Local enamel jewelry artist Leigh Navarro opens third store in West Campus

2013-04-02-leighlena_Jorge

Jorge Corona

Customer Kristen Hardin browses the jewlery selection at Leighelena on Guadalupe. The store offers jewlery locally made by owner Leigh Navarro as well as clothing, accessories, novelties, and books.

Willa Young

A young girl from El Paso, Texas, worships her mother and her enamel artwork. Each day, her mother fuses a thin coating of glass to various types of metal and creates a one-of-a-kind piece of art. 

One afternoon the girl finally gets her chance to try her hand at her mother’s craft. The girl watches as her mother carefully places the girl’s first artistic creation into the fire of a home kiln. The wait for her earrings — turquoise, pearly white and copper — to finish firing in the kiln is agonizing and when they finally come out of the oven, they are much too heavy, dragging and stretching her earlobes as they hang off her. But that does not sway the girl. Her mother’s passion has now become her own. 

Twenty-five years later, that same pair of heavy turquoise earrings sits in a drawer at Leigh Navarro’s home, a constant reminder of how her life as an enamel jewelry crafter began.

Navarro has grown significantly as a jeweler since that first pair of unbalanced dangling earrings. She has hundreds of retail partners today and three namesake stores, the third of which was just opened on March 28 on Guadalupe Street.

The store doesn’t just sell Navarro’s Texas-crafted jewelry; it is full of vintage cowboy boots, recycled clothing, quirky oddities and strange country-themed pieces of history. Her store located on South Congress Avenue is popular for its strange combinations of high-end classic taste and a country twang. Her new store boasts the same twisted style, but a more convenient location for UT students.

“Designing is all about delivering stylish and quality pieces that fulfill a client’s wishes in clever and fun ways,” Navarro said.

Navarro spent many years of her adolescence perfecting her work and slowly becoming a skilled enamellist. She began making pieces for friends and family in her spare time, but soon the demand grew beyond her immediate circle. After gaining experience working at Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue, she decided to take a risky leap and start her own business. 

Her adopted combination of artist and entrepreneur, she said, has always been a natural fit. Navarro calls her artistic style a combination of chic, rock ‘n roll, fun and refinement. Her jewelry tends to combine textured leather and geometric statement pieces of either metal or enamel, a result of her Texan blood and big city experiences.

“Out of all her stuff I’ve seen, I think her jigsaw cuff bracelets really stand out,” UT sophomore and loyal Leighelena fan Ashley Lee said. “The leather she uses is so distinctly Texas, like a pair of cowboy boots. But the metal clasp is so bold and edgy. It’s a great contrast.”

The new Leighelena store replaced Cream Vintage on the Drag. Cream Vintage specialized in recycled clothing and offered on-site alterations to their customers. When the store closed, Navarro took advantage of the opportunity to own the location. 

“I have to say, I’m a little disappointed to see Cream Vintage go,” Rebecca Hoffman, UT junior and vintage and consignment store frequenter, said.  “As much as I love Leighelena jewelry, the pieces are pretty expensive.”

One of Navarro’s most popular pieces, the wide jigsaw cuff bracelet, sells for $110.

Navarro said her inspirations and style are constantly changing, but she is determined to keep her products at the same quality level her mother emphasized when she was younger. Each piece is handmade and thus avoids the mass-produced look of megastores. Currently, she is creating a new line of jewelry in collaboration with Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers, San Francisco-based musicians. Through all the success, she still remembers her roots.

“It’s the gratification of starting with raw materials,” Navarro said, “Picking them out, and piecing them together and then creating something substantial and beautiful.”