“I” drafted a couple of introductions for Ladybrille Magazine’s Chris Aire exclusive interview. But, I felt his biography on his website was most compelling in capturing his journey so far. As a disclaimer, I have had the privilege of working with Chris Aire on a few of his projects, nevertheless, it did not undermine the need for us here at Ladybrille to celebrate his achievements and accomplishments as our Ladybrille Man of the Month, especially for our September Fashion Week Edition. Read his biography below and then join me for the further unveiling of the Ice Man, Chris Aire, our Ladybrille Man of the Month September 2011.
“You may recognize his name. You may recognize his face. Or you may recognize the many nicknames he has affectionately been dubbed by his Hollywood clients and the press: Emperor of Ice, King of Bling, Mr. Gem. Perhaps you’ve even seen many articles written about him around the world, including the 5 – page article in rolling stone divulging his humble beginnings sleeping in his car with only $500.00 in the bank, and highlighting his success not just among much of hollywood, but also in the fashion world, where Chris Aire made history being the first jeweler to put on a show during New York’s Fashion Week showcasing jewelry as fashion. (The) event (w)as not only attended by celebrities but also had some of them walking the catwalk in support of his work.
First pigeonholed as an urban-style jewelry designer, Aire actually once designed bridal collections for a host of well-established jewelry manufacturers and distributors. While attending the trade shows, he recognized a void in the marketplace: a lack of product for the urban demographic. Inspired, he made some initial sketches, but was surprised when he was met with widespread resistance that any such styles would ever find a client base. Following his intuition, not only did Aire identify a highly neglected market, he created the designs that helped lead the urban jewelry market into a multibillion-dollar industry.
Aire has continually proven the naysayers wrong by thinking outside the box, and by creating cutting-edge, innovative, trend-setting designs that have kept top sport, music, television and films stars ahead of the trend game. Indeed, Aire is the creator of many key jewelry trends. From his diamond dog tags, tri-tag®, eternity tags to the infinity, numerology and the upcoming feng shui and marquis collections, as well as his oversized Aire traveler® timepieces series, stars such as Geena Davis, Halle Berry, Oprah, Terri Hatcher, Angelina Jolie, Lindsay Lohan, Adrien Brody, Jamie Foxx, 50 Cent, Nelly, Clint Eastwood, Will Smith have all shined in Chris Aire designs. In the 17 years Aire has been designing jewelry, he has raised the bar on creativity and craftsmanship. He is recognized as an innovator, leader and a true artist in and out of the jewelry industry.”
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Chris thanks for granting this exclusive interview to Ladybrille Magazine. How are you?
Chris Aire: My pleasure. I am doing great, thank you, and you?
LADYBRILLEmag.com: (Blessed. Thank you.)
LADYBRILLEmag.com: First things first, it made so much sense for us to celebrate you as Ladybrille man of the Month this September 2011 given it is New York Fashion Week and you were the first African to have showcased a jewelry design, to my knowledge, at Mercedes-Benz New York Fashion Week.
Chris Aire: I appreciate the honor. You are correct; (I) made history as the first designer in the world to create an all-jewelry runway show at New York Fashion Week.
The Business of Fashion (Jewelry) With Chris Aire
LADYBRILLEmag.com: (Congrats on such accomplishments) Take us back to that time. How did the epiphany come about to do such a show?
Chris Aire: Being a jewelry and watch designer, I am mostly preoccupied with thoughts about how to do things a little differently than (my) competitors. I have a lot of clients and friends in the fashion and entertainment industry. I wanted to do something that would bring all these people together to celebrate what we were doing. So, I thought it would be a great idea to show jewelry at Bryant Park during New York Fashion Week as fashion.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: (I remember) your show pulled in the big model names and celebrities. What amount of work went into such model selection and prepping to show, for the first time, a jewelry line, in line with fashion trends, at New York Fashion Week?
Chris Aire: A lot went into the preparation for our first show. It was un-chartered waters, as no one had ever done anything like it before. It was important to choose our models carefully and design jewelry and watch pieces that would excite the audience and not be lost on the runway.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Most of us see success and think it comes easy, especially when success has been attained. But, give us the reality. What is your daily routine and what are the challenges of running a jewelry business?
Chris Aire: I feel like I am on a journey, the moment I start feeling like I’ve arrived would be when I know I am in trouble. It is important to keep at it. I am totally hands on in my businesses and the perpetual student, always learning how I can be superior to my previous self. I am in competition with myself in the sense that I always want to be better than I was the day before. It keeps me fired up, besides I love what I do so much that it seldom feels like work.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: (Let’s talk about the challenges of doing business.) You sued Louis Vuitton and some other big names recently for trademark infringement among other legal claims. As a trial attorney, I have observed and do know it is unusual to see litigants of African heritage in the courtroom, much less suing the big names. Why did you think it made sense to engage the legal system in your situation?
Chris Aire: Those who know me well, know I am not a sue hungry guy, but we live in the United States of America with very strong trademark laws. It is important for those who are not aware to understand that if you are the owner of a trademark and people infringe on the mark, it is your duty to protect the mark otherwise you lose it.
Our company developed, trademarked and made famous the Red Gold® brand and after spending a lot of resources in making the brand famous, these other companies decided they wanted to exploit the brand without our consent. It is akin to me deciding to open a store on Rodeo Drive and call it Louis Vuitton, selling everything Louis Vuitton sells, I guarantee you that they would not sit idle and watch that happen. These brands frequently file similar lawsuits to protect their trademarks. Just like they all do frequently, we too must protect our trademark. The lawsuit is simply our way of policing and protecting our brand.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: For those who might be hearing about you, for the first time or have heard about you but do not really know your brand; tell us about your registered trademarks tri-tag and Aire Traveler?
