Talking Jewelry, Survival and LL Cool J With Designer Simone I. Smith

simone i. smith

Simone I. Smith’s jewelry is personal, and not simply because she designed it.

Jewelry is personal for Simone I. Smith. It’s personal not just because she designs her own or because big hoop earrings have been a part of her signature style since her husband, Todd Smith (known to the world as LL Cool J), gave her her first pair of door knockers when she was 17. It’s personal because she uses it to raise money for cancer research. She’s a cancer survivor herself.

Smith was diagnosed with Stage III Chondrosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, in 2004. She underwent invasive surgery on her legs, which left her unable to walk for nearly eight months and on crutches for longer. She took it in stride, appearing with her husband on the red carpet in sparkly shoes and color-coordinated crutches. Now, 10 years cancer free, Smith donates $10 from every piece purchased in her signature line launched in 2011, Simone I. Smith, to the American Cancer Society.

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“The one thing about it is that a lot of people can turn around and they can say, ‘I’m praying for you, God bless you,’ and you want all the prayers in the world but when you get a cancer diagnosis it’s something that changes your whole world. It’s my job as a cancer survivor to try to change the worlds of other people,” said Smith, who has grown her business to include Focus for Men by Simone I. Smith, Amore by Simone I. Smith and SIS by Simone I. Smith.

I caught up with Simone after her SIS by Simone I. Smith trunk show in Roslyn, hosted by Shag New York to talk about her inspirations, life after cancer, her husband’s influence on her career and her favorite styles.

Long Island Pulse: What inspired you to go into the jewelry industry?
Simone I. Smith: I’ve always been a hoop girl, and when I decided to do it I felt like hoop earrings were really hard to find unless you got the really cheap ones, and they were heavy because they were made with stainless steel. I talked with my husband about it and he jumped on board and he supported me and that’s what really inspired me.

Pulse: What is it about hoop earrings that you love so much?
Smith: Growing up in the 80s it was all about the door knockers. My husband bought me my first pair of door knocker earrings and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Pulse: What makes your earrings unique?
Smith: My jewelry is considered fine jewelry because the base is sterling silver. We have a few pieces that are 14-carat gold, but the majority of my earrings are sterling silver with the 18-carat or gold plated on top just so it’s affordable.

Pulse: Why was it important to make it for any woman instead of just targeting one demographic?
Smith: I think all women embody style, integrity and strength. It’s important that all women feel good about themselves wearing my jewelry. To discriminate, I don’t think that’s fair.

Pulse: What new products can your customers look out for this year?
Smith: We have a lot of new hoop designs coming in, really nice cute little necklaces with pendants of lips. We have one called the Sexy Grill. You see the actual teeth, which is cool. The teeth are silver and the lip is iced out in crystals. We’re doing them in dark purple, pink, a diamond, red and a sapphire blue. [I’m adding] a new nameplate with stacked letters, bangles and earrings to my I Love You More collection.

Pulse: What inspired your recent designs?
Smith: What really inspired sexy lip was my husband doing lip sync battle, and I thought, “I’m going to do a lip pendant.” I had a few samples at the Shag Trunk Show in Roslyn and someone purchased one right off my neck. My grandmother inspired the I Love You More Collection. Whenever you’d say I love you, she’d say I love you more. When she passed away, I said that I was definitely going to design a line that said I love you more.

simone i. smith

Smith believes “everybody can relate” to the phrase “I Love You More.”

Pulse: Michael Jackson used to say that…
Smith: A lot of people say it. I thought my grandmother only said it to us until I came out with the nameplate, and people started coming up and saying, “Oh, my grandmother said that” and “I say that.” Everybody can relate.

Pulse: People can also relate to your passion for raising cancer awareness. As a cancer survivor yourself, why was it so important to you to find a way to give back?
Smith: Before it effected me directly, my father-in-law passed away of cancer and my nanny who was with us for 19 years is a three-time cancer survivor. She’s going to be 80 years old. It’s such a horrible disease, and I just really wanted to do my part to raise funds for cancer awareness and research.

Pulse: Mentally, how did you survive your battle?
Smith: My grandparents raised me in a wonderful home. I had a grandmother and grandfather who took me to church every Sunday. I believe in God and I believe God isn’t going to give you anything that you can’t handle so the days I would try to feel sorry for myself I just had to trust in God, trust in myself, surround myself with positive people. My husband wouldn’t let anyone in the house who was going to cry and feel sorry for what I was going through. Once I started feeling good and was off the medicine, I started getting in the wheelchair and going to my daughter’s soccer games. When I was able to put pressure on my right leg I was hitting all the red carpets with Todd with my crutches, whether they were painted metallic purple or blue. I stayed fashionable. I didn’t let it get me down. That’s the important thing about surviving, is that you can’t let it get to you mentally because if you do your recovery is going to be completely different.

Pulse: How did it change you?
Smith: It made me much more grateful about life, about family, about understanding how important your limbs are. It reaffirmed my values of God and family first. Life is too short and life is good and you have to live it to the fullest, but you also have to be humble and give.

Pulse: What’s your favorite jewelry-related memory?
Smith: I still have the first pair of earrings my husband gave me. They’re kind of beat up. We just celebrated 20 years of marriage in August and I got a really beautiful new ring, so that’s extra special. In this industry, being married for 20 years is an absolute blessing.

Pulse: How much has his support meant to you?
Smith: It’s been so important to have support from him and my children. I supported him for so many years and I just think that in a marriage, you should be with someone who is going to support your dreams as much as you support theirs.

Pulse: You’ve said you’ve actually chosen your outfit based on what would look good with your earrings. What’s your favorite outfit to wear with your earrings?
Smith: I’m a jeans and T-shirt girl. I think a cool pair of destroyed denim jeans with a nice T-shirt. On your feet, if it’s a skinny leg, you could do a really cool boot or bootie or you could roll them up and do a cut wedge sneaker or wedge sandal.

Pulse: How would you style it for a more formal occasion like a nice dinner?
Smith: I would definitely say a dress with hoop earrings with a diamond embellishment. We have large, we have XL. It all depends on the woman. If you’re risky enough to put the XL on, I’d say do it by all means. There are also beautiful drop earrings. My pieces are timeless and a lot of them you can dress them up and dress down. My jewelry is for all women of all walks of life.

beth ann clyde

beth ann clyde

Beth Ann Clyde is a social strategist of Long Island Pulse. Have a story idea or just want to say hello? Email or reach out on Twitter @BAClyde.