Getting to Know: The Inspirational Cheryl Saban

In a creative nook in West Hollywood, author and designer Cheryl Saban has opened a gem of a boutique, “The Shop on Nemo.”

Launched to house her original designs of home accessories, decorative glassware and jewelry, the atelier sits on the small paseo/alley that is “Nemo,” and carries an inspiring array of her one of a kind designs.

Saban started her creative journey with a glass blowing class. This hobby turned into a calling and the mother-of-four found herself creating more and more distinctive pieces eventually branching into jewelry design.

Cheryl Saban photo

This modern day “Renaissance Woman” is also a noted philanthropist and psychologist and created the Cheryl Saban Self Worth Foundation for Women and Girls. And not one to lay about, she was also appointed by President Obama as a Public Delegate of the 67th General Assembly to the United Nations.

BellaLAMag.com spoke with the warm, inspiring and impressive Cheryl Saban to find out more about her amazing life story; going from personal trauma and struggle to a life of love, passion and philanthropy.

What was your inspiration for opening your store?

In my college days, I admit I was a bit of a hippie, and had always dreamed of opening a small shop selling macramé jewelry in the mountains in Mammoth, California.  So, the nugget of inspiration has always been in the back of my mind.  Spring forward several decades, past multiple careers, and I find I’ve come full circle and face to face with that long-ago dream.  Now, after having the chance to dedicate time to my art muse and having put the effort and time required into developing significant skills at blowing glass – I wanted a place to display it, and that is why I decided to open a small Atelier. It was meant to be much like a gallery, at first.  After awhile, my jewelry designs became almost as much a part of my lust for creativity as blowing glass.  Et voila.  The Shop on Nemo came to life.

When we met at your opening, you mentioned taking a glass blowing class.  Did glass blowing usher in your interest in all design work?

Not at all.  I was an Art Major during my first two years of college.  While it’s true that in terms of my vocation, I ventured off into writing and psychology, eventually writing 16 books and earning my Ph.D. in Psychology, in terms of avocations, artistic endeavors of all kinds remained a big part of my life.  From painting, textiles, hand-thrown ceramics and interior design, I had a great time tackling them all.  The home I built for our family in Aspen, Colorado won Mountain House of the Year in 2009. We were all very excited about that.  While I’m not classically trained – i.e., I don’t have a degree in design, I have a gut feeling for it, and a real passion.  Now, I’m focusing that passion on my glassware, lifestyle design, and jewelry creations.

How did you get into glass blowing?

Quite by accident.   I had always admired Chihuli glass – was mesmerized by the whimsy and seemingly impossible size of his pieces.  I’d even had the great fortune to meet Dale Chihuly and his wife Leslie through good friends, producer David Foster and Carl Bendix of Ambrosia Events – but that was long before I decided to try this amazing art-form myself.

My introduction to glass blowing actually occurred because of a cancelled holiday luncheon.  Every year, I throw a big holiday party for a lot of girlfriends, and between the spiked egg nog, lunch, and desserts, I arrange to have craft projects for the women to participate in.  It’s a fun way to mix things up, gets everyone talking, and my girlfriends love it.  This particular year, I had discovered a company that made hand-blown glass Christmas ornaments and hired them to do our craft project with us. I was excited about this, and eager to try it out.  But, as fate would have it, I had to cancel my party that year due to a family illness, but after the New Year, I took a private glass blowing lesson with a master glass blower named Josh Gelfand, and the rest is history.

Cheryl Saban bowl

What caused you to take it to the next step, go beyond glass blowing to jewelry design (if that is correct)?

When I started blowing glass at the Hot Shop, I converted my home Pottery Studio into a flame work workshop, where I can work with a torch, making glass beads. I occasionally incorporate my flame-worked glass beads into my jewelry designs, and initially used them to make several strands of thinking beads, alternatively known as prayer beads.  However, I actually prefer working with gemstones. I have fallen in love with these stones.  I enjoy the feel of gemstones, the attraction to soul, mind and spirit.  They have a connection to nature, to the earth.  I’m very much a nature geek.

I often say that I’m infatuated by how a piece of art in hot glass is “ Frozen in Heat.”  It’s an oxymoron.  Perhaps it’s a bit like that with Gem Stones too.  A gemstone is honed from rock and stones that are thousands if not millions of years old.  The vibration of these gemstones is palpable. The history contained within them is massive, stuck there forever.  And the healing properties of Gemstones have been described in literature throughout the ages.  Some are as peculiar as they are beautiful.  The heat, the extraordinary pressure and movement of the earth necessary to create them – nature’s designs.  Simply spectacular.  Clearly, I have been bitten by two bugs – hand-blown glass and gemstone jewelry, and I’m passionate about them both.