Chris Aire: Aire Traveler trademark is the mark for the very first watch we introduced into the market. Aire Traveler 5 time zones. It was favorably received and paved the way for the goodwill we enjoy today in the watch industry today. Tri-tags is the trademark for a collection of necklaces, bracelets and earrings we developed, another one of our signature creations.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Last year, you collaborated with Nigeria’s Ministry of Steel to showcase Nigerian gold and gem stones in the USA. Tell us how that project came about?
Chris Aire: I brainstormed with the Minister of Mines and Steel who was very interested in calling the world’s attention to Nigeria’s rich mineral resources. We decided since Hollywood was the home of the stars and the stars have a very far and wide media reach, it would be best to show case these gems here in Hollywood. It was a smashing success as over three billion people world -wide saw the show.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What has been the follow up?
Chris Aire: We’ve currently engaged a lot of the small scale miners and are putting some projects together with various investors. Our hope is to mechanize mining in Nigeria, thereby creating much needed jobs for our people and diversifying the country’s revenue stream. We’ve also expanded our Hollywood Collection using more Nigerian gold and gem stones.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: You have had the good fortune of having some of the biggest stars rock your designs: Angelina Jolie, Halle Berry, Clint Eastwood and so many names to count. How do you stay grounded?
Chris Aire: It is easy to stay grounded when you know that all power belongs to the almighty God. I am a conduit, a vessel, an instrument through which God reveals his greatness. I could not have done any of this on my own might but by the grace of the Almighty God.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Indeed. We at Ladybrille believe, strongly, Africa is the new business frontier. It is indeed what our business ethos and brand mission is all about. Share with us your expansion goals, if any into Africa?
Chris Aire: I agree with you one hundred percent. Those who are not yet awake to that fact are asleep at the wheel. frica offers so much in terms of resources. It is my prayers that we continue to elect leaders who understand this and care enough about the continent to help foster favorable environment for the fulfillment of our destiny.
We are involved in various businesses in Africa and are getting ready to launch our first Chris Aire boutique at Transcorp Hilton in Abuja.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Do you have plans for expansion into other markets?
Chris Aire: Absolutely. We are already on it.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: In a very competitive business and a particularly difficult economy, how have you managed to stay competitive and relevant?
Chris Aire: We are blessed with a long list of very affluent individuals who love our products and have been very consistent in their patronage.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Who is the Chris Aire man and woman? Are they limited to celebrities?
Chris Aire: Celebrities and the affluent are our core base, but we’ve worked to expand our line; and our clientele has expanded beyond to include aspirational consumers and basically anyone who believes in affirming their individuality.
The Business of Music with Chris Aire
LADYBRILLEmag.com: We know you mostly as a jeweler but you helped make music history when you introduced and facilitated the Snoop Dogg and D’Banj collaboration for the Endowed remix. Tell us how that came about?
Chris Aire: Chris Aire jewelry and watches are my core business but we are involved in several other businesses. Snoop and D’banj are both great guys and I thought it would be great for them to do something together. So I facilitated the collaboration and the rest is history.
Going Beyond the Business of Fashion, Get to Know Chris Aire
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Speaking of history . . . hmmm . . .Okay Chris! We are done with the serious business talk! Let’s learn more about you. (Laughs) Things I never see anyone ask in all I have read and watched about you! (Laughs)
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Where did you attend college?
Chris Aire: I attended California State University, Longbeach, California.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Who are the African fashion designers you totally dig?
Chris Aire: I love what Deola Sagoe, Jewel By Lisa, Tiffany Amber, Fati Asibuela/MOMO and Ituen Basi are doing for womenswear and Nigeria as a whole. Through fashion they have brought great attention to the natural talent pouring out of Africa. I also love Mudii for his fashion forward take on the kaftan.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What three top African artists are currently playing in your Ipod or in your car?
Chris Aire: I listen to African music from the entire continent and whomever I am listening changes from time to time. But at the moment the top three are: Duncan Mighty, Nneka and Flavor.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: (I LOVE Nneka! I also can’t get the hook Flavor did on M.I’s Number One in his M.I 2 album out of my head. Cool artists.) What are your favorite hobbies?
Chris Aire: Golf, tennis and watching good movies
LADYBRILLEmag.com: How many languages do you speak?
Chris Aire: Three
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What is your fondest childhood memory?
Chris Aire: Sitting around the fire in my village with my grandfather telling stories.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What drives you?
Chris Aire: The need to be superior to my previous self
LADYBRILLEmag.com: (Laughs) We share something in common on that answer. What does it feel like to be celebrated as Ladybrille’s Man of the Month?
Chris Aire: It is an honor and a privilege.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Drop some words of inspiration for the many that will read this and want to be exactly where you are right now. Inspire us?!
Chris Aire: Worship the almighty God and serve each other. Remember that God blesses you through others, so be kind to others.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Thank you Chris for your time!
Chris Aire: The pleasure was all mine. Thank you for making me your Man of the Month!
LADYBRILLEmag.com: (Chuckles) You welcome.
WOMAN OF THE MONTH: YETUNDE “YETTY D” OGUNNUBI
Founded in 2007, Ladybrille® Magazine is a California based pioneer digital publication celebrating the brilliant woman in business and leadership, with an emphasis on the African woman in the diaspora and the continent. The magazine has its foundation in fashion and provides extensive coverage on African fashion inspired news stories.