bagels

Tea or coffee?

Coffee

And how do you take it?

With almond milk

Mad Men or Game of Thrones?

Game of Thrones

Broken English

56 Crosby St, New York, NY 212-219-1264 Visit Website