Cheryl Saban gold lock charm bracelet with diamonds- b

You are a prolific philanthropist?  How do you choose which causes to support?

I think we’re generally drawn to causes that touch us personally – that move us emotionally.  For example, we’ve made large donations from our Saban Foundation to Children’s Hospital – I have a personal connection there, and it began long before I sat on the Board.  Many years ago, when Heidi, one of my daughters was nine months old, she was treated at the hospital for a very bad burn.  We’ve also given a large donation to the Saban Free Clinic – once again, I have a personal connection.  At one time in my life, as a single mom without healthcare, I found myself at its doorstep, humbled and scared, sad and humiliated that I had to seek help from a free clinic because though I was working, I didn’t have enough left over in my budget to pay for expensive doctor bills.  So when I had the resources, we were able to ‘pay it forward.’

We’ve also given large sums to the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital, among many others.  In most cases, these large donations are the result of a personal, emotional connection to the subject matter.

Most of the books I’ve written deal with the subject of children, women, families – social issues.   One of the first deep dives I took into philanthropy was to help guide others toward recognized organizations that help kids.  The book was “50 Ways to Save our Children,” and I created a website to accompany it.

Cheryl Saban black glass heart - $120

I move on the assumption that we can all do something – give of our time, talent or treasure to make a difference in the lives of others in need.  Before I had monetary resources to give, I was giving of my time or talent.  Now, I have the ability to give a lot treasure, and I do.

I believe we can and do make a difference – but choosing which organizations to grant funds to, and which causes to rally behind takes some due diligence on our part, and we take this responsibility very seriously.  We want to make sure the donations we give are actually helping the populations we seek to help, and not paying high salaries, or administration costs that are out of line.  We check these things out.

We have a defined mission statement for our Saban Family Foundation. We decided that we can make the most impact by going “narrow and deep,” meaning that we try to confine our grants to organizations that work in those key areas that we’ve designated as most important to us.  These include a strong focus on Child Health and wellbeing, Education & Scholarships, Women Equality & Advocacy, Community Healthcare, Israel Health and Welfare, Israeli-American Relations.

Of course, we also give to many more organizations based on solicitations from business associates and friends.  So, even with our best intentions to stick to the narrow and deep concept, we often end up with a scattershot picture in our philanthropic portfolio.

Why did you start your Self Worth Foundation?

Okay, this may seem a bit heavy, but when I wrote the book “What is Your Self Worth, A Woman’s Guide to Validation,” I was writing from a deep-seated place of personal experience.  I had done massive research for the book, and have the credentials – a Ph.D. in Psychology, but I actually drew a great deal of motivation and emotional nuance from my own Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  I was raped when I was 18 years old, and that violence left significant scars…mostly emotional/behavioral, which is where my PTSD stemmed from.   I know such personal violent sexual assaults can potentially have that affect on all rape survivors whether they have come forward about the rape, or not.

But over time, I have learned how to use that horrendous experience to help others.  I have an understanding of the re-victimization of rape victims that compels me to seek change for women – to level the playing field, not just for victims of violence, but for gender struggles of every kind.  The real heart and soul of it comes down to an imbalance of power between women and men.  Fortunately now, many women and men, are trying hard to balance those scales.

Cheryl Saban Self Worth

Yet, it is true that to date, we’re still enmeshed in persistent cultural stereotypes that stratify or marginalize women, perceived and actual gender inequalities in career advancement, salary discrepancies, and ongoing, if not escalating violence against women.

So, I decided to dedicate $10 million dollars to girl’s and women’s causes.  I created the Cheryl Saban Self Worth Foundation, and have since added another $2 million to the Fund.  Between 2009 and today, I’ve granted nearly $11 million dollars in funding to organizations that benefit and empower girls and women.  Organizations like Girls Inc., Girls who Code, American Tribal Colleges, Zahala Girls/Israel, Sherry Lansing’s Encorps Teaching Program, The Rape Treatment Center, Operation Home Front, GOGI, Apne App, Clinton Foundation’s No Ceilings, and many more.  I’m really happy about it. It’s empowering.

