Actor Rick Toscano of Light Armor Studios never saw himself creating jewelry. But after a chance encounter with some of the coolest celebrities in the world via his sick as shit sense of jewelry style, he began believing in its power and has never looked back.

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Before you get broken in as an actor, it’s always a constant grind, and you just keep plugging away and working. The funny thing is that so much of acting is about networking, and jewelry fits so well into that idea with its ability to start conversations. -Rick Toscano

Light Armor Studios owner Rick Toscano is first and foremost an actor. But after attending rehearsals, auditions, writing scripts and shooting films (and not getting paid for any of it), he decided to pursue a swanky day job that would reveal his own personal style, especially in the form of men”s accessories. As he was styling and selling jewelry to celebrity-status clients, he also learned how everyone”s eyes were drawn to the countless rings and bracelets he would wear (he was even offered a reality TV show… WTF?!), which is where Light Armor was born. Luckily, SHK had the chance to meet with the actor-meets-designer and found out just why he believes jewelry can get you really far. — MEGHAN FARNSWORTH

SHK: WHY JEWELRY?

RICK TOSCANO: I just realized that jewelry to be such a great conversation starter and icebreaker. I said to myself, “I think I can do this and make some cool stuff.” On the record: I would just say that jewelry is just another form of expression. I really do believe that because I would rather have a ring or another piece of jewelry over a tattoo. I can switch jewelry up with my moods; whereas, a tattoo is permanent. I just saw that there was a need for jewelry that meant something. All of my pieces have some kind of meaning to them — they’re all somewhat iconic because they’re inspired by icons. For instance, a lot of architecture around New York City contains many symbols even all the way down to the Financial District. As you look from light fixtures to sconces to gargoyles, they all actually mean something because they all have some kind of historical value or basis in their design. Jewelry must mean something more for me.

With so many designers, the designs are just so random, especially with men’s jewelry. Okay, there’s a square with some lines in it…But what does it mean? So when you look through my stuff, you see a lion, a whale tail or a double-headed eagle — things that are all inspired by architecture. I like to think that my jewelry has some type of symbolic resonance with it, like a coat of arms. I”m definitely not religious, but I do lean towards the spiritual side. Some people believe in vibrations and how every symbol has a vibration to it. This even goes into quantum physics. With this in mind, I”ve always thought the differences in people”s responses to my jewelry to be pretty interesting. While one person might have a really strong response to one of my rings, another person has the exact opposite just because of the vibrations that piece gives off through the symbol. For one of my rings,  “the gothic flower,” I  got the concept from the sculptures found on buildings located downtown. There are these gothic flowers, which  line the entire outside of the building.

YOUR WEBSITE SAYS THAT YOUR JEWELRY WAS ORIGINALLY INTENDED FOR YOURSELF. YOU ALSO CALL THE JEWELRY “ARMOR.”

Well, first off, the jewelry is pretty heavy, so when I put it on, I feel like I’m suiting up. (You know, I feel like I’m “putting on a suit of armor.”) There is something to the belief that jewelry is protection on a spiritual level, and if you look into the symbolic significance of a lot of stones, each one has a spiritual meaning and purpose. Along with the idea that many stones are used for very specific reasons, wearing jewelry for spiritual protection is also important to the concept of “light armor.”

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST PIECE?

The first piece was a lion, which had blue topaz in it. (Now, I just switch the stones out.) Topaz encourages inner-knowledge and clears energy, which was something I needed at the time. You’ve seen lions since the beginning of time, and they’ve always represented courage, strength and loyalty. I just needed to wear a strong symbol, I guess, so I made the lion and put blue topaz in it.

