In 2008, Suzanne Ellis Wernevi set out to become the master of her own destiny. She wanted to build something meaningful. Something that would tap into her passion for the personal connections that jewelry always held for her. Something that would also allow her to craft a rich reality for herself that put her in control of her own time and her own priorities. Smart, savvy, and professionally well equipped with over 13 years of serious experience in the fashion industry working for a variety of major brands, Suzanne decided to start her own business. Today, she is the Founder and Creative Director of Luna & Stella, a wildly popular and successful online jewelry brand that is changing the perception and look of birthstone jewelry one modern style at a time.
Suzanne founded Luna & Stella in 2009 with the idea of creating a brand that fuses great design with meaning. Having held senior merchandising and product development roles at J.Crew, Bally, and Victoria’s Secret combined with her experience as the Vice President of Merchandising and Design at the online retailer RedEnvelope, gave her a solid foundation to do just that. But launching and building a successful brand takes more than the right kind of experience. Luckily for Suzanne, she also has an MBA from IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland and she’s got entrepreneurial spirit in her genes… her great-grandmother Mabel Burlingham, called Garkie by her family, was also an entrepreneur, best known for her jam, jelly and jewelry making in the 1950′s. So, it seems the urge to create and sell something that means a lot to you is in Suzanne’s blood.
Why jewelry? According to Suzanne, “I like the permanence of jewelry. A lot of fashion has become disposable and I wanted to work with something that endures. Every day, I wear a ring of my grandmother’s and a ring of my husband’s grandmother that my mother-in-law gave me on our wedding day. I like having that connection and reminder of our shared history in the jewelry I wear.” She focused specifically on birthstone jewelry because she wanted to take an old, somewhat stale concept and make it fresh again.
Under Suzanne’s design leadership, Luna & Stella crafts birthstone jewelry that’s at the intersection of fashion and timelessness. She describes all of her pieces as “heirlooms with of-the-moment allure”. Her modern style spin on birthstone jewelry is one of the details that separates her brand apart. But, there is also real substance behind Luna & Stella’s good looks. That’s because it was important to Suzanne that her jewelry speak to the relationships – between parents, grandparents, children, partners, siblings, and friends – that people share. She captures the essence of those relationships in her designs by using genuine precious and semi-precious birthstones to represent the important people in someone’s life.
An added design hallmark of the brand is customization. After you pick the piece you want, you can then choose all the details like chain length, metal/finish, and, of course, the actual birthstones or birthstone charms you want to include, so you really feel like you are part of the piece whether you are buying it or receiving it. This kind of design flexibility also lets the same piece evolve over time; you can just add more birthstones to an existing piece for any of life’s big moments, like the birth of a new baby.
Suzanne’s first Luna & Stella piece that launched the brand in 2009 was the Moon & Stars Birthstone Necklace. Still a part of the current collection, it features a sleek circular pendant representing the moon, upon which any birthstones can be set. That subtle moon shape reference is a design feature that translates through almost every piece in the collection today.
In addition to her zest for designing the clean, modern and timeless styles that make up the Luna & Stella collection, Suzanne loves hearing how her customers connect with her pieces. She told us a great story about a woman who called to place an order after seeing the Moon & Stars Birthstone Charm necklace on The Today Show. The woman shared with Suzanne that her husband had recently passed away and she wanted to get her granddaughter something to remember her grandfather by. Apparently, the grandfather and granddaughter used to spend lots of time stargazing together. The woman bought her granddaughter a Moon & Stars Birthstone Charm necklace with her grandfather’s birthstone so she could continue to watch the stars with him, even though he was gone. It’s moments like these that remind Suzanne why taking the leap to start her own business was well worth the risk.
In case you are curious, the origin of the Luna & Stella brand name is an interesting one. Suzanne, the Massachusetts born, American businesswoman, came up with the name Luna & Stella while doodling in Italian (a second language she speaks), during a Swedish language class, which she was taking so she would be better equipped to speak with her in-laws. True story! Luna & Stella means “moon and star” in Italian and Suzanne was inspired by the intrinsic connection these celestial bodies share. It’s a beautiful name that is fitting for a brand whose jewelry speaks to the deep relationships people share with one another.
Speaking of deep relationships, Suzanne’s husband Erik, who was her biggest supporter when she first came up with the concept of Luna & Stella, now works right alongside her as the brand’s COO. Suzanne will soon be adding a birthstone charm to her own Luna & Stella necklace this spring. She and Erik are expecting their first baby. If it’s a girl, we wonder if she will be called Luna or Stella.