A jewelry designer with a knack for brightening up Washington's prim business attire brings her signature necklaces, bracelets, earrings and rings to Capitol Hill this week for an exclusive trunk show and sale.
Senate staffer-turned-accessory entrepreneur Allison Priebe Brooks, founder of Queen Bee Designs, will set up shop at Cornerstone Government Affairs, 300 Independence Ave. SE, on Tuesday and Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. With a client list that includes House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, D-La.; Rep. Linda T. Sánchez, D-Calif., and plenty of congressional spouses, she expects to see plenty of traffic from the powers that be — "or bee" — as Brooks likes to joke.
"Working on the Hill, people seem to dress really conservatively," Brooks said in an interview with CQ Roll Call. "Our jewelry creates a buzz," she said, pairing well with everything from neutral power suits to cocktail attire. One of her favorite memories of selling to Capitol Hill clientele involves Rep. Nita M. Lowey and a shoebox. The New York Democrat and a flock of members were browsing a Queen Bee trunk sale a few years ago when they started being paged for House votes. Lowey had picked out so many pieces of jewelry that they were unable to find a fitting bag, Brooks said, so they sent the congresswoman to the floor with a shoebox to hold the bright baubles.
"We caught a glimpse of her on C-SPAN," Brooks said. "Everybody was ooh-ing and ah-ing over the jewelry."
Lowey's office confirmed the congresswoman is a Queen Bee customer and has also shopped for gifts for others from the designer, though staff had no recollection of the shoebox story.
Queen Bee jewelry also has bipartisan appeal in the executive branch. Former Vice President Dick Cheney's wife, Lynne, invited Brooks to do a private show for staff and family during the George W. Bush administration. When one of Brooks' clients accessorized with a Queen Bee creation during a White House event, she was approached by first lady Michelle Obama, who allegedly strolled across the room and said, "I need to know more about your necklace — that looks like an Obama."
Ann Romney sported a white gemstone creation from Queen Bee Designs around her neck on Election Day in 2012. Hillary Rodham Clinton wore a turquoise necklace from the designer on the cover of People Magazine this summer.
Brooks, whose first job out of college was in the office of then-Sen. Max Cleland, learned the craft more than 12 years ago in jewelry-making classes through the Smithsonian. When Cleland lost a bruising battle for re-election to Republican Saxby Chambliss in 2002, she briefly looked for other jobs in politics, but the Northern Virginia native eventually decided that making jewelry for D.C.'s power players might be a better fit.
"Women were willing to buy it right off my neck," she recalled. The hobby soon became a business, and she's been crafting ever since.
The two-day trunk sale features a variety of jewelry and accessories discounted to wholesale prices. Brooks said prices range from $20 to $150, and part of her proceeds will go to the Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program. She's inviting people to drop by during their lunch hour or after work, or sneak away during the day to shop and enjoy a catered hors d'ouerve and drink spread.
In past years, the sale has drawn considerable buzz from female members. Brooks said a Hill attendee once told her they had "never seen so many congresswomen in one room."