Today’s Stripe Talk is an inspiring one. Alex Woo designs the most incredible delicate pendants (chances are, you’ve come across her gorgeous line of initial pendants.) I first learned about Alex Woo when (ages and ages ago) she sold a few of her pendants at BaubleBar. Years later, I’m still obsessed… while her little words are definitely the most known, I’m personally obsessed with this tiny elephant!
Anyways… read on for a really interesting interview. Seriously read the whole thing. Her stories are amazing (And take notes when we get to to the beauty routine part… her skin… jealous!)
Grace: Tell me a little bit about how you got your start in the industry. How did you start designing jewelry?
Alex: From the age of 6 instead of playing with toys, I would sit for hours drawing and sketching. I consider my father a master bench jeweler, so I was raised with an appreciation for gems, precious metals and fine craftsmanship. I was probably 8 years old when I designed my first piece; it was a two-tone pendant in silver and brass that I hand cut with a saw and finished on a polishing machine. I studied fine arts throughout my whole life but it really wasn’t until I studied at Parsons and FIT that I discovered my passion for jewelry design. One of my professor’s at the time encouraged me to enter a national design competition sponsored by the Women’s Jewelry Association; entering and competing with professional designers from all across the country, I won the grand prize – and this incredible honor gave me the vote of confidence and inspired me to launch my own collection.
Grace: What do you think separates your line from other jewelry designers?
Alex: Storytelling is a really important aspect of my designs. All of my collections stand for a story – who you are, what you’ve done, where you’ve been – with an endless number of meanings for each design. Although I design with an idea in mind of what a piece can mean or represent, the meanings of each piece change by who wears it.
One of my favorite stories is of a woman named Julie who purchased my Little Number 8. I designed it to represent infinite meanings – a favorite lucky number, a birth date, a life path number, but Julie had found a meaning for her Little 8 that I never would have imagined. She was diagnosed with rare form of cancer and needed a liver and stem cell transplant. Unfortunately she was at such a late stage of her cancer that she was actually read her last rites 3 times. At the last moment, she miraculously received a liver, and her sister donated her stem cells. After this very rare and successful procedure, she learned she was the 8th living survivor – and that was why she chose to get the Diamond Number 8. Then later that year, she ended up losing her sister – who was so instrumental in giving her a second chance at life. It was then that she realized that when she turned the 8 sideways, it was the infinity symbol, which further represented the bond that they shared, and was a way to keep her close to her heart. Julie told me that she never takes off her Little Number 8. You can actually hear her tell her own story here. It’s stories like these that make what I do so remarkable and memorable.
Grace: What are your best-selling pieces right now?
Alex: The Little Letters from my “Little Icons” collection have always been a classic and are most recognizable since they’ve been seen on a lot of celebrities like Jessica Alba, January Jones, and Eva Longoria. But what has been so exciting for this collection was that it was chosen to be Blair Waldorf’s signature “bw” necklace on Gossip Girl, and also Carrie Bradshaw’s signature “c” necklace on every episode of The Carrie Diaries. It’s been an honor to be a part these iconic TV fashion moments. Another collection is my Little Luck – because really, who doesn’t love a little good luck? From this collection, my Little Elephant has been the stand out; it’s a symbol of pure happiness that’s believed to carry everlasting luck in its trunk, so when the trunk faces up you’ll maintain good luck forever!
In addition to these classic designs, I’ve also just launched the “Origins”, what I can best describe as a bespoke luxury fine jewelry collection (that is a prequel to my Little Icons) and the “Little Words.” It’s a fun new collection where I incorporate my handwritten word into the outline/shape of my Little Icons, and it’s already becoming a fast favorite.
Grace: And what are your personal favorites?
Alex: It’s like choosing a child — I don’t really like to play favorites! I love many of them for different reasons and I like to mix and layer them to tell a different story depending on the day and my mood. I am a born and bred new yorker, and with that being such a big part of my story, you might often see me in my NY Yankees pendant layered with my diamond Little Pretzel and Lucky number 8. But then around my birthday, I might switch it up with my Little Signs Capricorn, or add in a gold Lotus around Chinese New Year. It’s fun to be able to tell a little story in this subtle way, as they all are significant to me in different ways.
Grace: Layering delicate pieces can be intimidating… any advice for how to do it right?
Alex: All of my chains come in 3 different lengths – leaving room to create many different layered looks. I love to mix my metals and many times wear two Little Icons each on their own 16″ chain, and then layer in a cluster of Mini Additions on a longer chain, and sometimes even add another – depending on what I am wearing. The great thing about layering is that it allows the wearer to further personalize and create their own look.
