We absolutely love seeing El Paso and Juárez natives excelling in the fashion world! So we’re especially thrilled to tell you about Leigh Elena Navarro, a 1996 Coronado High School grad who will visit the city next week from her home in Austin. This gifted designer and entrepreneur has her own line of jewelry and accessories, known as LeighElena, that reflect her clean and interesting design aesthetic.
After graduating from the University of San Diego with a degree in Spanish and business, Navarro spent a number of years working in fashion and high-end retail in Los Angeles and New York. She moved back to Texas in 2005 to start her jewelry business.
Lots of people don’t know what they want to be when they grow up, but you could say that Navarro found her calling at the age of five. That’s when she began learning how to fuse enamel and glass together. Her first teacher was her mother, Susan Navarro, a talented enamel artist. As a child, Leigh helped her mother at art fairs and then started creating and selling her own hand-made jewelry. Today Susan helps her daughter.
“My mom and I still do the enameling together here in Austin,” Leigh says. “The leather work is now done in a couple of factories here in Texas and everything is finished in Austin.”
Her signature pieces include contemporary cuff bracelets featuring distinctive metal clasps. After a couple of years in her new business, she began using leather and genuine exotic skins, such as alligator, stingray, python and ostrich, and the brand took off. The bracelets, in vivid dyed leathers and natural colors, are unique and striking.
Since she started the LeighElena line, the bracelets have developed an international following. They have been featured in both fashion and lifestyle magazines such as Southern Living and Lucky. Her accessories are carried at both large retailers, such as Anthopologie and Neiman Marcus, and small boutiques.
Some of her work has even found its way into celebrities’ jewelry collections. She’s seen her bracelets in photographs of singer Miranda Lambert and television host Hoda Kotb. “Many years ago I had a picture of Barbara Walters hugging Oprah with my bracelet on,” she recalls. “That was pretty fun!”
Navarro is inspired by role models such as Donna Karan. “I appreciate what Donna Karan does so much, because she created beautiful things for women that are truly wearable,” she says. “She is a smart, strong woman and that comes across in her lines.”
She also is inspired by what she sees on her frequent trips in the United States and abroad.
“I travel extensively for personal inspiration as well as inspiration for my lines,” she says. “I travel about four or five months out of the year for both work and play. I find it fascinating to see what people think is beautiful, useful and adored.”
One of her favorite destinations is Mexico. “I will be there almost monthly over the year,” she says. “Guadalajara was a wonderful trip I took with a couple great friends in March. I cannot wait to return.”
Coming up next for Navarro is a line of Native American-inspired pieces. “It is similar to pieces that my mom and her mom wore and treasures I have had growing up,” she says. “I love gold tones, and I am making this line entirely in bronze.”
Navarro still has relatives in El Paso, including her father and his sisters and some cousins. She is looking forward to visiting this week for a trunk show at Tres Mariposas. It will be just the second time her work has been spotlighted in her hometown; a few years ago she showed her accessories at the Ruby and Lola store.
What can shoppers and friends expect at the trunk show? “I will have my best pieces from my collection with me,” Navarro says. “And there will be surprise gifts with every purchase, too!”
Nan Napier, owner of Tres Mariposas, can be reached at Nan@TresMariposas.com.