Born and raised in New York City, designer Alex Woo runs a showroom and design studio in midtown Manhattan. Her father, Alexander Woo, was a master bench jeweler who began teaching Alex the basics of jewelry making when she was just five years old. She studied fine arts and jewelry design at an Ivy League university and abroad in Paris. Winning the National Women's Jewelry Association's design competition in 1998 led to the formation of her own company, Alex Woo Jewelry, in 2001. Alex Woo designs are of eco-friendly materials, fashionably fresh, contemporary and of the great quality. It is this dedication which has earned Alex Woo continual recognition from fashion editors, stylists and industry insiders, to celebrities and trendsetters. I met with Alex at Nomo Soho's "Kitchen" in New York, during New York Fashion week to talk about her jewelry and more.
J: How would you describe your style?
AW: When it comes to my personal style I am a huge fan of timeless basics that are then updated and made personal with great jewelry, bags and shoes – of course as a jewelry designer, I can never leave home without layering a few necklaces. My wardrobe consists of mostly solid colors – lots of clean lines and not a lot of prints. I love finding that great dress that can be worn to work with a blazer and then transitions into cocktails with an editor and later dinner with my husband. Quality and fit are everything when it comes to a classic wardrobe purchase, and I believe in spending on something that will stand up to both frequent wear and trends – nothing beats a DVF wrap dress, a Burberry Trench, or a blazer from The Row. Fast fashion is totally fine for a trend piece here and there, and I like mixing high and low. But I also love supporting fellow designers and investing in classic pieces that will last.
J: How did you get into jewelry making?
I've always had an appreciation for sculpture, because it's so tangible and three dimensional. But I eventually came to the realization that with jewelry, I could create and design in the same way that I sculpted, but have a wider appeal and be able to reach a bigger audience. I really love the sculptural aspect of what I do and jewelry fused so many different aspects of what I loved – precious metals, sculpture, sketching. My designs are bold and personal, but you can look at each piece as a mini sculpture. Many of my designs can literally stand up on its own, like my little letter "a" for instance. It can sit on a table on it's own like a miniature sculpture. Being able to feel the weight of a piece in my hand and have it transform into something more than just a piece of jewelry, something with an emotional connection, that’s what inspires me. It is thrilling to take a concept, draw it out, make a model, and then ultimately that have it end up as someone’s heirloom or personal talisman.
J: What materials do you use for your jewelry?
I mainly work with Sterling Silver and 14kt Gold and Diamonds. They are precious metals that I love because they are versatile and valued, and yet affordable. Being that my jewelry is personal and holds a lot of meaning for people, I think those materials need to precious metals that will hold their value, and be something that can be passed down for generations to come.
J: What is the DNA of your jewelry line?
AW: All my jewelry is made locally in NY, something extremely important to me. As the child of an immigrant who came to the US to achieve his American dream, being fortunate enough to live here was something that was instilled in me from day one. Growing up, we always tried to support local businesses whenever possible. It became second nature to have a sense of pride in what we owned, and where it came from was important. As a minority female entrepreneur, I now feel that it's also my opportunity to support that same feeling in what I do and what I provide to my customers.
But from a design aspect, storytelling is at the heart of the Alex Woo DNA. Each one of my pieces can have thousands of meanings to whoever wears it– a Little Icon can signify a birthday, a personal milestone, an anniversary, a talisman of good luck…anything! Finding out the story of how and why someone wears one of my necklaces is ultimately what gives me a thrill every single day.
J: How do you feel about statement jewelry?
AW: I love statement jewelry and how it adds to the entire look of a wardrobe, but it is not what I am known for in my collections. I love designing jewelry that is more personal and classic and will complement any wardrobe choice. I also believe that when something holds that much personal significance or meaning, it's actually more of a statement than any necklace twice, or three times that size! For example, I launched two collections, Little Cities and Little MLB (Major League Baseball) that are both very much connected to showing pride, memories and personal ties to the cities we grew up in, or shared memorable experiences with.
J: Do you wear other jewelry apart from your own?
AW: Since I have thousands of designs, that it's hard to not wear my own all the time. They are my babies, and I always want to keep them close to my heart. But that doesn't mean that I don't love and admire the work of fellow designers. I am always a fan of excellent workmanship and creativity.
J: Who are your favorite designers?
AW: Like my jewelry, I love timeless designs, but I also love having fun with them and making my own modern interpretations. That is why I love Elizabeth and James, All Saints, and DVF - as they take classic looks and update them with a modern details to flatter and enhance a woman's body. I'm also a huge fan of Diane von Furstenberg on so many levels - as a designer, entrepreneur and visionary. As an entrepreneur, I think she's fascinating - to have this longevity, success, and energy to continue what she does year after year is just remarkable. As for accessories, YSL and Givenchy have also built remarkable businesses with designing bags and shoes that I always covet.
J: Who are your muses?
AW: 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!
J: What is next for Alex Woo?
AW: I am always designing something new – I am launching a sweet and modern version of a charm bracelet called the Mini Moments for holiday – as an extension of my mini additions collection, this bracelet can be customized with interchangeable mini addition charms so people can make it their own story. This past year, I also launched an luxurious new 18K bespoke fine jewelry collection called Origins that takes inspiration from the renaissance. Inspired by a golden egg, each design has an old English letter hidden within, and the back is intricately carved with a personal pattern with hidden shapes. Between those debuts, my mix-and-match studs and new Little Icons and Little Words, there’s always something in the works here, so you have to just keep checking in!
Alex Woo jewelry is sold at Macy's Herald Square, select Jared's, fine boutiques and jewelry stores nationwide.
Head over to The Project For Women to read more about Alex Woo.
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