Designers / Industry

How I Got Here: MoAnA Luu And That Spam Email From Gwyneth Paltrow


MoAnA Luu’s path to becoming a jewelry designer isn’t linear—it starts with COVID-19, a burst of self-reflection, a creative explosion, and, of all things, an email from one of the world’s most recognizable celebrity tastemakers. The result is a fine jewelry line that Luu says mixes nostalgia with fashion-forward design and a spark of something distinctly Creole.

Luu launched her luxury jewelry line, ManLuu, in spring 2021. By summer, it was on Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop website, in Nordstrom stores, and on the bodies of celebrities including Cardi B, who announced her second pregnancy while wearing ManLuu.

This fall, ManLuu will expand into select Nordstrom stores and online on the department store’s website. The New York–based brand has also added three new heirloom-quality pieces to its debut line: a beaded necklace, an embossed ring with a brushed finish, and Creole hoop earrings, all in 18k gold vermeil.

How did Luu go from an extreme illness—she had COVID-19 in 2020—to starting her own luxury fashion and lifestyle empire? It was sudden, Luu admits, but that suddenness had a strong base in her longtime work as a brand architect and work as global chief content and creative officer for Essence Ventures, which includes brands such as Essence, AfroPunk, Naturally Curly, and Girls United.

The ManLuu Beads layered necklace features three strands of gold beads and the signature embossed ML octagonal barrel
The ManLuu Beads layered necklace features three strands of gold beads and the signature embossed ManLuu octagonal barrel.

In one key way, her story goes back even further. Her grandfather had a jewelry store on Martinique, where her family still lives. There, Luu says, women wear jewelry every day—to go without earrings, a necklace, or a gold bracelet makes a woman feel underdressed. Families pass down jewelry as an inheritance to both sons and daughters.

As she recovered from COVID-19, Luu says she thought deeply about her future and her life’s goals. She thought about her Caribbean heritage, studied postcards and photography from the region, and collected everything she could about Creole women. She also decided to start gathering jewelry to create an exhibition and, perhaps, a book.

But seeing this beautiful work brought out something she didn’t expect: her own creativity. When she couldn’t find everything she wanted, Luu says, she decided to make her own. She started drawing new jewelry, taking inspiration from pieces she knew by heart.

“When COVID happened, I asked myself: What is your legacy? I’m a proud Caribbean woman. I’m an island girl—you have to remember, Manhattan is an island as well. This has always been a part of me. I love the richness of my culture and my heritage,” Luu says. “It’s a unique point of view, and people automatically feel the meaning and purpose of it.”

ManLuu by MoAnA LUU Cane cuff bracelet and Beads bracelet
The ManLuu Cane cuff bracelet reminds Luu of her grandmother’s rocking chair. The Beads bracelet is symbolic of the beads Caribbean women collect and wear.

Sharing what it means to be Creole and her family’s stories inspired Luu’s jewelry collection. Her grandmother’s rocking chair became the thought behind the delicate geometric cane design and embossed details on handcrafted rings, bracelets, and earrings.

“The first thing she does in the morning is wash her face and put on her earrings,” Luu says of her 92-year-old grandmother. “That is how deep jewelry is to our culture.

“It’s a culture that’s born from a mix of cultures—that’s really the beauty of Creole culture. It’s African, Indian, French, European, and beyond that,” Luu says. “We mix those techniques when we are creating jewelry. The craftsmanship will have details of Arabic techniques, Indian techniques. That is the beauty of this story—all of our differences make something unique.”

Luu’s entrance into the jewelry industry moved quickly from drawings to design to production, which she set up in Queens so she could have quality control and maintain her commitment to sustainable manufacturing. Her challenge was to make something intricate but also lightweight. She also wanted pieces that were affordable to women and men across the board; pieces in her collections vary from $470 for a ring to $4,650 for a maxi bead necklace.

The ManLuu embossed ring shines with handcrafted details and geometric cage design
The ManLuu embossed ring shines with handcrafted details and geometric cage design; $650.

“Turning crisis into opportunity: That’s part of the story of this brand,” Luu says. “I believe in the power of creativity.”

Luu launched her website, and within two weeks, the first connection came from Gwyneth Paltrow—an email that Luu was sure was spam. It took her a while to realize the email was real and to connect with Paltrow’s company, Goop, which wanted to sell her products on its website. She then leveled up from being a digital brand to one sold in physical stores through her Nordstrom partnership.

“I’m already working on what’s next. This was supposed to be a passion project,” Luu says with a laugh. “Now, it’s really a business.”

Top: As an entrepreneur, MoAnA Luu established ManLuu with the goal of bringing her vision of contemporary Creole luxury to the world. (All photos courtesy of ManLuu) 

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Karen Dybis

By: Karen Dybis

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