In the world of designer retail, spotting "the fake" from "the real" is a full-time job. At Couture USA, this daunting task falls upon Inventory Manager Tessa Jones, who is part of Couture USA’s team of expert authenticators. She first discovered her passion in authenticating products while working at an auction house. "I was quickly drawn to estate jewelry and tried to learn everything I could about it. At the auction company, we would receive a lot of Tiffany & Co. jewelry, but not all of them were authentic. This was my introduction to authenticating designer pieces and, ever since, I was hooked," she recalls.
After graduating from college, she enrolled at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), which gave her the tools needed to become a jewelry appraiser and pursue her passion in jewelry authentication. "From there, I found Couture USA and knew that working here would give me the amazing opportunity to expand my skills beyond jewelry. Throughout my time here, I have learned to authenticate designer handbags, accessories, shoes and clothing. I love learning and I honestly learn something new every day at Couture USA."
In this profile series feature of the Couture USA team, we turn on the spotlight to Jones who offers valuable tips to help designer lovers protect themselves from buying fake products, talks about her fashion hero and gives a sneak peek on top trends in the world of designer jewelry.
How would you describe your personal style?
My personal style is simple and modern, but I love prints. At the office, I love wearing a printed silk blouse with a fitted pant or a pencil skirt. For jewelry, I often alternate between oversized chunky pieces with lots of gemstones and very dainty diamond-studded pieces.
Who is your idea of a fashion icon?
Diane von Furstenberg. Her classic wrap dresses are flattering, easy to wear and often come in beautiful prints. But she is inspiring to me not just because of her keen fashion instincts, but because she is a strong and independent woman. Even though she was a princess, she knew she wanted to have her own career. She is a philanthropist, a strong supporter of women, and a human rights activist.
What's your first-ever designer brand purchase?
When I was in high school, I remember scrimping and saving money from my after-school job to purchase a Coach purse. It had a leather patchwork design and I could not have been more proud of that thing. Since working at Couture USA, some of my favorite purchases have been my Balenciaga Velo bag and my David Yurman black onyx Albion earrings.
Who are your top three favorite couture designers of all time?
Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel—he is simply a genius who may never be topped. Ippolita Rostagno for Ippolita jewelry—she makes beautiful jewelry that you want to wear every day. Kate Spade—she designs pieces that are perfect for adding a little bit of fun to a more conservative look.
What's on Jones' wish list? Clockwise: Chanel sunglasses, Celine hobo bag, Ippolita bracelets, Mimi So earrings and Burberry booties.
In your years working with Couture USA, what's the most important fashion lesson you've learned?
I learned how to buy quality basic pieces and how to mix-and-match pieces. When you love print and color, it can be difficult to put together a more simple look. I used to have the tendency to purchase printed dresses and printed shoes, so most of what I had could not be worn at the same time. I learned to look for beautifully crafted, solid-colored pieces to tie my outfits together.
What's the one fashion item you will never be caught wearing?
Right now on the runways, we are seeing a lot of oversized or slouchy suiting. While I think I could maybe mix in a piece here or there, I do not think I could pull off the full look.
Given your vast experience as a gemologist, what trends are you seeing in the realm of jewelry fashion?
When it comes to gemstones, people are venturing outside of the typical “big 3”—sapphire, ruby and emerald—which I personally think is wonderful. There is a huge array of interesting gemstones out there, and it is fun to see jewelry designers like Ippolita and David Yurman exploring unique stones. Phenomenal stones like opal, labradorite or color-change garnet are being used in designer jewelry like we have never seen before. In general, we are seeing a shift away from “the more traditional, special occasion type” jewelry to the more personalized pieces that people wear every day.
As part of Couture USA’s expert team that evaluates the authenticity of products, what general tips can you share with designer brand lovers but concern about buying fake items?
Do your research about the products you plan to buy and the company you plan to buy from. Buyers should learn some of the basics for identifying authentic pieces from the designers they love. For example, should the bag you are looking for have a date code, hologram sticker, or style number somewhere on the bag? Where should it be located and what should it look like? However, some aspects of authenticity are very subtle and are really learned through the experience of seeing and handling the style many times. In these cases, you can do your research on the company you plan on buying from. Look for indicators of the company’s reputation online from sites like the Better Business Bureau and from customer reviews. In the end, keep in mind the old saying: "If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is."
What's the most challenging and rewarding parts of working at Couture USA?
Counterfeiters are continuously working to make better fakes, so we have to work twice as hard to stay two-steps ahead of them. The most rewarding part of my day hearing from a satisfied customer who is completely in love with the product they just purchased and received from us. It is great to hear from someone who, in some cases, may have been searching for a specific piece for months and has finally found it. It is kind of like match-making, in a way.