In the years since it launched, what are some of your favorite stories from what you have achieved with it? 

I’m keen about STEM curriculum for girls, and direct a lot of funding in that direction.  One of the donations I gave recently was to the Archer School for Girls to help them build their IDEA LAB, and it’s now called the Saban IDEA LAB.  It’s a state-of-the-art space with massive machinery, computerized saws, engineering equipment – everything the girls might need to imagine, design, create and build mobile apps, engineer bridges, construct models from miniature to full-scale – it’s truly an extraordinary think/work tank for them.  This past year, a group of the ARCHER girls won a National science contest to go to MIT for the summer to work on their project.  Just give them the right tools, and girls and women will accomplish just about anything!

Cheryl Saban full lenghth

I also give funds to Sherry Lansing’s Foundation for an organization she started for professionals in the STEM fields who were ready to try a teaching career.  It’s called ENCORPS TEACHERS.  Since these women have already been working in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, it’s a fast track for them to gain their teaching credentials.  They then go into the poorest schools and teach the subjects they know well to students who wouldn’t otherwise have such a great opportunity.  It has been a great program.  I’ve witnessed young girls get really inspired by a female scientist who can stand at the front of their class and engage them with stories about how to create make-up, from start to finish, and take it to market. In other words, the teachers can make the subjects interesting to draw the students in.  It has been hugely successful, and has encouraged many young girls to re-think the antiquated stereotype that STEM subjects were boring, too hard, or just for the boys.

Another story is about Operation Home front.  My Foundation provided nursing scholarships to women who had served in our armed forces.  One young woman who had finished her service applied for one of our scholarships.  When she had completed her studies, she sent me a gracious thank you note.  She would never have been able to afford the course without our scholarship – and having the credentials would allow her the ability to seek employment at a wider range of medical facilities, and to take care of her family.

Actually, it brought tears to my eyes.  This young woman had been in combat somewhere, possibly in Iraq.  Rather than her thanking me, I felt it should have been the other way around.  I made her one of my purple glass hearts – and sent it to her, as a thank you for everything she had done for our country.  I was grateful I could be of service to her.

Cheryl Saban Lapis Lazuli Beaded Pendant Necklace with Silver detail - $495 - c

A women’s self-worth is so important in the choices she makes, how she feels about herself and relationships she’s in – what advice would you give to women who are struggling with finding their own self worth?

To recognize that you won’t find it outside of yourself.  We were all born with a full dose of our own brand of specialness, and we’ve got to learn to acknowledge it, accept it, nurture it, and empower it.

There are those who are fortunate enough to grow up in homes where their parents are supportive and loving, who have set good examples for them, and who have helped the young person grow into a strong, confident individual with a strong sense of self — able to withstand challenges to the ego.

But for many of us, our sense of self – self-esteem, sense of self worth and personal power – get slowly pecked at and sometimes decimated by difficult and traumatic life experiences, and we are either ill-equipped or simply powerless to stop it from happening.  We don’t have the resilience we need to bounce back.

This is one of the times when you’ll find your girlfriends are such treasures. We don’t spend nearly enough time supporting each other!  Back in the day, we’d have a monthly Red Tent to hang out in.  But, now – we’re basically on our own.  Anyway, When you feel low, and can’t feel your own personal power or self worth underneath all the difficulties and challenges you’re dealing with, I suggest you find a girlfriend, a mentor, a guy friend, a psychologist, a religious leader – someone you trust that you can share your feelings with, and begin to reignite your spark. Set the positives in motion to build up confidence in yourself.  It’s there – you just need to uncover it, and recognize it.

Sometimes, when I give a speech, I start out by doing a little stunt with a crisp $20 dollar bill.  I hold it up and show the group that I have a $20 bill, and explain that at the end of my speech, I’m going to give that $20 bill to someone. Then I crinkle it up into a ball, and schmoosh it around.  When I open it up again, it’s all mangled and wrinkled.   I hold it up and ask – “do you still want it?  It’s all wrinkled now.”  Everyone nods yes.  Then I throw it on the floor, and grind into it with the heel of my shoe.  I pick it up, open it, and show it to the group.  “Do you still want it?  It’s really raunchy and disgusting now.”  Everyone nods yes.  Then I tear just a tiny bit of it, and show it to the group once more.  “Honestly, do you still want this?  They all nod yes.  “But, this $20 bill has been wrinkled, stomped on, sullied, dirtied, and torn.  It’s filthy and disgusting.  How can you still want it?”  The Answer?  Because beneath it all – it is still $20.00.  The intrinsic value never changed, never left it. It is still there, always there.  It is all a matter of perception.  Just like our self-worth.  Our personal work is to recover it, and empower it.