The first time I ever sold it was at Trash and Vaudeville. I went in there and asked the woman at the counter if they sold jewelry. She said, “Yeah, in the downstairs part, but where did you get that ring?” And I said, “Oh, I made it.” She responded, “Oh my god! I’ve been looking for a lion ring for my boyfriend, Leo, and all the other lion rings I’ve looked at are so cheesy. But yours is amazing. Would you sell it?” I said, “Yeah!” When I sold that ring, I made another one for myself. I was just wearing it at the restaurant I was a waiter at then. One of the customers at a table I was serving said as I was taking their order, “What’s up with that ring?” And I looked down at it and said, “Oh, I made it.” The guy responded, “No way! Are you serious?! How did you make that?” I answered, “Well, I carved it.” And he wanted to see it, so I took it off and handed it to him. Then the guy was like, “This is amazing. I have to have it. How much?” I said, “$500.00.” Then, he was responded, “I’ll give you $450.00 right now.” So I sold a ring in cash right at his table, which was crazy! After that, I probably sold five or six more rings off of my very own hand at that same restaurant.

The managers at that restaurant also noticed these huge rings I was wearing, and when they would ask me where I got them, I would say,“Oh, I make them.”  Then, they said, “Well, we’ve been thinking about creating a really high-end martini. Do you think you could design an olive skewer for the martinis?” And I answered, “Yeah!” Initially, the owner was like, “Let’s make it out of a cheap metal just in case the skewers get lost or stolen.” But then I knew that he obviously didn”t get what I was doing with my jewelry. Everything I make is handmade, and I don”t want to mass produce what I do. So I said, “Look, you want to sell a $50.00 martini?” (This was pre-the 2008 recession) At the time, we had people coming into the restaurant who were spending $3,000-$4,000 at the bar. One night, I remember this guy coming in with three of his friends, and he bought a $40,000 bottle of vintage champagne. He has three glasses of it, and then he said, “Okay, let’s get out of here.” Obviously, it wasn’t unheard of to sell a $50.00 martini because there was a ton of money in that place. With this in mind, I mentioned, “Why don’t we make the skewer out of sterling silver and sell the martini for $150.00, and customers can take the skewer home with them?” The managers liked that, so I made the Buddha olive skewer. Then, I turned the skewer into a pendant and also a ring. Once I did that, the restaurant owner bought both of these pieces. The DJ also bought two of the rings — one for himself and one for a DJ in Paris. And so, Light Armor Jewelry just took off after that. I’ve also had celebrities interested in my jewelry including Al Pacino, who wore some of my rings in the latest film about Phil Spector.

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YOU STARRED IN THAT FILM AS WELL, RIGHT?

Well, I had a role, but it got cut-out of the film. You would have seen me for like two seconds. When Helen Mirren walks through Phil Spector’s gun room, which has a ton of album memorabilia, there’s a cardboard cut-out of me. So while I was doing my hair and makeup tests, the head of wardrobe saw my rings. She asked, “Where did you get these? They’re amazing.” Again, I said, “I made them.” Then, the next day, the wardrobe department called me and asked, “Could you make a few rings for Pacino?” I said, “Sure! Just send me his size.”

WHICH RING WAS IT THAT YOU MADE FOR HIM?

I made two of them. I think he wears both of them on his left hand. He has one ring on one hand and two on the other. I made the two on the same hand. There’s one that has a black stone in it, like an onyx. The other is in the shape of an “S.”

TELL US MORE ABOUT YOU AS AN ACTOR.

Okay so, I recently wrote a script for a feature film, which won an award for best screenplay. It’s now in the hands of a couple of producers, so they’re looking at it, and I’m hoping to make something out of it. Then, I wrote a short film, which I’m directing and starring in as well. I am also acting in a web series called Water with Lemons. 

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DID ACTING EVER TIE INTO YOUR JEWELRY?

