Purple Magazine
— Los Angeles issue #30

lisa eisner

los angeles
jewelry
lisa eisner

interview by AARON ROSE
photography by OLIVIER ZAHM

Lisa is one of those rare personalities who effortlessly transcends Los Angeles’s many scattered scenes. Her friends and collaborators span all walks of life, from Hollywood celebrities to obscure artisans. She’s been a Vogue editor, a photographer, and a book publisher, and is now a jewelry designer, stamping a chic Western extravagance in each piece. Her Bel Air hacienda, surrounded by a marvelous garden, is a work of art in itself, and home of some best dinner parties in town.

AARON ROSE — How did you wind up in Los Angeles?
LISA EISNER — I fell in love with my husband, Eric, and he brought me here. I’d never really been here before. I was living in New York. Eric actually grew up in Greenwich Village and went to Columbia Law School, and he was, like, “Come move to LA.” I was, like, “Dude! I’m not moving to LA, I don’t know anyone!” That was 32 years ago. I remember coming here and thinking there were only freeways and no real stores.

AARON ROSE — What was LA like in the ’80s?
LISA EISNER — I couldn’t believe how unsophisticated it was. I was working for American Vogue at the time. I became the West Coast editor.

AARON ROSE — So, fashion people were really not into LA?
LISA EISNER — No. Before that, I worked for Paris Vogue. I was first hired under Grace Mirabella. She was always saying: “LA is terrible! I would never go to LA.” I don’t think she ever set foot in LA. But this was when Condé Nast was a tiny operation, and nobody gave a shit about LA. It was pre-celebrity, and everyone on the East Coast thought LA was tacky, empty, and the people were stupid. They only came because the photographers wanted to shoot here.

AARON ROSE — Has LA changed a lot?
LISA EISNER — Totally! Now it’s such a different place. And we love it now… So many people are realizing this, which is sort of crazy. Who thought a town could change so much? That’s frightening in a way.

AARON ROSE — Are you nostalgic for LA being off the map?
LISA EISNER — Yes. I was sort of happy with it being the way it used to be. The lifestyle allowed you to hibernate — for years. You won’t see people, so sometimes you ask yourself, “Where are they?” And they’ll be hibernating, too. Then you get it. You can just go into your own world and not socialize, and that’s what people do here. Before, you didn’t socialize because there was nowhere to go, no place to go out to! So, you weren’t missing anything. It was a one-industry town: Hollywood. Now, of course, the movie industry is declining, and it’s really different, and there are other things to talk about at dinners and parties.

AARON ROSE — Speaking of parties, I want to ask you about your dinner parties. They’re always so eclectically curated in the way you put together personalities who wouldn’t seem to fit together…
LISA EISNER — Right. Well, they’re always last-minute, so maybe that’s part of it? I don’t think it’s conscious. A lot of it is about who you want to see. Or maybe you have to see one couple, and you think about who would be cool to mix them with. It’s loose. It’s beyond loose! But our house has that indoor/outdoor thing, smoking, pot, drinking… It works, somehow. It’s not a philosophy. I once interviewed Betsy Bloomingdale. We did a story on her because she was considered to be the great hostess. She had all these rules for dinner parties. Where everyone sat. What they ate. She was very organized. She said you have to invite them at least two weeks before, and then start preparing a week before. I start preparing at five o’clock on the same night. I don’t tell anyone it’s last-minute. I don’t have to — because everyone knows me. I guess the party gods are nice to me. When things are planned out, it feels too serious and uptight. I like a “Come on over!” party. Those tend to be the most fun. Another reason is that, for the longest time, Los Angeles had such lousy restaurants. So, it was always way better to go to someone’s house.