Like Ernest Hemingway said, “The world breaks us all. And sometimes we end up stronger in the broken places.”  We can all be stronger.  Trust me.

Cheryl Saban silver studded leather bracelet with magnetic brass clasp

You are an entrepreneur, psychologist, philanthropist, author, wife, mother, grandmother (and much more), how do you fit it all in and also find balance?

Balance?  Who said anything about balance!?!?  Ha ha – I aim for harmony, and finding passion in what I do, because then I know I’ll wake up everyday happy to do it.  And Gratitude.  I am all about being grateful.  I wake up with gratitude on my lips, and I go to sleep with it in my heart.

I’ve found that time can bring a lot of wisdom if you let it.  With four children, four grandchildren, my husband (Entrepreneur Haim Saban), our businesses, all the various new ventures and roles I play in life, believe me, I am aware that life is a constant juggling act.  But it’s a fulfilling juggling act.  I could quit the circus, but I don’t.  I’m basically curious.  I enjoy learning new things.  They say it’s healthy to continue to educate oneself, to grow, to expand one’s horizons.  I know it’s very good for me at least, and my 64+ brain!

Look, I admit it’s far easier for me to juggle everything now, than it was when I was a young mom.  The stuff of life can be extremely tricky to navigate for a woman who’s in charge of the kids’ school schedules, play dates, sports games, music lessons, doctor appointments, etc., in addition to the time constraints of her outside-of-the-home career.  You wonder if there will be enough hours in the day to accomplish it all!  Well, let’s face it.  There will always be compromises and trade-offs.  I don’t know anyone who doesn’t admit that.  And, there are never enough hours in the day…only the 24 we’ve been allotted, and you’re supposed to sleep for some of them. Get real.

At some point, though – I found my stride.  If not a total balance, then a sense of inner peace — of harmony.  I think I managed to achieve it, in great part, through Meditation and an ongoing sense of gratitude.  You can’t have it all, every minute, every day, all the time.  But you can be grateful for what you have, every minute, every day, all the time. Anyway, balance can be elusive, but I’ve found that harmony is attainable.

Cheryl Saban amethyst crystal set in gold earrings - c

What makes your life Bella/beautiful: 

“Beauty is as beauty does.”  It’s an old saying, but true. We’re so much more beautiful when we’re also good people.  No matter how much make-up, jewelry and beautiful clothing you wrap around someone, if they act like total shits, that beauty gets tarnished fairly quickly.  But I see Bella Beauty everywhere – in nature, in art, in random acts of kindness – in so many people.  I am surrounded by beautiful women and men, in this town, in the design, fashion, and entertainment industries, who work daily to make this world a better place.  This is Beautiful – pure, unconditional love as far as I’m concerned.  Add a gorgeous gown, some lipstick, or a Tux and a dynamic smile to those positive actions, and Wow! Recognizing that inner beauty in people – that pureness, that lightness of being – is what makes my life Bella/beautiful.

Having a sad day, how do you cheer yourself up?

I take a walk outside in a natural setting where I can be with the trees, hear the birds, see the sky, or listen to the ocean.  Nothing makes me feel more connected than the basics of life.  When my dad died a little more than a year ago, it was nature that gave me a sense of solace.  An appreciation of nature is a gift my parents gave me – and it will always be something that calms my heart, and soothes my soul.

Best advice given:

To read the book, The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz.  I try to live by these agreements:  Be impeccable with your word, Don’t take anything personally, Don’t make assumptions, Always do your best.

What inspires you?

Women coders.  People who can give long speeches without notes.   A person who has worked hard to accomplish a goal, and then achieves it.  My kids.  My husband.  Glass blowers.  Athletes.  True love. Random acts of kindness. A good book.  Architecture.  A new string of beads.  The mountains.  Color.  A new piece of cookware.   Beautiful Design.  A sunrise.  An organized space.  A new pair of shoes.

Who are the 3 most interesting people you have met so far and why:

Okay, this question is too tough.  I’ve met so many interesting people.  It’s nearly impossible to tell you the 3 most interesting people, so I’ll just start at the top of my list.

