c o m p a n y
From silver screen to Bluegrass: Lindsay Combs finds her local niche with unique, handmade equestrian-themed jewelry
Originally Published in the Chevy Chaser Magazine- April 30, 2015 by Zoya Tereshkova
After nearly a decade working in the Los Angeles and New York entertainment industries, Lexington native Lindsay Combs finds her local niche with unique, handmade equestrian-themed jewelry.
Lindsay Combs’ Beaumont apartment puts in overtime as her studio, living space and boutique all at once.
“I make all my pieces right here, either by the desk or sitting on the floor,” said the 31-year-old jewelry artist and owner of the local small business Lela Ray, which she formed in 2013. Her bracelets and earrings – many of which have a distinctive equestrian or otherwise uniquely Kentucky feel – are featured locally at LV Harkness and at the locally owned Fayette Mall boutique Entwine, and as far away as the gift shop of Los Angeles racetrack Santa Anita. Soon, her products will be available at the Del Mar Racetrack in San Deigo as well as at the Saratoga Racetrack in New York.
During a recent visit to her studio, Combs was busy preparing for Derby weekend, when her jewelry will be presented at Churchill Downs’ gift shop, as well as in the lobby of the iconic Brown Hotel in Louisville. The jewelry is available in both venues year-round, but Derby is obviously a big weekend.
“I have people buy jewelry on their way out the door to the Derby,” Combs said, referring to the Brown Hotel lobby. “It is a great weekend and so much fun.”
When Combs first started making equestrian-themed jewelry, she found that more than just equestrians were attracted to it, she said. She credits the brand Gucci for originally popularizing the horse bit – a mouthpiece for horses used during riding, and a well-known equestrian symbol – with its iconic buckle.
One of Lela Ray’s bestsellers is a slim, silver cuff bracelet with a snaffle bit. Combs called the bracelet her “bread and butter.”
“It’s simple, but it is stunning,” she said. Other equestrian pieces include money clips, business-card cases, cufflinks, jewelry and trinket boxes, mint julep cups, frames and flasks.
“Everybody can use a little good luck horseshoe,” she said.
To make her pieces, Combs uses raw brass, various semiprecious gemstones (Kentucky agate is her favorite), as well as repurposing vintage jewelry and other eclectic objects found at antique shops, estate sales and on eBay. She said she can’t explain how she comes up with her ideas, but her designs vary wildly from one to the next.
“One day it may be a bracelet with a giant gold insect on it, and the next it may be a super conservative charm bracelet,” Combs said. She enjoys combing elements that people would never think to be a match – recently, she combined a 1930s liquor-bottle-shaped charm with a Mother Mary pendant to create a unique necklace.
“I am all over the place,” she added with a laugh.
Sometimes, instead of finding objects, Combs is given keepsakes to include in her work.
For example, some granddaughters came to Combs with an old brooch that had belonged to their grandmother before she passed away. To create something they could remember her by, Combs cut up the brooch and made identical bracelets for the girls. Another time, she made a veteran’s family bracelets and necklaces from the spent cases of a rifle salute at his funeral.
“It is so touching to see the excitement in their eyes,” she said, referring to the moment when she hands the family a heirloom piece of jewelry. “It is something I know they will cherish forever.”
Combs’ career as a jewelry designer was not something the Lexington native planned for early on. She studied journalism at the University of Kentucky with dreams of a career in television; after graduating, she moved to New York City, where she did background acting and modeling work, appearing on episodes of “Saturday Night Live,” The Today Show, “Law and Order,” “Ugly Betty,” “CSI” and other shows.
Combs also greeted customers at the fashionable Sardis restaurant at Times Square. But after two years in New York, she packed her belongings into her Volkswagon Beetle convertible and drove across the country to Los Angeles, where she spent the next five years working in television development for other shows, including the Emmy award winning cooking show, “Trisha’s Southern Kitchen,” starring Trisha Yearwood.
Work was strenuous and the hours were long, and soon Combs realized that the “cutthroat” TV industry was not something she wanted to deal with for the rest of her life.
In addition, when she neared 30, she felt the need to settle down, despite the different outlook on life she had found in L.A.
“My friends in Kentucky were all married by the age of 25, and there, they were over 40 and not married,” she said.
Once again, Combs picked up and moved, but this time she headed home.
Though happy to be close to her family again, she said she soon realized she would have a hard time finding a job that fit her background. In the meantime, she found herself picking up an old hobby she had almost completely abandoned in her adult life: jewelry making. It turned out to be her first step toward her new business.
Combs learned basics of her craft early, when she worked for local jeweler Bob Trisko in high school. “He taught me everything: how to string beads, repair earrings and then how to handle metals,” she said.
Trisko, who still lives in Lexington but has since retired, encouraged his student to continue perfecting her skills, and even sold some of her first simple bracelets in his store. In college, she made bracelets to match the sorority girls’ formal dresses.
When it came time for Combs to pick a name for her business, she didn’t have to think long: Lela Ray is the name of her late grandmother, to whom she was very close.
“It was a very special relationship,” she said. “She was always the biggest fan of me.” The name Lela Ray comes from Combs’ late grandmother Lela Ray Leggett, to whom she was very close. She is confident her grandmother is still watching over her business.
She said that while she was little, visiting her grandmother’s house in Mt. Sterling was a special treat.
“I would immediately go to her room and start putting her makeup and jewelry on,” said Combs, who believes that her grandmother is still watching over her – and specifically over her jewelry business.
“I laugh and joke with my mom whenever I have a big sale or get a new store on board, because if I know my granny, she’s in heaven pulling the strings,” said Combs. Her mother, Debbie Combs, helps her with setting up her shows and with other sides of the business; her father, Jerry Combs, taught her how to use his tools.
“I solder, weld, drill,” she said. “He still lets me use his toolbox.”
In addition to being a productive jewelry artist and small business owner, Combs also works a “day job” as a marketing director for One23Brands, a brand management company in Lexington. It’s a job that is very involved and fulfilling, she said.
How does she manage to be so productive in making art and maintaining her business on top of working full time? “When other people are out, I stay at home making jewelry,” she said. “But it’s not a sacrifice, it’s a stress reliever for me.”
As if it wasn’t enough, Combs is also a Type 1 diabetic and volunteers for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
“Staying busy honestly keeps me alive. Well, that and insulin pumps,” said Combs.
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