Zoë Chicco, the woman and the brand, understand women. Right out of college, armed with a degree in Studio Art and Metalsmithing, a namesake jewelry line was her priority. Now after 16 years in business Chicco knows the ins and outs of running a successful brand. What sets Chicco apart is her unique understanding of the technical aspect of jewelry design, which she admits at times limits her creativity. If she can’t make it herself, it won’t be produced. This speaks to the authenticity of the brand identity on a larger level – every piece is handmade in-house in her studio in LA by her team of artisans. Chicco designs each collection with the input of her team; she knows her customer wants everyday, delicate pieces that are meant to be worn all the time. They become an extension of the woman in a way Chicco would hope. No collection is complete though without a “look what I can do” statement making pieces to show Chicco’s range and expertise.
At what point did you know that you wanted to become a jewelry designer?
I have made jewelry for as long as I can remember. I have memories of gluing together random found objects – buttons, keys, beads, coins – whatever I could get my hands on. I started taking metalsmithing classes in high school and fell in love with it, but I don’t think I realized that I could do it professionally until I was in college. I decided my sophomore year to major in Studio Art with a Metalsmithing concentration and never looked back.
You design all of your pieces in house – What made you decide to produce locally in Los Angeles?
All of our jewelry is actually made in house as well. When I started the business I designed and made every piece myself by hand. As the brand grew, I added a bench jeweler to help me, then another, and so on and now we have 5 amazing metalsmiths who work in our studio making the collection. That way we have complete control over the materials being used, and the quality control. I still do all of the designing although I always consult my team and get their opinions. After the first sample is made I will wear it around for a bit to see how it feels, and make sure it lays right. If we all love the jewelry piece, I will I put it into production.
What is most challenging about metalsmithing?
For me, I would have to say the most challenging aspect of metalsmithing is that the technical portion can sometimes affect my creativity. Because I have a background in metalsmithing, I have always designed within my skill set. There are many designers who don’t have the technical training, so they will dream up anything, then relay their idea to their manufacturer and let them figure out the “how” part. That’s not how I work on designs or producing jewelry. I need to be able to make something myself first to bring it to fruition.
How large is your team of artisans?
We have a great group of skilled artisans at Zoë Chicco. Our production team is made up of our production manager, four full time bench jewelers, one-part time bench jeweler and an intern.
Since launching your brand over 16 years ago, has your overall vision changed?
Yes, definitely! When I started my brand I had come from an art school background and apprenticed with jewelers in a more nuanced fine-craft jewelry world. The pieces I designed were much larger scale and really labor intensive. I felt like I had to make these difficult designs for them to have more worth. But then I realized that I wasn’t really designing for women, like myself. Personally, I prefer pieces that are a bit simpler and easy to wear. Once I started making every day layering pieces, my brand started to take off. It is really important to be passionate about what you are creating. I still like to make a couple of what I call “look what I can do” pieces each season, but those aren’t typically my best sellers. My clients tend to come to me for the jewelry they put on and never take off.
How has living in Los Angeles influenced your design aesthetic?
Los Angeles has a pretty laid back vibe which definitely plays to my aesthetic. Because of the warm weather, women tend to show a little more skin, so lots of delicate layers of jewelry really works with the LA woman’s style.
What does a typical day consist of?
My son Truman usually rises first and calls out for ‘Mama’ from his crib at around 7 a.m. My husband Tim and I have a bit of cuddle and play time with him then Tim is off to our DTLA studio/office (after making me the world’s best latte!). I stay behind to hang out with Tru and make him breakfast. Once our nanny arrives, I check my emails and handle anything pressing that needs my attention before heading into the office. Once I am in the office I will meet with different members of my team depending on what is happening that week. Whether it be preparing with the sales team for an upcoming show, working with my publicist on a new campaign strategy or meeting with the production team to go over my new designs, there is always something to do and each day is different. I almost always eat lunch at my desk (typically hummus and vegetables) checking emails, and then head home around 6 p.m. to have dinner and spend a little time with my boys before Truman goes to bed.
There are several times a year that I dedicate to design, and you’ll usually find me in my office with the door closed, surrounded by diamonds, stones and my sketches, developing the newest styles for the upcoming seasons.
Where are some of your favorite places to find inspiration?
I love to travel and often certain visual details from those trips will really resonate with me. I went to Paris last spring for a press preview, and a ceiling in the apartment we were staying in, inspired my most recent collection. It’s generally the little things that speak to me, and I find inspiration everywhere I go.
Who is the woman you design for?
My designs are for every woman. My line appeals to a wide range of women, whether they’re young girls or mothers, there is something in my collection for everyone.
Why do you think people develop such a strong personal connection to jewelry?
Fashion in general is a form of self-expression. However, I think jewelry takes on a different role because it’s personal, and is often gifted, or a keepsake from a special event or time in your life. I know that all of my most treasured pieces were gifts from a loved one (or to myself) to mark a moment in time that I will always remember. I wear those pieces every day and rarely take them off. Each time I look at them I remember what and who they represent to me. That is a pretty powerful thing.
What are some the most memorable pieces that you’ve designed?
For me personally, there was a brooch I made in college that was chosen to be displayed in the case in the art building. I remember that was the first piece that I thought, “wow I might actually be pretty good at this.” Another would be one of the most popular ring styles I designed very early in my career during my first bench jeweler job in 1997. It was big rainbow moonstone ring hammer set in sterling silver. Each one took about a day to make. I wore that ring for years and still have it. It stands out in my memory because that design was the inspiration for my wedding band that my husband had made for me 11 years ago. And more recently, the cuff that I made to mark the 15-year anniversary of my brand. It incorporated elements from some of my most popular designs, including my longest best-selling bar collection. Nicki Minaj wore it to the VMAs last year with that killer gold dress which was a nice little bonus.
You have quite a large cult following of celebrities. Are there any people that you would like to design pieces for in the future?
It is always exciting when a celebrity who can have just about anything, chooses to wear my jewelry. A highlight was when a friend of mine who was wearing one of my lariats and was working on a photoshoot with Miranda Kerr. Apparently Miranda really liked it and put it on for the photos. My friend texted me and said Miranda Kerr really wants my necklace, so I am going to give it to her if you can you please make me another one asap! I was on board with that. I’d love to make another piece for Miranda to wear!