New York-based jewelry designer Bliss Lau has been designing since graduating Parsons. She started as a handbag designer until one night she removed all of the chains from her handbags and draped them over a model form creating her first body chain collection, which has been worn by the likes of Beyoncé and Lady Gaga.
The day after Lau gave birth to her first daughter, Soa, (congratulations, Bliss!), she celebrated by releasing her new collection, Life. The collection, constructed of yellow gold and ethically sourced jade and quartz, is Lau’s most personal to date and is a celebration of the arrival of her daughter and an homage to her late father.
Why black jade and crystal quartz?
I love jade. it has a special place in my heart because of its connection to my Chinese family and the memories connected to it. I have inherited so many pieces that my Aunties and Po Po wore for forty-plus years. Jade as a material is difficult to find through trusted channels, sadly there are a lot of nefarious actions that hold a black cloud over the clean sourcing of jadeite and nephrite, due to its popularity in Asia. After about eight months of searching, I discovered some small samples of black jade that were found over the coast of California, but those deposits had dried up in the 90s. Then, in a stroke of luck, I found out about this father-son team who were non-invasively “mining” black jade in Australia and got really excited!
Crystal quartz from Arkansas was always a first choice. I love working with domestic stones and the properties of quartz are so clean and pure; it is perfect for this concept.
In which ways did the experience of carrying a child inspire the designs for this collection? Is this your first child?
She will be my first child, but not my first pregnancy. We had a loss at 5 months the previous year, and I felt very connected to the idea that I wished I could have somehow captured the energy I shared with that baby before he left us. That experience, and the loss of my father, inspired me to think about brevity and the power in this temporary time we have together.
Since my early years as a designer, I have inspired new collections by challenging myself with a question. This time I asked myself: “How can I capture a moment in time with a piece of jewelry? What if the process of newness could be infused into something, work as a talisman to remind us of that exciting time? Then, how does that translate also into the past? Can I push that concept further to create a piece that is also an homage to the past?” I suppose this is where I naturally create a duality in all of my collections and designs.
What do you hope people will feel and experience when wearing any of these pieces?
My hope is that the brevity pieces will service others as it had me: in healing, reflection, appreciation, and they can also be a reminder to feel proud of an accomplishment.
This collection is “autobiographical.” How do you, as an artist, build a bridge between personal expression and creating something that’ll be well-received by your customers?
Vulnerability is one of the scariest parts of being a designer. We take this idea — invention even — and share it with the world to be criticized, praised, accepted, or ignored. It’s something that designers have to go through each season, every launch, and it will always be ever present. My solace is that I know I love it, so each time I create a new piece or collection I have to be ready for failure and know that it was important to me, for my own creative growth; that I tried. Ultimately, you learn a tremendous amount from failures; the most important thing for me is to keep trying.
This collection, and your brand, is very much about duality. Can you speak to why that is?
Duality is inherent to me as a hapa; I can't escape it! When your entire being is a combination of two cultures, also two people so different in color, background, and personality. I am an even mix of both of my parents, and I have to assume that brings some kind of natural duality to everything for me.
How did the experience of designing this collection differ from the design process of collections past? Or, how is your approach similar?
I started with a question, then imagined the materials, provenance and properties, then I designed. Each collection is different, this is the first time I have begun the process with the simple idea that I wanted a stone to touch the skin. Without that connection, the pieces have no value. This is why we don't have dangling earrings, but a necklace and bracelet only.
Tell me about your father. How did he specifically inspire this collection?
My father was a mixture of creativity and sales-genius. He worked for Kodak most of my life and in the golden era of film, he was the top salesperson in the country. I remember when the Olympics were in the USA and he won the prize to attend. In his later years, he became a ceramicist and worked through the process of his cancer by making a collection of pieces. He created a fictional story of humpty dumpty where instead of falling and breaking he discovered magical bandages and was able to heal himself.
He also fought racism within the company at Kodak, forging his way forward in a white corporate world. He felt he had to work twice as hard in the 70s to be respected. And, he did. I think that is why he achieved so much success. He didn’t let other people’s prejudice make him angry. Instead, he made sure that those who had it could find another way to view himself and the other people of Asian descent in the company.
What is the production process like for these pieces?
First, we created the stones and pieces in 3D form. This helped us communicate with our vendors across the globe. All of them were able to 3D print the stone shape and understand my vision. Often it’s the simplest shapes that are the most complicated to create. Now each stone is hand-carved in Hong Kong and our castings are made of recycled gold and connected to the stones without any glue, just balance. This happens in Bangkok by our friend Manny’s artisans. He and his brother have built a wonderful company with more than 50 percent of the employees being female. We love them for that.
The Halo chains are partially made in New York and part with Manny and his brother. This allowed us to keep things streamlined and consistent.
What led you to prioritize ethically sourcing materials for your pieces?
There is no other way to think at this point. “Mindful luxury” to me is not a choice, it’s a must. The impact I can make just by caring about the hands that touch each piece, how the workers are treated, is very important.
Tell me about your pregnancy experience. Generally, and in relation to your work and this collection.
This experience has been incredibly inspiring. I spoke to a friend with three children who has a theory that every child while growing inside of her inspired her in an entirely different way — she would suddenly become obsessed with history or philosophy, and in the end her children’s personalities matched that exactly, as if their energy brewed inside of her during that time. For me, I have been more creative in the past ten months than in years — or so it feels. This is why I was inspired to launch a collection the day I give birth, in celebration of this experience and also in remembrance of the loss of my father, which happened quite recently, as well. The duality of the closely felt cycle of life from beginning and end felt so powerful to me that I was compelled to create pieces that encapsulated the experience. Pieces that I can wear forever to remember the birth process and now I have the brevity series, and I could only think to call the collection life because there is truly no other word for what this is...
Words: Laura Jones
Images: © Bliss Lau
Copy Editor: Sonija Hyon