AARON ROSE — When did you move into your beautiful Bel Air house?
LISA EISNER — Thirty years ago. When I married Eric, he had a place in Beverly Glen, but he always loved this neighborhood. When we found the house, it had been on the market for a long time. It’s perfect for me because it’s a small house with a lot of land. It’s a Cliff May house. He invented the American ranch house. He actually came over before he died. He had his little office at the bottom of Mandeville Canyon, and when you went in, he had a map of the United States, and he had a red pin in every place there was a ranch house, and the whole map was red. Our house is pre-ranch. It’s a hacienda from 1937. It was one of the first houses in Bel Air. It’s like a bunker around a garden — as if the house was a fort to protect the land. It’s the place I’ll live in forever. Also, I have so much stuff. There’s 30 years of collecting here, but I always find a place for everything. The design of the house and the garden just soaks everything up. Every day, this place inspires me. My yard is basically my studio. It’s a living thing that changes all the time. I photograph all my jewelry there.

AARON ROSE — How did you get involved in fashion?
LISA EISNER — I grew up in Wyoming and had a fashion column in my high school newspaper, and I was, like, “I have to go to New York to be in fashion!” I found an ad for a school in the back of a magazine and went to New York. I got an associate degree in fashion merchandising. Then I worked at Macy’s, on Herald Square, and it was horrible. After that, I got a job at Mademoiselle magazine because my dad was head of tourism for Wyoming, and he knew the travel editor at Glamour and Mademoiselle. I got hooked up with an internship, and from that became a fashion editor. I loved it! It was the greatest job in the world. I was covering all the American designers. Then I started going to Paris. I’d been working in New York for about seven years, and someone told me that if I moved to Paris, it would change my eye. So, I thought, “I have to change my eye!” They gave me three months off to look for a job in Paris. But I didn’t speak French, so nobody was going to hire me. Literally, the day before my three months were up, my friend told me that Susan Train, who was the Paris editor of American Vogue, was looking for an assistant to cover all the young designers — people like Jean-Paul Gaultier, Claude Montana, all the Japanese designers. So, she hired me. I couldn’t believe it! I got paid in American dollars. I found a great apartment. I did that for two-and-a-half years.

AARON ROSE — The designers were fantastic in that period.
LISA EISNER — Amazing. —— Also, Issey Miyake, Comme des Garçons. Thierry Mugler had the most amazing shows! Then I reached a point when I had to make a decision: to live in Europe for the rest of my life as an expat, or return to the USA. So, I came back. Maybe I’m too American for Paris.

AARON ROSE — Had you changed your “eye” by then?
LISA EISNER — Yes. So, back in New York, I wanted to get into fashion design. I got a job with Ralph Lauren. It was really fun. You really learn how to pick through flea markets working for him. But then I met my husband, and I moved out here with him.

AARON ROSE — What was your plan when you arrived here in LA?
LISA EISNER — There weren’t any designers in LA — no fashion at all. I started working for Vogue from here. I took the job of a woman named Eleanor Philips, who was, like, 90, and the West Coast editor of House and Garden and Vogue. That tells you what a ghost town LA was. But everything was dictated, and I started wondering why I even got into fashion. I began thinking about girls who have their own style, unrelated to what’s happening in the magazines. That’s when I decided to photograph rodeo queens.

AARON ROSE — Rodeo Girls was your first photography book.
LISA EISNER — Yeah. Growing up in Wyoming, I remembered those girls. So glamorous. Super-accessorized. They’d cut their prom dresses at the waist and put them with blue jeans, fixed with rhinestones, and wear make-up. They were awesome. That’s when I started photography. I read a ton of photography books about technique and bought a Leica.
I wanted to take documentary pictures, and I figured the best place to start was with what I know. Since I was from Wyoming, people trusted me to take their picture. That was my way in. I had kids by then, so for seven years, I was basically raising kids and taking pictures. I’m friends with Bruce Weber, so he helped me. I was starting to think about books.

AARON ROSE — The birth of Greybull Press.
LISA EISNER — Yes. I was thinking, “How hard could it be to make books?” My partner at Greybull was Roman Alonso. I knew him from Barneys when he was working with Isaac Mizrahi. When Mizrahi closed, I told Roman, “You’re moving to LA, and we’re starting a publishing company.” I figured we’d start with Rodeo Girls — to learn how to do it. You know, we’d worked in magazines… How hard could it be?

