By Julie Lawrence Special to Published Sep 30, 2007 at 5:28 AM

As a high fashion jewelry designer of 17 years, Lauren Edgar Duff likes to think outside the box -- but not necessarily all box-shaped things. This past summer season, for example, he was inspired by picture frames and used the ornate 90-degree angles as a basis for chunky, standout neckwear.

The L. Edgar Duff autumn '07 collection is marked by color, texture and shine, comprising natural gemstones paired with wood, chain and Swarovski crystal -- his most fun collection to develop to date, he says.

Duff is a self-taught, Milwaukee-made artist who has collaborated with local fashion designer Shanel Reiger on nine of her collections. But his Midwest roots certainly do not prohibit him from attracting the attention of national celebrities, as well. Mary J. Blige wore his work in one of her music videos and commissioned Duff to design more for her tour.

"I am working to expand the marketplace," he says. "I currently sell in Milwaukee (at Lela Boutique and Aala Reed) but expect to be in Chicago and NYC markets by mid 2008."

Believing that kindness is an essential element to beauty, Duff's design philosophy has always centers around this motto: "Sowing seeds of kindness and beauty."

"It guides every decision that I make about the business. It matters most to me that my work is meaningful. As a small business, I am proud to say that I have been able to donate pieces to several charities. My goal is to manifest objects of beauty that allow the wearer to illustrate the beauty that lies within them and serves as a reminder to act kindly toward others."

And don't think he's designing just for women. His extensive men's collections -- found at the men's half of Aala Reed on Brady Street, equal his women's in style, contrast and unique vision.

"The men's market is really wide open," he says. "There are very few choices for American men. The challenge is to strike the delicate balance between trendsetting and male sensibilities when it comes to wearing jewelry. I like to offer men a range of jewelry that gives them an opportunity to express their own personal style."

He's also embarking on an accessories line -- for both genders -- that he is personally designing, but likely won't be available in time for this year's holiday shopping.

"I have the core concepts developed and I am sourcing manufacturers that can provide the production required. The bags are based on old world glamour. The focus is on shape and functionality. That is all I can share for now."

As a man committed to this city's creative growth, he's proven that you don't need to live in an internationally-known fashion hub to have access to great, one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelry. Basically, he says, style transcends geography -- an important thing to remember here in the Midwest.

"There are stylish people in Milwaukee that have amazing tastes -- the challenge is to convince them to shop locally. The style scene in Milwaukee is definitely evolving and I am honored to be able to make my humble contribution to the effort."

Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”