When Nicole Romano 00 AP chose to intern at Nicole Miller in New York City during her senior year, she had no idea the experience would ultimately steer her beyond apparel design. Fashion superstar Nicole Miller 73 AP was helpful and encouraging about the young designer’s ideas for clothing but really fell in love with the earrings she had been making for herself and her friends. “She asked me to make some for the models in her runway show at New York Fashion Week,” Romano recalls, “and they ended up being a highlight of the show. Nicole has been a mentor and one of my biggest fans ever since.”
Once costume designer Patricia Field spotted the jewelry at Miller’s show, she knew Romano’s chunky, glamorous pieces would be perfect for the fashion-forward TV series Sex and the City and related films. “The demand was there and my business unfolded organically,” the designer explains. “One thing led to another.”
Romano describes her bold style as a “mash-up” of various materials and unconventional finishing techniques. “I love the juxtaposition of edgy and classic,” she says, adding that her experience in apparel influences her signature looks. “For example, we use chain in nontraditional ways,” she says. “We treat it as trim, wrap it like fabric or drape it.” She also uses a lot of Swarovski crystal as well as stones and other vintage treasures she finds “digging through dusty shelves at estate sales and auctions.”
Fashion connoisseurs from New York to Milan have been taking note since Field first raved about Romano in Vogue back in 2001. A recent Moda Operandi write-up describes her Lino earrings as “a standout addition to any collection; their antique inspiration updated with modern chain detailing commands attention. No need to pile on extra accessories when decked in these baubles – they stand, confidently, alone.”
Romano credits RISD for making her a better designer, while also helping her gain the technical skills needed to put her a step ahead in the fashion world. “I learned that it wasn’t just about being creative,” she explains, “but also about understanding how construction works – and how technical elements fit into design.”
After graduation the Rhode Island native moved to New York and set up shop selling a full line of ready-to-wear apparel in the lobby of the iconic Plaza Hotel in Manhattan’s Central Park South. She also maintained a modest jewelry and accessories collection “just for fun.” After a few years, when the hotel chose to close its lobby retail operations, Romano switched gears. Although she still creates a limited line of ready-to-wear fashions – and recently collaborated with Rhode Island designer Kristina Richards on a line of beachwear – she now focuses more on her mixed-media costume jewelry, which is sold at Anthropologie, Charm & Chain, Moda Operandi, Nicole Miller and Luca Luca shops.
Dedicated to bringing manufacturing jobs back to the US, Romano has become a leader in the USA Made campaign. Her involvement – along with her commitment to Rhode Island-based manufacturing in particular – has earned her both respect in the industry and a citation from the state Senate.
Though she still maintains a design studio in East Harlem, Romano manufactures all of her jewelry at her home base in Providence’s historic jewelry district. Her employees work in a factory built in 1928 and actually use some of the original machinery. The great thing about the USA Made campaign, the entrepreneur explains, is that she’s able to be involved with every step of the process and make any necessary tweaks on the factory floor.
Another cutting-edge trend she finds exciting is the eBay Designer Collective, a new online marketplace that allows shoppers to browse and buy from customized e-boutiques. The venture has just launched this summer and in addition to featuring her work, includes such luxury brands as Calvin Klein, Halston and Rebecca Minkoff. The idea is to re-create a high fashion experience online, offering customers the latest looks, trends and bestsellers via promotions and guest-curated collections.
Romano is inspired by such experimental collaborations and by traveling the world to immerse herself in fascinating cultures. “But my biggest inspiration,” she says, “is the woman I’m dressing – the woman who thinks for herself and has a strong personal style.”