Alex Woo: Being A Part Of It Designer Alex Woo creates the jewelry to allow her wearers to express special and personal messages with style. The New York native lives, breathes, and channels her native city while finding tremendous inspiration in the world at large. Her eco-friendly leanings and charitable credentials make her a designer with a difference. Danielle Max, IDEX Magazine: How did you get into jewelry design? What has been your career journey up until this point? Alex Woo: From the age of six, I knew I wanted to be an artist or designer. Instead of playing with toys, I would sit for hours drawing and sketching. As I grew older, I started to explore other mediums, and my love for sculpting evolved when I was a fine arts major at the High School of Music and Art. I later honed my skills while studying at Cornell University, The American University of Paris and finally at Parson's School of Design in New York City. It was there that my professor encouraged me to enter a national design competition sponsored by the Women's Jewelry Association. That was the turning point in my career as I was not only competing with professional designers from all across the country, but I won the grand prize. It was this incredible honor that gave me the vote of confidence that inspired me to launch my own collection. You come from a jewelry background. How does it influence your design and outlook? My father is a master bench jeweler, so I was raised with a definite appreciation for gems, precious metals and fine craftsmanship. I was probably eight years old when I designed my first piece - a two-tone pendant in silver and brass that I hand cut with a saw and polished myself. But it wasn't just the fact that my father was in the jewelry business that influenced me, it was his work ethic and determination that inspired me. Becoming an entrepreneur, working hard and pursuing a dream was something that he instilled in me, and I knew that when I grew up, I wanted to start my own design business. If you hadn't become a designer, what do you think you would have done? I can't imagine not being in the design industry, but my other passion is my love for food and travel. Since the age of six, I have had a passport and have been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to travel to many parts of the world. I still have quite a few locations on my bucket list, so if I had to choose, it would be something along the lines of a travel and food writer. It would be amazing to have a job where I could travel to all the places I haven't yet been to experience and write about the culture and to try exotic new foods.
Who is your jewelry aimed at? Who is the woman you see wearing your collections? My customer is classic, but appreciates a fresh twist. She is chic and modern, yet bold enough to share her personal story through her jewelry. She ranges in age from a young girl getting her first piece of fine jewelry, to a grandmother who is wearing one of my pendants to represent her grandchildren. She is a woman who is young at heart, optimistic, loves to live life and to share her stories. Where do you get your inspiration from? Can you say something about your design process, right from inspiration to the final piece? I design jewelry that is personal and timeless, and I want it to be a piece that is not only wearable, but also something that you can pass down through the generations to a daughter, a niece or a grandchild. I draw inspiration not only from my travels around the world, but also from the women whom I meet. I love to hear their stories, and when they share these moments with me, it's really inspiring. What makes an Alex Woo piece an Alex Woo piece? My pieces are designed to conjure up a feeling for a loved one or to re-ignite your memory of a special moment in your life. They are designed to be something that you can keep close to your heart and will always be with you. So whether it's the initial of your child, or your favorite lucky number that brings you down memory lane, these are all pieces that represent you. I may re-invent a familiar symbol from around the world with my style and design aesthetic, but it's your story that is the final ingredient - and makes it special.
Your tagline says "Made in New York" and your website says you "Fuse the soul, pace and style of New York energy in each collection." What's the importance of the city to you? How does it influence you and ultimately influence your design? I was born and raised in New York City, so the city is very much a part of me as it is for my pieces. I love this city, and know that I will always have a home here. I can't imagine life without New York. I love it so much that it was only natural to me that my jewelry is made in New York. I think that when you buy any designer piece - whether it's a handbag, shoe, or jewelry - you are buying not only the brand, but also the designer behind it, and New York is such a big part of me. What is your favorite piece that you have designed? It's like choosing a child - I don't really like to play favorites! I love them all for different reasons. Though I will say a fan favorite is my Little Luck Elephant. Growing up, we had a porcelain elephant that greeted guests at our front door, and similar to that one, this one's trunk is up. In so many cultures, the elephant is a symbol of pure happiness and is believed to carry everlasting luck in its trunk. They say that when the trunk faces upwards, you'll have good luck forever. I like to think that my Elephant brings people good luck. What is your favorite material to work with? I love the modern simplicity of silver, but love the luxurious look of yellow gold - I just love to mix my metals. I don't really believe that you should wear one color metal, which is why I work with both, and I love to layer and create new combinations with pendants in silver and gold. For example, I am now wearing three of my Little Icons in different metals on different length chains - my Little Letter "a," my diamond Number 8 and my yellow gold Little Lotus. Can you say something about the eco-friendly nature of your jewelry? Each Little Icon and Mini Addition is made from 100-percent sustainable, premium precious metals from American refineries and imported conflict-free diamonds. Just like it is made in New York, I think people appreciate all elements of a design, including this. You are very committed to charitable endeavors. What do these partnerships bring to your jewelry, and bring to you? I feel like my profession and personal life are quite interchangeable. I love what I do, and really appreciate how lucky I am to do this for a living. As for the charities that I work with, one of my favorite design collaborations was with Christina Applegate. It means a lot to me because when I was 16, my mother passed away from breast cancer, so this is a cause that is close to my heart. It's important that I work with charities that I like and have a personal connection to. So far, I have raised over $125,000 towards various charities that have all touched my life in some way. What is your average day like? I don't think any entrepreneur has a typical day, but now that I am a mom, there's a parenting element that I didn't have five years ago. I usually start my day by dropping off my son at school, grabbing a coffee to go and then heading over to my show room, which is just across the street from Rockefeller Center. Depending on the day, I may meet with an editor or a buyer in my showroom, as well as with various departments within my team. Currently, I have been focusing most of my energy on designing a new collection that will debut in Vegas this June. What would you say to designers, especially younger women, looking to get into the business? Do what you love. I look forward to waking up each morning and going to work. I love what I do and the people I work with. It's just so rewarding and important to really enjoy what you are doing. What does the future hold for you? Where would you like to take your company in the next five to 10 years and then onwards? I'm always working on something new, so I guess you'll just have to stay tuned... You can view the feature here and find Alex's interview on pages 52-57.