December 18, 2018

Israeli-American Artist Does His Own Bling

It was the summer of 2008 when Maor Cohen, a young Israeli immigrant, was checking out yachts in Marina del Rey, where he was planning to get married. On the way back to his car, he noticed a film crew shooting a movie — then one of them noticed him.

Decked out in unique, avant-garde jewelry, bracelets, necklaces and rings, it was obvious that Cohen doesn’t believe less is more, but in the more the merrier. “He asked me where did I get all this jewelry and I told him I’m the designer,” Cohen recalled.

The two arranged to meet the next day and the man ended up purchasing most of Cohen’s line. “I didn’t know who he was getting all this jewelry for, but shortly after, I saw those pieces on Johnny Depp and Fergie,” he said.

The story began in early 2006 in Los Angeles, where Cohen, then 23, arrived with $20 in his pocket.

It didn’t take long for other celebrities to discover the jewelry designer whose line appeals mainly to men. Today, his clients include actors Jared Leto, Gerard Butler, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth and Orlando Bloom. His pieces have appeared in magazines like People, GQ, Esquire, Elle, Vanity Fair and others.

“I found out that this field, men’s jewelry, is pretty neglected,” Cohen said. “So I started designing pieces I would like to wear. It’s easy and fun for me to identify each person’s style and create something that they can add to their individual look.”

So, how does a man who barely spoke English when he arrived in the United States end up making jewelry for A-list celebrities and stores that sell his jewelry worldwide?

The story began in early 2006 in Los Angeles, where Cohen, then 23, arrived with $20 in his pocket. Speaking from his studio on Third Street near The Grove, Cohen recalled what brought him here, and it wasn’t the dream of making it big in the U.S.; it was simply a stopover before his return to Israel after spending 14 months in South America.

“I traveled to Panama and Costa Rica after I finished my army service,” he said. “I visited all the best surfing places there and then decided to surf in Los Angeles a bit before returning to Israel. I came here and fell in love with the ocean, the waves and the energy of the city and decided to stay.”

To make ends meet, Cohen did odd jobs. “I worked in a moving company, clothing store — anything I could find,” he said. “I shared an apartment with six other guys, and I felt miserable. I didn’t come here to do this.”

The “aha moment” came a few months after he arrived in town. He found a box of beads in his backpack from his South American trip. “The box actually fell on the floor and all the beads scattered all around,” he said. “I always loved beads and making jewelry, and I gave beads as a gift to people I met along the way during my travels. Later that evening, when I came back from work, I collected all the beads and started designing different jewelry pieces.”

For Cohen, it was returning to his childhood hobby, something he was passionate about during his high school years.

“I didn’t have books and pens in my backpack, but beads — a lot of them,” he said. “While the other students at school were in the classrooms, I used to sit outside and design jewelry. During recess, the kids came over and purchased the jewelry from me. I returned home from school with 1,000 to 1,200 new shekels in my pocket. I made more than the principal and the teachers were making.”

The teachers, of course, weren’t happy about what was happening, so his parents were summoned to the principal’s office. “The school adviser told my parents that I’m such a smart kid with great potential and it’s too bad I don’t apply myself,” he said.

With his newfound love of jewelry design, Cohen created around 20 pieces, then went searching for a store that would sell them. With a degree of chutzpah, he entered a clothing store he thought would be the right fit to sell his jewelry.

“I introduced myself as Maor, a jewelry designer, and I would like to meet the owner,” he remembered. “The store’s owner loved what he saw and, on the spot, ordered everything I had with me.”

Later, Cohen enrolled in a fashion and jewelry show in New York and Las Vegas and shared a booth with a pants designer. “Everybody loved my jewelry,” he said. “It was a great success, but I was also worried because I came back home with a large order and I didn’t even have a factory or any workers. At that time, I used to work from my living room.”

Cohen raised enough money to buy material, hire workers and open his own studio.

Today, he has 23 people working for him, and his jewelry is available in 15 stores in Los Angeles, including Barneys New York and Fred Segal. He also sells in Europe and Japan.

Divorced and a father of a 6-year-old son, Cohen remarried on July 29 at the annual Burning Man event in Nevada.

“After my divorce, about four years ago, I went through a difficult time and went to Playa to clear my head,” he said, referring to an area within the Burning Man gathering. “I decided that if the light will come to my life, I will let it enter my life. I sent my message to the universe and the following Tuesday, I met Karien. The day we met, I asked her to marry me.”

Next year, they plan a Jewish ceremony. Needless to say, he will design the rings.