I Love My Job: Lagos Founder and Creative Director Steven Lagos on How Strong, Smart Women Inspire His Designs

With Valentine's Day — a.k.a. jewelry season — approaching, the renowned designer talks about what it takes to keep a four-decade-old business fresh and why he has no plans to ever leave Philadelphia.

Lagos founder and creative director Steven Lagos | Photo courtesy of Lagos

At age 19, Steven Lagos launched his eponymous fine-jewelry brand. Over the years, Lagos has become known around the world for iconic styles such as those in its signature Caviar collections. His designs are typically sculpted, highly textured pieces that combine sterling silver, 18-karat gold and diamonds. Here, Lagos tells Philadelphia magazine about his inspiration, what it takes to keep a business going for more than 40 years, and why he has no plans to ever leave Philadelphia.

I grew up in … Newtown Square and Wayne. It was the ’70s, and there was a real focus on craft and working with your hands. The relationship between maker and product has had a huge influence on me.

I’d describe my childhood as … happy. My parents were hardworking and owned several dry cleaners on the Main Line. Family was important, and they always supported my passions and encouraged me to explore my creative side.

I first became interested in jewelry-making when … I realized what a unique medium/product jewelry was. It’s the most personal possession or art form a person can own. I was raised to be artistic and was searching for a creative career. I saw the jewelry business as an unclaimed and unbranded category. Also, I love the scale and the creation process.

The first piece of jewelry I ever wore was … a piece I created made from leather and shells. I was a high-school bohemian. I started experimenting with silver spoons, bending them and creating craft-style jewelry.

I decided to launch LAGOS in Philadelphia because … I grew up here — it’s home base. I started LAGOS when I was 19 and living on Spruce Street. Philadelphia is unique with its Jewelers’ Row, a center for the trade. Starting my business there allowed me to hone my skills and learn the business. Philadelphia has amazing connectivity — only an hour and a half to New York City and a great international airport. This important infrastructure is perfect for our business.

Lagos founder and creative director Steven Lagos | Photo courtesy of Lagos

I am inspired by … travel, different cultures and their art. Everything I design is inspired by strong, smart women. The LAGOS woman is effortlessly chic, and I’m always striving to offer her new ways to express her style.

Something that distinguishes the LAGOS brand is … Caviar. Our signature Caviar design is instantly recognizable. LAGOS jewelry is soft and easy to wear. It fits perfectly and moves with you like a second skin.

The biggest shift in the jewelry industry between the late ’70s and now is … Jewelry design hasn’t changed in a thousand years — it must fit the body. Technology has played a huge role in how we create, communicate and travel. Everything is connected and instant. We speak directly to our customers. I can be anywhere in the world and be part of the conversation. One thing that hasn’t changed is the importance of our people. We have dedicated teams of smart, hardworking professionals who have the vision and skills to bring everything to life.

A typical day for me involves … I really don’t have a typical day. I spend my time traveling between our Philadelphia headquarters, our New York showroom, and our Hong Kong and Bangkok studios. My days are focused on working with our people to develop new ideas and collaborating on the details.

When I’m designing something new, I start by … thinking about how the new piece will fit in with our current collections and our customers’ lives. My goal is to create something she has never seen before and can’t live without.

My favorite quality about Philadelphia is … the authenticity. It’s hard to explain. I think you need to be from here to really understand. There are so many Philadelphia quirks and traditions that are unique, fun and generational. Philadelphia is a huge metropolis composed of many small neighborhoods, each with its own vibe. Oh yeah, the food’s good, too!

I’m committed to Philadelphia for LAGOS’s HQ because … Philadelphia has the best people. We’ve been based in Philadelphia for 43 years, and many of our employees have been with us the entire time. They are loyal, hardworking and a real family. They are amazing, passionate, and the real secret to our success.

Philadelphia still needs more … Stanley Cups and Super Bowl trophies.

A jewelry trend I’m into for 2020 is … wearable tech. We launched Smart Caviar last year — it’s the first fine jewelry bracelet for your Apple Watch — and it quickly became one of our best-sellers.

Lagos founder and creative director Steven Lagos | Photo courtesy of Lagos

The best career advice I’ve ever received is … take your time and enjoy the ride. Success is great, but getting there is all the fun. I’ve had so many mentors and friendships throughout the years. These people and experiences are what have made my life and career truly rich.

With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, LAGOS is … ready to deliver. Jewelry is such a personal thing. Every woman has a story about where and when she received a special piece of jewelry, even if she purchased it for herself. Valentine’s Day is one of those special times.

For us, the Valentine’s Day season is … about the love in your life. The love you have for your mother, your sister, your significant other and yourself.

The biggest perk of owning this business is … creating a product that will last forever. Jewelry is eternal, and some of our work will be around forever. Also, working with my team of Olympians and watching them flourish. Seeing my dream come to life is an amazing thing.

My advice to other artists and creatives is … find your lane. Discover what you can do that no one else can, and then do it with passion and commitment. Then, stick with it!

A challenge the business is constantly up against is … scaling everything we stand for. As our sales grow, we need to create and deliver the same quality and experience time after time. In 2019, we created and delivered more than 210,000 pieces of jewelry. Every jewel was special and meaningful for the recipient and will be cherished for years to come. People depend on us for this. As we continue to grow, we need to keep every piece special and deliver on our promise.

When I want to relax, I … travel. When I’m on the plane, I’m able to clear my head and create space for new ideas. It’s the best place for me to disconnect. I love new places and getting absorbed in the culture and street life. There’s a certain rush to discovery and learning something new. I never tire of this.

I hope that in 10 years, the business will … be pretty much as it is now: a family of people coming together to deliver a great product and experience. To continue to be a cherished part of our customers’ and employees’ lives and traditions.