As the child of diamond merchants, Payal Shah may have been destined to design jewellery, but with L’Dezen, she has cut her own dazzling path. She speaks endearingly of her celebrity clients, her affordable new line and going home for lunch every day…
Your parents were diamond merchants. Were you fated to follow them into the industry, or did you have other aspirations growing up?
Honestly, the biggest thing I learnt from my entrepreneurial parents is what it takes to run a good business. My dad is great at marketing and my mum is a whiz at managing the accounts. That said, I don’t know if I really wanted to be a jeweller from the get-go. I was more interested in creating design solutions, which led me to study architecture at university. For me, the attraction was that it would open up so many career opportunities, be it engineering, product design or interior design. Ultimately, though, I came full circle by starting my own jewellery brand in 2011.
What led you to launch L’Dezen?
I started L’Dezen almost by chance. After I studied architectural design in London, I returned to Hong Kong to work for a hospitality firm. I’ve always had a love of design, and in addition to my day job, I used to make jewellery for my personal use. This was obviously influenced by the fact that both my parents are diamond merchants, so I had ready access to these beautiful stones.
As I was creating these pieces for myself, I attended the Hong Kong International Jewellery Show, and one of the businesses there loved what I was wearing and asked if I would be interested in making a capsule collection for them. They then flew me out to Vegas, and I remember how much fun it was and the amazing reception my pieces received. That set off a spark in my head, and I said, “I think I need to start my own business.” It didn’t happen immediately, though; I continued collaborating with that brand to learn more about the industry and how it works. Eventually, as I gained confidence and found the right resources, I started L’Dezen. That was about 10 years ago.
How would you describe the style of L’Dezen?
L’Dezen jewellery for me is the solution to all things beautiful, with a flexible edge that means our clients can wear these beautiful forms of art from day to night. I love that our pieces can be avant-garde, feminine or rock-chic, depending on how you style it, with the same creation looking entirely different on two separate people. Ultimately, it’s the strong, bold asthete of the jewellery that helps someone’s inner personality shine through.
Looking back, what are the most meaningful pieces you’ve designed?
The most unique piece is a pair of irregularly shaped earrings featuring a winged flower motif. I originally made it for a competition here in the city, and when it won, I was so proud to have my work showcased during the Hong Kong International Jewellery Show at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. Then, a few years later, I was asked to style Mary J. Blige for the Met Gala – which was a huge honour, because when it comes to fashion, this may be the most important event of the year. She ended up wearing that same pair of earrings, and as she’s such a cultural icon and fashionista, having her don them was pretty much an award in itself.
You’ve worked with so many A-listers. Which among your celebrity encounters particularly stands out?
Oh, I have the cutest story. During the first years of L’Dezen, I randomly got an email from Mindy Kaling and it was so innocuous! It was from a Gmail account, and she said, ‘Hi, it’s Mindy Kaling. I love your pieces, and I was wondering if you’d be interested in styling me for the Cannes Film Festival.’ Honestly, I thought it was spam or a prank, because I love her so much and see her as a role model, given her trailblazing career as a successful South Asian woman in Hollywood.
So, I replied that I would love to, but asked to continue the conversation on Facetime, so that I would have proof that it was really her. She instantly sent me her number and the next thing I know, she’s sending me looks she’s interested in, and I’m helping her narrow down jewellery choices to match. It almost felt like we were best friends picking out outfits for a Friday night. She was so down-to-earth, and that made the entire experience even more special.
Do you have any upcoming projects or collections that you’d like to share?
L’Dezen is our high-end, handmade jewellery line, and over the past two years, we’ve added a few more styles to that, but simultaneously we’ve launched a sister brand called Psylish. Basically Psylish addresses where the demand is today, which is for flexible jewellery that can be worn day or night. It still has that L’Dezen aesthetic of being beautiful and quirky yet elegant, but is more accessibly priced to appeal to a younger crowd. Having both brands is great because I can be more artistically creative with one, while the other allows me to reach a bigger audience.
With two businesses now up and running, what’s a typical day like for you?
Both L’Dezen and Psylish are run from one office, so thankfully I don’t have to be back and forth between the two. An average day for me starts with prayers, drinking some healthy green juice, then walking 10 minutes to work. For lunch, I normally go back home; we have lunch as a family every day, which is a great way to catch up with everyone since we don’t see each other that often on the weekends. Evenings tend to vary: sometimes I attend an event, other times I hang out with friends, and I try to fit in regular workouts whether it’s muay thai or going for a run. To wind down, I like to watch a TV show or movie before heading to bed.
Covid-19 has had a big impact on everyone. What challenges did you personally face, and what lessons have you learnt?
Well, I used to be in and out of the city quite a bit pre-Covid. In fact, I travelled so often in the past eight years that I was already considering a more consistent lifestyle, one that would keep me here for longer stretches of time. I had already been deep diving into e-commerce because it might allow me to continue reaching an international audience without having to hop on a plane every couple of weeks for trade shows, trunk shows and so forth. Hence, for me at least, the timing of the pandemic was quite fortuitous; it forced me to adopt the more stable lifestyle I was aiming for, one with a better work-life balance.
If you were stuck on a desert island, what three items would be must-haves?
Sunscreen, to protect my skin from all that exposure; my Apple Watch, to keep me fit and track the time; and red chillies – eating chilli with food is an absolute must for me.
Finally, what book would you recommend everyone to read?
To be honest, I’ve probably only read a handful of books in my entire life, but I’d really recommend Ladies Who Launch in Hong Kong by Maseena Ziegler, which features the stories of eight women who ran start-ups in the city. I reached out to the author, who had lived her whole life here before moving to New York, and she ended up becoming my mentor.
On the other hand, I’m a big fan of podcasts, and one I’d highly advocate is Business Wars. It pits two major companies from the same industry together – Nike vs. Adidas for example – tracking their differences, similarities and rise to fame. It’s engaging, educational and I can’t see anyone not loving it.
Interview by: Tenzing Thondup
Photographer: Jack Law
Videography: Kingsley Lau
Art Direction & Styling: Jhoshwa Ledesma
Make Up Artist: Iana Zinovieva Hair Stylist: Vic Lai
Locations: 181 and at Fortnum & Mason and The Hari Hong Kong