Four years ago, I was in an off-broadway theater company, and right across the street from the theater company was this celebrity, jewelry designer. My friend, another actor, had worked for this designer and introduced me to him a year or so earlier. One day, when I walk out of the theater, I realized that his store was right across the street from the theater I was performing at. I went into the store and asked him, “Hey, do you remember me?” (And I didn’t know anything about jewelry at that point, and I didn’t know what a big deal he was or anything.) The mobile casino designer was like, “Are you looking for a job?” My friend had told me that he was really good to work with as an actor because you could come and go as you please and go to auditions. So, I answered, “Yeah, I do need a job, actually.” You know, I had gone to a military college, so I didn’t know the first thing to accessories or anything. (At the time, my biggest accessory was a watch. I never even thought about wearing a ring.) But when I started working there, my boss, the designer, was like, “Look, you have to wear the jewelry because you end-up selling what you wear.” So that’s how I got a taste for jewelry and my style. I was putting pieces together, and I got good at it. I got so good at styling the jewelry that I was going to the homes of celebrities with $300,000 worth of jewelry.

People would also come into the store literally saying, “I love your look, and I want to look like you.” But more importantly, with all of these celebrities coming in, and as an actor, this is where I said to myself, “Okay, this is pretty interesting.” You know, I’m a small town up-state NY kid and a previous Citadel Military College guy, so what I’m about to tell you — especially in terms of the people I was with — was really shocking to me. One day, the guys form the Raconteurs came into the store and bought some stuff. They said to me, “Hey, we’re playing at the Prada after-party tonight. Do you wanna come?” I was like, “Fuck yeah!” My boss had no idea who these people were because he was older and loved to stay in his little bubble. Although he was about 50 or so, he never kept up with anything new in pop culture.

The party was right up the street at the Prada flagship store, and when the owner and I got there, I told him, “Dude, this is huge. It doesn’t get that much bigger than the Prada after-party during NY Fashion Week.” When we went up to store, the first thing I noticed was that my jewelry was getting all kinds of attention even though I was only wearing blue jeans and a white button-up shirt. To give you a better perspective: I had five rings on one hand and a stack of bracelets on each arm.

At the event, there were paparazzi everywhere because it was a red carpet event. Literally everyone was photographing us — the designer, his boyfriend and me. At the time, I had long hair and a beard, and I was wearing a bandana, so everyone thought that we were in a band.

When we saw Jack White and Patrick Keeler there, they invited us to the Gramercy Park Hotel for the after-hours party. When we got there, I was sitting next to Jack, and circled around me were Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Sienna Miller and Tim Robbins, and all I could hear in my head was that song “Which One Doesn’t Belong Here?” from Sesame Street. It was that ridiculous. I realized, though, that the only reason I was there was because of the jewelry I was wearing. These celebrities and paparazzi were fawning all over it, which leads me back to my first statement that jewelry is a conversation starter. Nobody would have known the faintest thing about me if it weren”t for that jewelry.

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I told my boss that it’s very important for us to go out more often like this and wear the jewelry in this way in order to market it. When we went back to the Prada flagship store, we ran into its celebrity shopper. She recognized us and said, “We have a store down the street and love your stuff! Keith Richards is our client, and I’ll give you his manager’s name.” And that’s how Keith Richards became a client of mine at that store. So I told my boss, “See, this stuff works. You just need to go out and be seen in it.” Later, I also told him, “You know, even though you’re well-known in the NY and jewelry community anyway, the only thing that is keeping you from becoming a household name, like Harry Winston or David Yurman, is publicity. Since you’re not going to buy an add or a billboard, imagine if you had a reality show. After all, that’s like an hour long commercial for your store. My boss said, “Haha, yeah right.” Before I had worked for him, I had worked at Showtime and Miramax, so I said, “Trust me. This is kind of my realm. Let me look into it.”

