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MICHAEL O’CONNOR drops into The Barb Wire this month to chat with host Barbara Palumbo about his life in the jewelry business — which has featured one of the most unique career paths imaginable.
The two discuss Michael’s progress from Toronto teenager to jewelry salesperson, to New York-based jewelry designer, to jewelry marketer, to QVC on-air presenter, and finally, his ultimate transformation into celebrity stylist and on-air style commentator for numerous major media brands. The long-time industry fixture now runs Style & Substance, his own marketing and communications firm supporting quality lifestyle brands.
Other discussion topics include techniques for staying young, the importance of eliminating the BS in business relationships (and non-business relationships), as well as this year’s Oscar trends.
Plus, we get fun dish on Michael’s many celebrity relationships — including details on which member of the Desperate Housewives cast is most fun to drink margaritas with.
Enjoy the newest episode of The Barb Wire. It’s talk radio for the jewelry business.
- 2:00 How long has Michael been in the business? He began in 1979, “when diamonds were discovered,” he quips.
- 3:00 How does Michael stay looking so young? “It’s nothing that anyone couldn’t do with [the help of] $50,000 worth of plastic surgery,” he jokes.
- 4:05 Barbara admits that she actually made a batch of popcorn for this interview.
- 4:20 Michael shares his range of experience in the jewelry industry. He’s done … just about everything. He shares the story of his introduction to the industry, as a teenager in Canada, when he opportunistically turned running an errand for his father into a job as a jewelry salesperson.
- 12:30 After working in sales, design and at the bench, Michael finally comes to America. (And yes, he does have a green card.) He gets experience with what he calls “a few small, unknown companies” like Gucci, DeBeers, Frederick Goldman, etc.
- 15:30 At this point, in the late 1980s, he moved away from designing and into marketing. With many companies moving away from full-time “house designers”, as well as the increasing prevalence of CAD design, he felt that marketing would be a more valuable career to be in than design.
- 20:20 Michael takes on a role as senior vice president with Platinum Guild International and begins to see increased exposure as a television personality.
- 21:40 On the importance of being no-BS in the jewelry industry … and life.
- 23:10 How the hell did Michael get on television, Barbara asks. He started by pitching a brand for Frederick Goldman on QVC over a span of about two years. The brand never took off, but Michael’s TV career did, as he did more work for QVC, as well as additional TV projects including his own TV series, MovieStyle with Michael O’Connor for Reelz.
- 29:50 Michael begins to cover celebrity fashion on TV, and his agency suggests that he also begins working directly on styling and placing fashion items with celebrities. He drops a few names of celebrities he has worked with, like Amy Adams.
- 31:20 All-time favorite clients included the cast of Desperate Housewives, with particular affection for Nicolette Sheridan, who was good at promoting the product and also didn’t mind a margarita after the events were over.
- 32:20 Other casts that he has worked with — the cast of The Office and Orange is the New Black. (And he remains friends with many of them.)
- 34:00 Do all celebrities expect payment for wearing a specific jewelry brand to an event? Michael says no. He takes pride in the fact that celebrities regularly call him, without expecting payment, to ask what he can accessorize them for an awards show.
- 37:10 Michael shares his predictions for the Oscars red carpet, explaining the difference between “trends” and “fads”. His basic assessment? Jewelry is getting much bigger, size-wise.
- 42:50 Barbara and Michael touch on the “man-brooch” trend that Michael may have created at one awards show a few years back.
- 45:40 Michael selects the one person, alive or dead, he would most want to have dinner with. While first mentioning two dearly missed friends he’d cherish seeing again (the late Cindy Edelstein and Robin Rotenier), his choice is a Russian jeweler who was one of the most famous designers of all time.
- 48:00 Michael shares his greatest influence. It was someone in his life who had a great work ethic, and was brutally honest — two qualities Michael believes he has carried into his professional life.
- 51:00 Favorite industry show? JCK. It’s the one show where Michael feels he can see everybody.
- 55:40 Gold or platinum? It would be a serious upset if the former senior vice president of the Platinum Guild wasn’t #teamplatinum. Of course, he’s #teamplatinum.