The two have been on a first-name basis with the First Family ever since, and all three Bush women wear their designs. Says Camargo: "We've gotten to be great friends."
These days, Anthony Nak is a household name not only at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. but in Hollywood too, where the duo's intricately crafted gems have adorned the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker, Mandy Moore, Cameron Diaz and Ashley Olsen. "If you're hot, hip and on your way, you've simply got to get a piece of Anthony Nak," says Simon Doonan, creative director of Barneys New York, which carries the earrings and necklaces priced at $2,000 and up. "They've been completely embraced by the celebrity community."
Dennis Quaid went to Anthony Nak to have an engagement ring designed for his present wife, Kimberly Buffington. Says Quaid: "Their creations are not jewelry; they're works of art." Thirty-some artisans painstakingly fashion Anthony Nak pieces from 18-karat gold and brightly colored precious or semiprecious stones with needle-nose pliers. All that hard work pays off: "I love wearing pieces that are so unique, colorful and playful," says actress Erika Christensen.
Anthony Nak had $8 million in sales last year and received a CFDA 2004 nomination, but neither of its partners has a background in jewelry. Armstrong, 34, grew up in El Paso and studied architecture at the University of Texas in Austin. Camargo, 37, left his own hometown of Sonora, Calif, (in the Sierra Nevada foothills), for Santa Monica in 1983, where he worked as a retail manager for Fred Segal before later opening a furniture design business in Miami. The two met at a bar in New York in 1996, where Armstrong was working part-time to supplement his income as an assistant at a fashion design firm.
"I was immediately drawn to Nak's energy," says Camargo, the chattier of the two. "A week later I went to go see him again, but he was home sick with the flu. I went to his apartment with some chicken soup and I never left."
They bet on being as good a fit professionally as they were personally, so after moving to Austin together "to get away from the New York rat race," says Camargo, they began designing hand-painted scarves that they sold at the exclusive Dallas department store Stanley Korshak. In 1998 they began making beaded earrings as well that attracted retailers like Neiman Marcus and Barneys and early fans like Sandra Bullock and Jennifer Lopez.
Last November they opened the first Anthony Nak store in Austin. "We just love it so much here," says Camargo. "The place is so open to creativity." They hope to add stores in Paris, London and New York, where they keep an apartment. They're also looking for a house in Studio City, close to their famous L.A. clients. But home will remain Austin, where they own a two-bedroom ultramodern house downtown that they share with their two greyhounds Sable and Billy. While they love spending weekends kicking back with the dogs and watching old reruns like Kojak and Hawaii Five-O, their schedule is often filled with more glamorous activities these days.
"Boy, our lives have definitely changed," says Camargo. "We have traveled all over the world and we are invited to parties and events that we would have only dreamed about going to." Among their favorite bold-faced clients, he adds, Catherine Zeta-Jones "writes wonderful thank-you cards," and Sarah Jessica Parker is "so sweet and gracious and smart."
Still, Armstrong and Camargo don't credit their celebrity fans for their success as much as they do each other. "We have our issues, our disagreements, but we always keep the bigger picture in view," says Armstrong. "We both understand that our relationship is the most important part of the equation."
Jennifer Wulff. Kelly Roberts in Austin