Jewelry Designer Jan Lewis at the Oscars


Jan Lewis, creator of the Jan Lewis Collection and artisan Fair Trade bangles, got her start years ago while on the road with her husband, Chicago jazz great Ramsey Lewis. So it’s fair to say the news that her 2013 spring line was selected for inclusion in Oscars Nominee Bags was welcome!

The uniquely eye-catching, hand-crafted Fair Trade bangles will be hand-delivered the morning after the Oscars telecast to the nominees in the Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress and Best Director categories, as well as to host Seth MacFarlane.

“We’re ecstatic,” says Ms. Lewis. “To have our bangles associated with the world’s highest profile entertainment event of the year is a terrific endorsement as well as an honor – one that we proudly share equally with our customers and retailers.”

“I began this business focused only on creating a new line, a new look, for women who appreciate unique, moderately priced jewelry,” she adds. “My focus was also on Fair Trade. Each bangle is a one-of-a-kind piece, and all of our jewelry is individually hand crafted by our artists in India who are paid a fair wage.”

Jan Lewis hard at work.

Jan Lewis hard at work.

I asked Jan some more questions and she was kind enough to tell us all about her inspiration…

How did you start doing your bangle designs? I took a number of classes at the Art Institute and graphic design was my passion, not jewelry design or anything in fashion. So when I finished my classes there, I wanted to stay creative but because I was married and traveling with Ramsey, it was hard to work full time. Someone suggested that I take these wooden bangles on the road with me and paint. So I got a bunch of wooden bangles and acrylic paint and a mobile station I could take with me. When Ramsey performed, I’d stay in the hotel and paint; this was back in the early ’90s.

When I first started I wasn’t a painter; I was very intimidated by painting. Drawing was my thing. But because I was always intrigued with shapes, designs, and (dot) patterns, I never had a plan in mind. I never had a design in mind for any of them; they just evolved. I’d work on three at a time. I’d work on one, put it down, pick up another, wait for it to dry and start working on a third. That’s how it started to evolve.

I think the influence of anthropology – studying cultures from all over the world (and I’ve always had an interest in patterns and designs) – was a wealth of information. When I’m painting I’m in a zone, and I don’t have anything specific in mind. It took me two-and-a-half years to do 50 of them. I tried to get them reproduced and was told it was too detailed so it couldn’t be done. So I put them back in my closet for 20 years. I then worked with Ramsey on his career and, a few years ago, I saw some jewelry that reminded me of what I had in my own closet, so I pulled out my bracelets.

I needed some specifications and found this company called Design Integrity in Chicago, so they made some specs for me. ‘Fair Trade Forum’ is an umbrella for fair trade in India. The nice young women e-mailed back and forth and sent the specs out to some of their producers to see if they could do them, and she came up with two or three of them. I said to Ramsey, ‘We have to go to India’ and he said okay; he was gung-ho for it. A gal named Shelley helped me set up the trip.

We went there in March 2011 and were there for two weeks. That is where the Fair Trade Forum is (in New Delhi.) It was heartening to see how hard they all work and the quality of their work. I worked with producers that could faithfully produce my designs, and I was thrilled that they could re-produce my designs.

Can you wear them stacked? Yes, they can be stacked and each one is hand painted.

How thrilled are you to be involved with the Oscars? I am in awe…

How did it happen? I got an e-mail in October 2012 from Distinctive Assets, and they really loved them, suggesting having them (given away) at the CMAs, Grammys or Oscars. I thought they were kidding; I was amazed, but when I talked to a girl named Christina, we narrowed it down so I picked the Oscars. Last week my studio looked like a hurricane. This is the box the actors will receive:

Jan Lewis shows off the gift boxes for the Oscars.

Jan Lewis shows off the gift boxes for the Oscars.

Each nominee will get three bangles and each combination is different. The winner will not get a bag, but the Motion Picture Academy will auction off the winner’s bag for charity.

What does Ramsey think of your venture? He is in awe, as I am. I’m thankful to have a husband who encourages me and wants me to be successful…he’s terrific.

What’s like to live with a famous jazz artist like Ramsey Lewis? It’s very interesting. For someone with as much stature as he has, he does not have an ego. To him, it’s all about the music. Accolades and awards are great – he appreciates them – but that’s not how he lives his life. He is wonderful and easy to live with, he is not demanding. He does have his moments, but then he is an artist.

Is this the first time something big has happened for your bracelets? Yes, I am new on the scene.

Where can we your brackets be purchased? At Material Possessions locations in Chicago and Winnetka and CHIARoScURO in Water Tower Place in Chicago. The narrow bracelets sell for $80.00 and the larger ones are $100.00.

What will be your next venture, are you planning to create other designs? I have lots of ideas for pendants and earrings – at some point lucite and crystals (that is down the road). My designs lend themselves to lots of different products.

Will you be at the Oscars this year? No, just my bangles.

Have you seen any of the movies being nominated? All of them, and it gave me ideas on which talent to give certain bangles to!

What was your favorite film? I loved Silver Linings Playbook with Robert DeNiro, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. I’d see it five more times. The entire cast was great. As a matter of fact, all the movies were fantastic this year!

We can’t wait to see lots of of Ms. Lewis’ work in the future (including at a trunk show at Bloomingdale’s in Chicago this Saturday and Sunday!), and we are so excited to tune in and see the stars at the Oscar telecast on ABC Sunday, February 24th!


About Irene Michaels

Irene Michaels is a publisher, celebrity insider journalist and former model/actress continuing to expand her ever-growing business with Her website provides readers with exclusive photos, interviews, videos and other content offering a unique Chicago perspective on the glamorous and exciting lives of the stars, social glitterati and the city’s most powerful people, while drawing attention to important causes and exciting events. Her TCW blog, “Powerful Partners,” offers an inside look at the exciting lives of influential men and women, and the talented writer is also involved in many philanthropic endeavors such as PAWS Chicago, De Paul Theater School, Better Boys Foundation, Parkways, Costume Council of the Chicago History Museum, Joffrey Circle and Chicago Human Rhythm Project just to mention a few.