The Originals: Lisa Eisner

What does it take to be a true Original these days? A willingness to break the rules, of course; a strong sense of personal style doesn’t hurt; but most of all, you need to have a meaningful point of view.

Photograph by Lisa Eisner.

In an era where seemingly everything is mined for inspiration—or, let’s be frank, appropriation—what does it take to be truly one of a kind? A willingness to break the rules is essential; a strong sense of personal style certainly doesn’t hurt; but most of all, you need to have a truly meaningful point of view. At W we are all about celebrating originality, which is why we’ve rounded up some of our favorite people who are constantly pushing boundaries, and asked them to share valuable insights. They may be just starting out or in the prime of their careers, but they are all leading the conversation in their chosen fields—whether it’s fashion, art, film, music, photography, or even skateboarding. The bottom line is that, regardless of their differences, they all share one very important trait: for them, standing out, rather than blending in, is not an option but a necessity.

Lisa Eisner is a jewelry designer, photographer, art book publisher and—some might say—one of the most well connected women in Hollywood.

Where did you grow up?

Wyoming, which isn’t exactly the fashion capital of the world.

For years you worked as a fashion editor, then you became a photographer, and now you make jewelry. How did you carve your own path?

In home ec, I’d sew my own clothes. Fashion was a form of expression for me. I did one fashion show a year for this store I worked at in high school. Then I had a fashion column at the University of Wyoming—it was ridiculous, by the way. I moved to New York with three other girls from Wyoming, and that was a big break for me. We all lived together in a two-bedroom apartment. I went to a fashion school that I found at the back of a magazine. Then I got an internship at Mademoiselle magazine, and I felt like all these planets were orbiting around me, and I was like, This is definitely want I want to do.

How did you make the transition to photography?

Growing up, there were these rodeo queens at the Cheyenne Frontier Days, and I always loved their glamorous, sparkly, girly-girl, accessoried-out thing. They would go to stores in Texas and buy a fancy gown, and they would cut it up and wear the leg-of-mutton fancy sequined top of the gown with their jeans. I’ve always loved a subculture where you could define yourself and not be dictated by the fashion world. I wanted to start taking pictures, and I thought, I’m going back to these rodeo queens. I really learned everything on my Leica and film camera from documenting them.

What was it about the rodeo subculture that inspired you to start your publishing company, Greybull Press?

I was actually born in Greybull. The first book was Rodeo Girl—the stylist Arianne Phillips got hold of that book and gave Madonna her rodeo-queen look at that time.

Who was the first person who made you realize you could break the rules?

Tony Duquette, the costume and set designer. He was beyond creative. He would just go down this path of some fantasy in his mind of some tribe that he created and what they would wear and what they would live in and what their jewelry would be. There’s no one like him.

Who do you have in mind when creating jewelry?

Do I care if anybody loves it? Um, not really. I just make things that I like and are unique. I make big jewelry. You have to be a certain person to feel comfortable wearing it.

What was the first piece of jewelry you ever collected?

I started buying turquoise when I was a teenager. I love it so much. I think turquoise will always be a big signature because finding these turquoise mines that are closing or finding a stash of turquoise from mines that are closed, it makes me nuts. The color of turquoise, it’s just right for me.

What does originality mean to you?

I guess originality means that you don’t look like everybody else. That you’re unique and you’re yourself. You know what you like and what you don’t like. I don’t do the trend thing. Or if it’s a trend, then it has to be right for me. No matter what, originality has to come from you. You know yourself. I like people who are original and completely themselves and are like, No, I just want to wear a white shirt and black pants all the time. I sort of appreciate that. They are who they are. That’s original to them. But not everyone can be, like, a kook. I know that for certain.

Who is your style icon?

There are so many! Louise Nevelson, Tina Chow. And any sort of tribal, ethnic person who feels comfortable with jewelry as an amulet or almost like tribal armor.

How would you describe your signature style now?

I think everything is personal. It goes back. I’m constantly going back to the world of the West. California or Wyoming. I’m a vintage girl. I hunt through lots of vintage stuff, so I’m not the biggest retail person. I also do not like so much of the retail experience. Going to a vintage show or vintage shop is a much more enjoyable experience for me than going to a retail store. It’s less expensive, the quality is better, it’s all unique and one of a kind. It’s totally different.

What are your most prized possessions?

I’m not sure which thing I would take in a fire. In fact, we actually had to do that a couple of years ago, and I was like, Oh, my God. I value it all because I have weird shit. I have Sammy Davis Jr.’s suits. I have one of Elvis Presley’s TCB pendants and his original glasses. I have beautiful Tina Chow jewelry.

Do you feel confident?

I think there’s a confidence you have to have being original. Believe me, I’ve had plenty of people laugh at me when I walk into places, but I never really gave a shit about that. It was just like, Well, this is who I am.

Related: J’adore: Lisa Eisner