Michal Negrin builds an empire on lace and glitter

“You need to be original and work in harmony with people – a lot of people together to create your dream," says Negrin.

Breaking news (photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
Breaking news
(photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
A public phone is ringing off the hook. “Is this Michal Negrin?,” the caller asks.
It was 1988 in Tel Aviv. The bi-weekly artists’ fair on Nachalat Binyamin had just begun to prosper. In a simple, home-made booth sat Michal Negrin - a young and spirited artist who had quickly sold-out all of her creations.  The number of the public phone adjacent to her stall was the number Michal handed out on her business cards. An auspicious start for one of Israel’s great fashion success stories. 
Step into the magical world of Michal Negrin today and you enter a wonderland of creativity: ornate, colorful jewelry; lace dresses; home furnishings - all set in a décor resembling the neo-Victorian style of the designer herself. Now headquartered in Bat Yam, Negrin oversees a world wide chain of stores, new lines in the making, and a charming visitors’ center – a woman’s fantasy land comparable in his genre to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory -  that is attracting groups from around the world.
The visitors’ center opened in 2007 when the world economy was spiraling downward and luxury purchases were the first to go. But Negrin, dressed in one her own creations, exudes a confidence that was an integral part of her ability to beat the odds. “The bad situation didn’t stop me. I was like a flower that was growing,” she told The Media Line. “The other people in the company didn’t know why I was laughing all the time; why I was happy all the time. You need to be optimistic and if you know exactly what you want to create, you say to the world ‘you’re not finished.’”
From Israel, Michal Negrin has transformed the costume jewelry market and not only redefined day wear into evening wear, but has also inspired her own competition. “I hear this from a lot of people,” she said. “But it’s hard for me to say it about myself.”
The dazzling Swarovski-set jewelry is the trendsetter. Sold in twenty-four “concept stores” in Israel and twenty-eight others worldwide, each of the 500 color combinations is  part of a 2000-item line, all of which is meticulously hand-made by local Israeli artists, most of whom are products of  the prestigious Bezalel or Shanker schools of art. Sitting in small cubicles set in rows in the Jewelry Department, Negrin’s artisans painstakingly match each individual order to the client’s specific requests. Some of them have been working there for 15 years.
The Mamilla (Jerusalem) store is bustling with buyers. Some are drawn by the color, others the brand.  Devora, a visitor from New York with her two young daughters in tow, has been a Michal Negrin regular for the past 10 years.  She said that compared to other gifts and jewelry, the line is relatively inexpensive and she can afford to buy these items  for the many women in her family.
”I think her things are beautiful,” Devora told The Media Line. “Some of the things I buy are very classical and they really last through time so I am able to give them to girls when they are young, and they can still wear them when they are older.”
Michal’s jewelry is often seen adorning celebrities and has been showcased in magazines, and in upscale stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Niemen Marcus. But for Negrin,   getting a letter from someone in Argentina or the United States is just as exciting. “To thank me for the things I make; to tell me that it’s like I create her dream; I’m so happy I can bring the happiness, the good energy, for the people with my things all over the world.”
Negrin began creating jewelry 25 years ago while she was living in Kibbutz Naan at a time when gold and silver jewelry dominated the market. “Nobody made something with colors, so when I started, it was shocking,” said Negrin. I felt good because it was really original - it was my different jewelry. And I gave something new to myself, to the Israeli market and then to abroad.”  She proudly confides that during the few times she was in Japan, jewelry designers came to her to thank her “for the inspiration.”
Negrin appears to be surrounded by a sea of women working in her factory that employs two hundred people of which 20 per cent are men. Michal’s husband, Meir, who is the company’s CEO, manages the global chain of stores and its 500 employees worldwide, and is the creator of the detailed dollhouses which can be seen all over the plant.  But Negrin herself thrives on what she calls “women power.”  “I really like the woman power – the women’s vibes,” she told The Media Line. “I adore the woman’s mind; how they solve problems; and how they think. I like to surround myself with the women power. But I also need the man power for the money and the things I don’t like to do,” Negrin said with a grin.
Negrin was born in 1956 - a time when food was scarce and expensive. Entirely self-taught, Michal began dabbling in handicraft with no formal training. Meir recollects that  when they left the kibbutz in 1987, “I was nervous about the future and how we would make money.” He told Michal, “Maybe you can work in the post office or bank.” But for his wife, it would be only jewelry. Behind Meir’s back, Michal borrowed money from her brother and after a few months she was ready for her first open house.
“One hundred people came to the flat and bought all the jewelry and everything off the walls,” Meir related proudly. “Then came the booth on Nachalat Binyamin: it was a huge success.”
Michal Negrin is a designer-in-motion. Back at the factory, there are three design studios and a mounting house. Separate rooms accommodate the various lines from the Lace  Room -  where  lace  is  hand-sewn  into  hairclips and on to many of the Negrin dresses; to the Imprinting Room - where the prints for each dress or jacket are sent to a digital printer, the only one of its kind in Israel, and then printed on a form of transparency paper saturated in colored ink. Each garment is customized to size. The print is then placed atop the appropriate fabric and set by a pressing machine. Only then is the fabric ready for sewing-on the fine beading, lace, crystals and glitter. 700 crystals sit on one particular dress.
One department is dedicated to fixing broken jewelry because Michal Negrin jewelry is sold with an unlimited warranty.  Occasionally, an item from Negrin’s original collection from 25 years ago finds its way back to the repair shop, and when it does, Michal offers to buy back her creation.
At every turn is a new design - a Hamza (hand-shaped amulet); a cross; limited edition dolls; mirrors; jewelry boxes; men’s ties; key chains and a new line of 3-dimensional post cards - along with plans for Michal’s own music, and a  retreat  hotel. Asked how she sustains her business while constantly inventing new ideas, seemingly in minutes, Michal replies that, “I can’t stand to be bored. I need to feel all the time. It excites me. Without my passion, I can’t be happy, and I like to share my happiness.”

While not divulging the corporation’s financial details or earnings, Negrin was willing to speak about her company’s plans to add new locations to the worldwide network of Michal Negrin shops.  “I can tell you that every day we are really growing and every day we get emails from people all over the world who want to open our shops. We choose the people who will be like family. We’re going to open all over the world; in Las Vegas, Beverly Hills, Moscow, Croatia...”  Negrin added that she’d like to open in the Arab world, perhaps first in Dubai or Lebanon. She explained that, “It’s only fanatic people from both sides that make the problem. If the women will take the chance to create a new world with much more sympathy, more emotion, more respect…I believe my shops will be in a lot of places in Arab countries. I feel we can bring happiness and optimism to everyone.”
In Jerusalem, it’s Amy Wilson’s first time in a Michal Negrin store. “They have a lot of things I heard about on the Internet and in the newspaper, and it’s very amazing stuff,” Wilson told The Media Line. “They have nice color and nice design. I bought a present for my friend, a necklace and earrings.”
Michal Negrin’s empire is still a work-in-progress. She insists her example is an inspiration to young designers at the dawn of their careers.  “You need to be original and work in harmony with people – a lot of people together to create your dream. You’re not alone…you share what you create. This is the most important thing.”