Grace: Describe your typical day.
Alex: Wake up and get my son ready for school, and I like to drop him off in the mornings – which gives us some fun conversation time on the way there…. I love an early morning meeting so it doesn’t take away too much of my time in the office, and one of them might be an 8 am Accessories Council Board meeting in Midtown. By the time I get to the office, I will usually take some time to catch up on e-mails and read about what’s happening in the world of jewelry and fashion, have team staff meetings, and then maybe a showroom appointment or conference call with a buyer or collaboration partner. Based on the time I get home, I’ll either cook a quick meal, or order in dinner. This gives me a little time at the end of the night to read a story and put my son to bed. I’ll then spend the later part of my evening with a sketchbook on my sofa, where I have some quiet time to design and work on some new pieces and catch up with my husband on all the day’s events.
Grace: Let’s chat fashion… what trends for Spring are you most excited about?
Alex: I love the hippie bohemian trend. This laid back, casual look allows you to layer and mix in lots of jewelry. It’s also perfect in those warmer months to wear something light and comfortable, but still be chic.
Grace: And who are your favorite fashion designers?
Alex: I am a huge fan of Diane Von Furstenberg on so many levels – as a designer, entrepreneur and visionary. I think about half the clothes in my closet are DVF. The drapes, the folds, and the prints are all designed in a way to flatter and enhance a woman’s body. As an entrepreneur, I also think she’s fascinating – to have this longevity, success, and energy to continue what she does year after year is just remarkable. Lastly, I think she’s a visionary to the fashion world. She takes risks and has even paved the way for fashion and technology and was the first to put Google Glass on her runway.
Grace: Let’s talk about beauty… tell me about your beauty routine and the products you use!
Alex: Kevyn Aucoin Sensual Skin Enhancer – It’s got a sexy name, but it’s something I just think everyone should have in their makeup bag. It’s a concealer but if you mix it with moisturizer it becomes a foundation – a trick that a makeup artist taught me at a photo shoot. On a side note, I’m a huge fan of Kevyn Aucoin and I fondly remember his beautiful book Face Forward which really made me appreciate his artistry with makeup, and how he could transform and “sculpt” women’s faces. Trish McEvoy MakeUp Brushes – my best friend swears by them and got me a set. They are the best brushes I have ever used. I never thought it would make such a difference, but it really makes the application of make-up even more enjoyable. Burts Bees Milk and Honey Lotion – I’ve been using it for years right before I go to bed. I love the smell and it really moisturizes your hands
Grace: If you were going away for 3 months and could only take 3 beauty products, what would they be?
Alex: Murad – Hydro Dynamic Ultimate Moisture – I’ve used a lot of different moisturizers, and rarely get results this quickly – but just a few days after I started using this, my skin just started feeling so smooth.
Shu Uemura Calligraph: black ink liquid eyeliner pen – I used to use a pot and brush to line my eyes, but once I found this, I fell in love! It lines my eyes with a clean and crisp dark black line, and it doesn’t smudge.
MAC Studio Fix Foundation – because you can sponge on this foundation or lightly brush it on. I love that it’s multi-functional, affordable, and so easy to use.
Grace: Who are your style icons?
Alex: Audrey Hepburn has been someone I have admired in so many ways. She was not only beautiful and elegant, but also so well known for her efforts as a Goodwill Ambassador for Unicef. Besides being as beautiful on the inside as well as out, she made everything look effortless. One of my favorite dresses was that gorgeous black and white Givenchy ball gown that she wore in Sabrina (my favorite film of all time!) It was classic and elegant, but a real head turner (and what in this day in age would be that perfect “Oscars” Red Carpet Gown). In other scenes in the movie, when she dressed down in black capris and flats, she still looked equally chic. I just love her, and her style!
Grace: What would you say is your biggest professional accomplishment?
Alex: I think being able to be creative and have a successful business designing jewelry for over 13 years has been so rewarding. Through this, I have met so many talented people and have had partnerships and collaborations with amazing organizations like Major League Baseball and Disney. So much has happened since I first began. From the early days of when I won that Women’s Jewelry Association’s National Design competition, to when I was named in Crain’s list of 40 under 40, my design business has given me so many more opportunities than I could have ever imagined. I am so grateful and it’s just been wonderful to be doing something I love and enjoy, so I feel very blessed.
Thank you to Alex for participating! Previous Stripe Talk features can be viewed here!