Luckily, we didn’t have to do that much work because three weeks later, I was at another private party wearing my boss’s jewelry. I went up to the bar, and a guy at the bar said, “Whoa, that’s some crazy hardware you have.” I said, “Yeah, I work for a jewelry store, but I’m actually in the entertainment industry.” And the guy says, “Oh yeah, me too.” I responded, “No kidding. What do you do?” He said, “I’m an agent,” and of course as an actor, my ears perked up. I asked, “Oh yeah, for who,” and he answered, “William Morris,” which is great because they’re one of the largest talent agencies in the world. (However, they work with A-list celebrities for the most part.) But at the end of the night, I approached him and said, “Hey Ken*, it was good meeting you. I hope one day that I’m big enough to work with William Morris.” And he responded, “I don’t even work with actors anyway. I actually represent reality TV.” I said, “Huh, then we have to talk.” He kind of rolled his eyes and said, “Oh yeah? About what?” I said, “We need to talk about creating a reality TV show about the guy who designs all the jewelry I’m wearing. It’s American Chopper meets Miami Ink.” And he whips out his card and says, “I can sell it. Get in touch with me.” I then looked at his card and saw that he had a pretty powerful position at the company! I immediately went home, wrote up a proposal and emailed it to him. I didn’t hear anything from him for a few weeks, so I worked up the nerve to call him. Fortunately, I got a hold of his assistant who said, “I’m not making this lie up — he never looks at emails. I promise you.” I said, “Well, I don’t want to bother him.” But his assistant reiterated, “No, you don’t understand — it’s okay. Ken doesn’t just give his card out to anyone unless he thinks that there’s real possibility of opportunity. Hold on, and let me get a hold of him.” Then, I was on the line with Ken, and he was apologizing for not getting my email. I pitched the idea of the reality show to him, and he said, “I love it. I want you to come into the office, meet with an agent and pitch it to him.” A couple weeks later, I went back into the office and met with this agent. As I sat down with him, I pitched my idea, and he said, “I love it. I’m going to package and sell it. You’re the creator and producer.” After hearing that, my mouth was on the fucking floor. After all, he told me that I could meet with production companies and choose the best one. Then they would shoot the pilot, and everything would be done.

So I went back to the shop. After a month and a half, the owner of the shop, the designer, went from being kinda angry to dismissive to passive aggressive and then to openly hostile. He fired me a week later, so then I went on a desperate search for another jewelry designer to feature on this reality TV show.

BUT AS A PROFESSIONAL ACTOR, YOU WOULDN”T WANT TO BE KNOWN AS A REALITY TV STAR, RIGHT?

I don’t really have a love for unscripted television. I told the guys at William Morris, “Look, I’m actually an actor, and I don’t want to be a reality TV star because I’ve worked my ass off to be an actor.” They actually loved the idea that I went to a military college, went into acting, performed children’s Shakespeare in the afternoons and original/shitty plays at night and worked at this crazy jewelry store.

WOW. OUT OF THIS ENTIRE EXPERIENCE, YOU LEARNED HOW TO CREATE JEWELRY?

While I was looking for other designers to feature on this reality show, I went to this one little store, which used to be at MacDougal Street. It was a father and son operation, which had been there since the ‘50s. I told them the story and asked them, “Do you want to be on the show?” They thought it sounded like a pain-in-the-ass, but they did say to me, “Well, it looks like you need a job. You wanna work here?” I said, “Yeah, I guess I need a job,” so that’s how I started to learn how to create the jewelry. At first, they taught me how to properly finish and polish the jewelry. When the silver comes out, it looks like lead, and you have to grind, sand and polish it.

But as I was learning all of this, I was also missing the jewelry I was wearing while working for the other designer because it was my style at this point. However, I couldn’t afford to buy a ring for $1000, so I ask the guys I was working with at the shop on MacDougal, “How do you make jewelry?” They showed me how to carve the silver, which involved wax casting. I told them that I wanted to make a ring in the shape of a lion”s face, but they said that was too crazy considering it took them ten years to learn how to make a band. I was also thinking that, if I could learn how to create the jewelry, then I could still have the reality show I got and be the designer featured on it…So they gave me a chunk of wax, and I went home. Unfortunately, I only had limited materials to work with, but a month later, I came back with the lion design you see today. It came out well! I might feel a little bit differently about it today since I know a lot more now. However, the length of time it took me to create that design was not going to work for William Morris, so I told myself, “I guess I have to let the reality show go.” But then I ended up selling two of those rings, so it ended up working out.

