Jenny Wu was heading to Art Basel in Miami, and the architect wanted her accessories to make a statement. So, she did what anyone who thinks in three dimensions might do: She designed her own necklace and watched it blow up not only that evening’s event but also her life.
Blow up in the best kind of way: The resin necklace was a wearable piece of sculpture, a kind of dynamic web an artistic spider might create in a fit of passion. People reacted with delight, awe, and, most excitedly, envy. A few asked to buy it right off of her neck.
Although she is an architect by trade, Wu understood that her work and artistry extended beyond her clients or her degree. She realized that with the rapidly developing 3-D technology she used in her office and her experimental mind regarding jewelry materials, she may have another way to express herself. That was when Lace by Jenny Wu was born.
Some people call her work futuristic art; Wu sees it as jewelry with limitless potential. The art description is apt in that the Los Angeles County Museum of Art has one of Wu’s necklaces in its permanent collection. That moment made Wu realize this blending of jewelry, technology, and architectural expertise was going to be a lifelong pursuit.
Wu received her Bachelor of Arts from Columbia University and Master in Architecture from Harvard Graduate School of Design. She is also a member of the design faculty at the Southern California Institute of Architecture. She founded Lace by Jenny Wu in 2014.
She had always integrated technology into her career, looking to think more deeply about design and how the tech available to her could shape her work at Oyler Wu Collaborative, which she cofounded with partner Dwayne Oyler in 2004.
“Our focus is on design and less on what type of project it is. I like design-focused projects, whether they are big or small,” Wu says.
Her reputation as an architect grew, and, as a result, she received many public-speaking requests. Each one required a memorable outfit and accessories, Wu says, so she decided that she needed to add fashion to her list of design-focused investigations.
Because she was surrounded by computers, 3-D printers, and every piece of software she would need, Wu started designing her ideas for jewelry right there. She started with the office’s 3-D printer to come up with three necklaces, which she wore during talks and other events.
“I thought, maybe I could make a few and sell them. I never thought that it would blossom into a big business,” Wu says. “That kind of growth is exciting.”
The challenge, Wu says, was figuring out how to make the jewelry she was starting to produce ready to wear for everyday people—not just a single prototype she might put on for a few hours. That meant investing fully into producing larger numbers of her jewelry designs and making them last as long as the wearer was interested in wearing them.
“I’m a designer and problem solver. [Creating her jewelry] is taking technology not made for this industry and converting it. That requires some trial and error, trying to figure out what materials were suitable, durable, and wearable,” Wu says.
Now she is a 3-D printer expert, testing out new technologies not only for her architecture work but also for her jewelry company. She either hand sketches or works with a computer program to come up with her original designs. Then she moves that idea into production, seeing how the materials respond, how it feels to wear, and how it lasts.
“They’re definitely artistic statements,” Wu says. “But, over the years, I’ve definitely listened to customers and seen what they’re interested in. What is the range I can play within design? Some are more minimalist and still have that edginess. Some are more maximalist.”
Wu has moved into other materials now, including bronze and stainless steel, as well as more traditional jewelry metals such as gold, platinum, and silver. Wu’s latest collection is made with carbon fiber using a proprietary 3-D printer from a company that previously had not produced jewelry with its technology.
“It’s super lightweight but very strong because of the carbon fiber. It’s light, but it makes a statement,” Wu says. “It’s fun. To me, if you keep enjoying what you do and you love it, you’ll keep doing good work.”
Top: Jenny Wu uses her architectural experience and 3-D printing expertise to create Lace by Jenny Wu, a jewelry brand that mixes avant-garde with elegant design.@jckmagazine
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