AARON ROSE — Little did you know…
LISA EISNER — Oh, my god! It’s like giving birth! You don’t understand what you’re in for until you’re in labor. So, we started. I was still taking pictures, but I was then also learning so much from editing other people’s work for the books. Finding photographers was so great. That was one of my favorite jobs in the world. We looked for photographers who’d never gotten their due. We unraveled subcultures we were interested in. We did Greybull as long as we could, but eventually it just wasn’t a business anymore. So, Roman started Commune Design, and I began taking commercial photographs. I shot for magazines. I did some fashion. I liked it, but there was something about jewelry and accessories that always attracted me.

AARON ROSE — Were you always making jewelry?
LISA EISNER — No. I didn’t know how. I thought if I could find artisans to work with, then maybe… That was my gateway into that world. I found a guy in San Diego — the son of a guy whose work I’d been collecting for a long time. He was struggling financially. So, we met, and I asked him to work with me. That was the beginning!

AARON ROSE — What’s the process you go through to design a piece?
LISA EISNER — I know what the people I work with can do. There are certain things that just can’t happen with jewelry, and I like those parameters. I go to the gem and mineral show in Tucson [Arizona] every year. I get amazing inspiration there. I started with turquoise because it’s my stone and the first thing I collected growing up in Wyoming. It’s so powerful. When people wear it, all you do is stare at that color. I also like the Native American aspect it represents. So, I decided to do bronze and turquoise. I’d seen things from the ’70s, from California especially, which people had made in bronze because they couldn’t afford silver. It was, like, a hippy thing. Most were one-offs. A lot of them weren’t signed but were really beautiful.

AARON ROSE — How do you find turquoise stones?
LISA EISNER — I found the guy who could do that. It’s an old-school network. That’s where it started. You can still find American turquoise. The mines are closing, but I’ve met old rock hounds — diggers, or hoarders sitting on stashes since forever. They either die or get so old that they can’t do it anymore. And they have these amazing stones. You find out about the old mines. Turquoise comes from copper mines, and at a certain point they mine only copper because it’s too expensive to blow up a hill to find turquoise. There’s one mine called Bisbee, where all the copper miners would take pieces of turquoise out in their lunchboxes, or they’d go to the dump and find stones there. Bisbee was incredible. There are all these little mines, which is fascinating to me. It’s all about the West. That took me into another world.

AARON ROSE — Beside turquoise, what other stones do you like?
LISA EISNER — Jade! The best black jade comes from Wyoming. It’s a black, black, black stone. When you put it into the light, you can see glimmers of green. So, it’s all both significant and sentimental to me. Each stone takes me down a new rabbit hole.

AARON ROSE — What’s the process you go through to design a piece?
LISA EISNER — I can’t really draw, so I work with clay and wax and bring in these little sketches, and we try to make it all work. It’s very collaborative. It goes back and forth, back and forth, for a long time before we decide to make a piece.

AARON ROSE — Your pieces often incorporate feathers.
LISA EISNER — I found a woman, a costume designer, who did all of Prince’s tour costumes. She was a feather person. She dyes feathers. It’s really intricate work. She brought me into the feather world. She’s so good she can basically create her own bird. So, I wanted to learn everything about feathers. It’s a crazy world because you have to fight with fishermen, because they use the same feathers to make fishing lures. They’re my competitors. I mean, they’re using these incredible Himalayan pheasant feathers to make flies for fishing. What a waste. Anyway, there’s always a new, crazy world to discover.

AARON ROSE — It seems that you’ve been discovering crazy worlds your entire life.
LISA EISNER — Yeah. It’s endless.

END

 

Lisa Eisner’s house in Bel Air

 

[Table of contents]

Los Angeles issue #30

Table of contents

Subscribe to our newsletter