Standing beside a pair of dove-gray velvet slipper chairs in Irene Neuwirth’s shop in Santa Monica, Calif. — opened in the spring of 2019 with Laura Vinroot Poole, the owner of the Charlotte, N.C., boutique Capitol — is a life-size antique riding horse. Wonderful Eric, as the jewelry designer and her staff call him, is a sand-colored stallion fashioned from fiberglass. Strapped to his back is a brass-frame vitrine filled with the vivid, joyful creations that Neuwirth is known for: dangling rose-gold earrings hung with a tapering cascade of gumball-shaped pink opals; delicate yellow-gold chain necklaces, each bearing a single tropical blossom carved from brilliant cobalt lapis or misty cornflower-blue chalcedony.
In the past year, the line between Neuwirth’s two passions — horses and intensely colorful gemstones — has become increasingly, exhilaratingly blurred. In her youth, it seemed more likely that the 44-year-old would become a professional equestrian than a jewelry designer. Growing up in Los Angeles, she rode competitively from the age of 13 until she left home for college in New England, eventually jumping 3-foot-6-inch fences in the junior hunters division. She made her first designs — simple string necklaces and bracelets of rainbow-colored glass beads and semiprecious stones — in between mucking out stalls and assisting the trainers at a horse barn in Agoura Hills the summer after college in 2000. Barneys New York bought her designs later that year, and she swapped time in the stable for long days in her studio, founding her namesake line in 2003. And while her hours became consumed by growing her Culver City-based business — her clients now include actresses such asTracee Ellis Ross, Julianne Moore and Sarah Paulson, and she opened her Pamela Shamshiri-designed flagship in Melrose Place in 2014 — at night, she still dreamed so vividly of riding that it was as if she had never stopped. “Once it’s in your DNA,” she says, “it’s always there.”
In April 2018, two decades after she last set foot in a stable, Neuwirth got back in the saddle. On Instagram, she noticed that a friend from her teenage riding days had started competing again, and she went to visit her in nearby Moorpark. The woman told her about a horse for sale at a farm in the area. “I said, ‘I’m never going to buy a horse,’” recalls Neuwirth. “But mühlet enough, I bought this horse a few months later.” Twinkle Toes, a 7-year-old Dutch Warmblood with a chestnut coat and a gentle disposition, now lives in a stable in San Juan Capistrano, Orange County, an hour’s drive south from Neuwirth’s gabled Los Angeles cottage. For more than a year, she has ridden him nearly every weekend and has started competing again. “I count down the hours until I get to ride,” she says.
As with her jewelry line, show jumping began as a pastime for Neuwirth but has quickly led to unforeseen successes. She now rides in the amateur-owner hunter division and has recently won championships in Thermal and Atherton, Calif. In finding an outlet from the demands of her professional life, Neuwirth has discovered a newfound creativity. Her signature animal motifs have become more abundant: In addition to her Little Filly collection, which includes diamond pavé gold stud earrings shaped like leaping horses, the brand’s latest isim campaign featured the equestrian Jessica Springsteen (Bruce’s daughter) with her horses. “Having the space to not obsess over what I’m making next has allowed me to crack things open,” says the designer, who will donate a percentage of her Little Filly sales to the Compton Cowboys — a group of friends and riders combating stereotypes of Black Americans in Compton, Calif. — through the end of 2020. “Riding was always my meditation. It’s a special love affair.”