Muhammad Yunus – The man who developed the principles of the Grameen Bank – the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization that provides microloans to women in small villages in India.  His trail-blazing work changed lives of thousands of poor women in India – essentially lifting them from poverty.  He told me the hardest part for him was changing the mindsets of men.

President Bill Clinton & Secretary Hillary Clinton – I put them together because I met them together, but they are both incredibly interesting, each in their own unique ways.  The President is one of the most well read individuals I have ever met.  His recall of data is legendary. His intellect is matched only by his passion for helping to make the world a better place. Secretary Clinton is intelligent, warm, outgoing and also incredibly knowledgeable about international politics, and the State of our Union.  I admire her immensely, and respect her for everything she’s done for women and children throughout her career.  I hope she’ll be our next President.  For full disclosure, I should add that I am a board member of the Clinton Foundation, and in 2012-2013, I was a Public Delegate to the United Nations, nominated by Secretary Clinton, and appointed by President Obama.

Ruchira Gupta – is a journalist, who won an Emmy award for her documentary, The Selling of Innocents.  She often works closely with Gloria Steinem.  Ruchira founded www.Apneapp.org Women Worldwide, an organization that deals with sex trafficking, and helps girls and women who are trapped in inter-generational prostitution.  Ruchira is tireless in her commitment to these marginalized, exploited girls and women, and I’m continually astonished by her zeal, tenacity, and passion, and her ability to speak truth to power.  I’m extremely supportive of her cause, and in awe of her stamina.

Quote that you live by:  “To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.” – Joseph Chilton Pearce

Bella’s tag line is ‘Beauty Defined By You’ – How do you define beauty:

Beauty begins in the heart.  It’s a feeling of love that you have for yourself that radiates a glow to the outside world.  – When you feel beautiful inside, the outside of you will look beautiful too.

Cheryl Saban headshot

LA Qs:

1.     How long have you been in LA? – 40 years!!  Wow!

2.     What is your favorite part of the city?  West Hollywood

3.     Favorite Spa?  The Peninsula Spa, at the Peninsula Hotel, Beverly Hills

4.     Favorite Restaurant for dinner?  Sushi Zo – National Blvd., Los Angeles

5.     Favorite Brunch spot? Il Pastaio, Beverly Hills

6.     Favorite Shopping Place? Barneys New York, Beverly Hills

7.     Favorite Museum? The Broad, Los Angeles

8.     Favorite Date place?  Melisse Restaurant in Santa Monica

9.     A friend is in town for 24 hours, what do you do with them?

Two options! A quick tour of LA might begin with Il Pastaio, in Beverly Hills, or the Roof Garden Restaurant at the Peninsula Beverly Hills. After that, some leisurely shopping in Beverly Hills, with a stop at the beautiful Nespresso Boutique Bar on N. Beverly Drive, for a delicious Espresso, and small bite to eat for lunch.  Of course I’d take my guests to my own Shop on Nemo in West Hollywood, to show off my latest glassware and jewelry designs, and then a few stops on some fun streets around West Hollywood; Melrose and Robertson.

A tour of our great city would need to include a visit to Santa Monica, so I might take my guests to The Brentwood Country Mart, and Montana Avenue.

By this time, my guests might be ready for cocktail hour, so I would continue West and head for Malibu, where we would go directly to Nobu at the Beach.  We’d sip our cocktails, watching the sun set, and order our scrumptious dinner.

After dinner, I’d take my guests back to my Malibu home – not five minutes’ drive from Nobu – where we’d relax, check out the view, then cuddle up on the sofa, and to the sound of the waves gently rolling outside, binge-watch one of our favorite shows.  All in all, a busy, but fun day in LA.

Of course, the first option was a laid-back, shopping-filled day.  For a more adventurous group, it would go a little differently.  I’d take them on a morning walk on the beach in Malibu, then home for a shower, and perhaps a swim in the pool.  Then back to town for lunch at Gulfstream at Century City for one of my favorite Burgers, a little shopping at Century City if desired, then to The Broad Museum in the late afternoon, and on to the Otium Restaurant for dinner.  Perhaps after dinner, we would head back to Beverly Hills to Wally’s in Beverly Hills, for a glass of wine or two, and some fun conversation before we tucked in for the evening with a movie, or a game of Cards Against Humanity at my BH home.

Another busy day in LA.  Did I mention you need a car to do all of this in one day in LA?!

Photography: Lisa Trublet de Nermont

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