DO YOU STICK MOSTLY TO SILVER AS A MEDIUM?

I make the stuff in anything, really. I’ve made some pieces in gold. I’ve also made other things in palladium, which has similar properties to platinum. I really like using it because, unlike silver, it doesn’t tarnish or wear-down. With gold or silver, the material wears down because they’re both soft metals. For example, if you buy a 1 ounce gold ring and continually wear it, the metal could lose a percentage of its mass. But with palladium or platinum, you never run into that situation.

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TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR TIME AT THE CITADEL AND HOW YOU WERE AN NCAA DIVISION ONE WRESTLER THERE?!

The Citadel is one of the oldest military colleges in the country. (It was founded in 1842 in Charleston, South Carolina.) The Citadel is like the West Point of the South. Yeah, I went there to wrestle, and during my Sophomore year, I hurt my shoulder. I then couldn’t wrestle anymore. I still loved the school, though, eve after I realized that I didn’t really want to go into the military. The Citadel was pretty interesting. The education there is extremely difficult. Being there is one of those things where, if you make it through your first year, it’s a point of pride to say that you went there. But when I hurt my shoulder, my mom also got sick and eventually passed away (she had cancer). Then my dad just kind of took off out of the picture, which was another huge source of tension. The Citadel is also a ridiculously difficult place to be when your personal life is falling apart. Then I decided to go to the College of Charleston to just decompress a little bit, and when I got there, I ended up writing a play. The play got put up, and I received a great deal of encouragement. That naturally lead me into acting, so I obviously wasn’t returning to the Citadel anytime soon.

WOULD YOU CONSIDER CALLING YOUR JEWELRY UNISEX?

I guess you could call it that, but I think the style is more masculine. I’ve got a couple of rings that are exclusively for women.

WHAT DO YOU THINK IS YOUR MOST INTERESTING PIECE?

The Double-Headed Falcon is the most interesting. That’s based off the corner piece of a building located on University Place and 10th Street. (I think it’s the same building Alec Baldwin lives in.) That design took me forever to carve…

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WHAT DOES THE FUTURE LOOK LIKE FOR LIGHT ARMOR?

I would like to see Light Armor in a lot more stores. I also wouldn’t mind branching out into clothing because I have a couple of garment ideas. I’ve been pretty fortunate enough to have met some really incredible designers and would like to work with them.

WHAT KIND OF CROWD WOULD YOUR CLOTHING GRAVITATE TOWARDS?

I would start with mostly men’s stuff at first. I just think that there are way too many women’s wear designers, so there’s no reason for me to jump into that category yet. On the other hand, though, I think that there’s a lack of interesting men’s wear stuff. Shirts always look like shirts, and pants always look like pants. (Or there’s stuff that’s really crazy wild.) So I want to make some stuff for men that’s not too crazy out there or too conservative but in the middle. My clothes would be more classic with an edge, like Ralph Lauren meets heavy metal.

First off, I would mostly concentrate on fabrics. I have this vintage Vietnam War era military shirt that I just love and wear so much. Why I love it so much is because of the fabric — it’s like a really heavy, thick canvas, which makes the shirt really durable and rugged. It was made to last, so I want to do the same thing with my clothes. I also wouldn’t mind working with already established designers and adding my jewelry to their clothes, like in the form of buttons and the like.

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WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE SHOULD BE…

SEE: The city of Charleston or the Voyage of Life series by Thomas Cole.

HEAR: Blood Orange.

KNOW: The book The Four Agreements.

Watch the video for Blood Orange”s single “I”m Sorry We Lied” via Domino Recording Co.

*Name was changed due to privacy

 

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