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Jan Lewis' Academy Awards Moment 
Chicago jewelry designer has an enviable connection to entertainment's biggest stage
Jan Lewis Designs' spring line of handmade bangles were included in the special gift bags given to this year's Oscar nominees. "I began this business focused only on creating a new line, a new look for discerning women who appreciate unique, moderately priced jewelry," Lewis says. "Each bangle is a one-of-a-kind piece." 
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   WHEN Jan Lewis watched the telecast of the Academy Awards, she did so with a great sense of pride, knowing that she had a special connection to each of the Oscar nominees. Inside the much talked-about gift bags that each award hopeful (and show host Seth MacFarlane) received were three, specially selected, handcrafted bangles that she created at her Gold Coast business, Jan Lewis Designs.
    Not surprisingly, Lewis still finds it hard to believe that some of the most recognized and renowned people in the world will be showcasing her work, with the likelihood that the female nominees will wear the bangles while the male recipients will probably give them to special women in their lives. “This is very exciting for me; it’s really like a dream,” says the wife of legendary musician Ramsey Lewis. “We are ecstatic about this incredible opportunity to share our designs on such a momentous occasion. To have our bangles associated with the world’s highest-profile entertainment and fashion event of the year is a terrific endorsement as well as an honor, one that we proudly share with both our customers and retailers. I’m kind of speechless because it’s so amazing.”
    So who got what? Lewis and Ramsey are self-proclaimed “movie buffs” who have seen each of the films that featured the nominees, making it easier for her to put together a set of bangles for each actor and actress. “For someone like Denzel Washington, I figured the bangles will go to his wife. I don’t know much about her other than she’s an elegant woman, so I picked three bangles that I thought would reflect that elegance,” Lewis says. “For someone like Jennifer Lawrence, she seems to be a little bit more of a sporty kind of person, so I picked three bangles that I thought might fit her. And for little Quvenzhané Wallis, I selected some bright colors that would be fun for her.”
   Last fall Lewis got a call from Distinctive Assets, a representative of the Academy Awards that assembles the “Everyone Wins at the Oscars” gift bags, which are stuffed with thousands of dollars worth of top-notch items. The agency doesn’t accept solicitations for products to be included in the gift bags, instead workers search the web for new and interesting brands, and they found an article on Lewis and her bangles. That was the beginning of an experience that, she says, has been “just phenomenal.”

Each Academy Award nominee received a specially selected set of three bangles that Lewis thought best fit their personalities. The bangles, which include intricate dot patterns, are handcrafted pieces of jewelry that Lewis says "just evolve" during the design process.
   Lewis, who studied anthropology at the University of Illinois in Chicago and later design at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, began designing wooden bangles when she was looking for something to do to remain busy and creative while traveling with her husband on tour. “I’m not a painter and was kind of intimidated…wondering what I was going to do with the bangles,” says Lewis, who had a passion for graphic design in school. “I’d always been intrigued with shapes, design and patterns, so I just thought I’d get my bearings by putting some dots on the bangles. As it turned out, one dot led to another and became the signature of what I do. I don’t have any plan in mind when I’m designing the bangles; they just evolve.”
   Back in the early 1990s, popularity was increasing for the hand-painted bangles with intricate dot patterns, but Lewis put the bangles aside and focused on working with her husband when manufacturers balked at mass producing her products because of the difficulty to reproduce the detailed designs. However, after a 20-year hiatus, two years ago, she pulled out the box of 50 bangles from the back of her closet and revisited the idea. She had seen similar detailed work in the window of a department store and wanted to research new commercial possibilities. She connected with a free trade forum in India and found two producers who could do the job. After she and Ramsey traveled to India to meet them, they have been thrilled with all aspects of the operation.
   Despite some twists and turns, Lewis has rebounded and her talent is in the spotlight, being displayed on entertainment’s biggest stage. “When I sat down on the floor in my studio with all of my stuff around me to decide who gets what,” she says, “I looked at the names of those who will be getting my bangles and it totally blew me away––Denzel Washington, Anne Hathaway, Sally Field, Naomi Watts, Steven Spielberg, Robert DeNiro . . . my God, Daniel Day-Lewis.”
   Lewis is excited about the exposure her bangles will get because of the association with the Academy Awards, and she’s looking forward to an increase in demand. For those who want to wear the bangles in the Academy Awards gift bags or make other selections, Lewis’ designs can be found at Material Possessions in downtown Chicago and in Winnetka, and at CHIARoScURO in Water Tower Place. In addition, her products will be available during trunk shows at Bloomingdale’s on North Michigan Avenue, March 1-3 and March 16-17. The bangles ($80 each for the narrow ones and $100 for the wider ones) can also be purchased at www.janlewisdesigns.com.
   As Lewis plans to expand her product line to include earrings, pendants, rings, scarves and reading glasses, she is still in shock about the connection to the Academy Awards, saying simply: “This is phenomenal, and I’m just enjoying every minute of it.”

–– Walter Leavy