How She’s Managing: Adornment + Theory’s Viviana Langhoff


Every Thursday during the pandemic, we’re checking in on members of the jewelry trade in an attempt to glean shareable tips and tricks for doing business—and living as well as possible—during the COVID-19 crisis.

Today we hear from designer Viviana Langhoff, owner of Adornment + Theory, a jewelry boutique in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago.

JCK: At a time when many businesses are struggling to survive, Adornment + Theory is expanding into an adjoining retail space. Congratulations!

Viviana Langhoff: That’s where I am right now, in the middle of a construction zone. We’re putting in flooring today and doing a reopening in mid-June. We’ll have to fully close the store for two weeks, so I’m going to have an Airstream trailer outside with a portable jewelry store and piercing shop. I’m very excited!

Adornment and Theory exterior
Adornment + Theory in the process of expanding

It’s an amazing comeback story, after such a scary time in spring 2020. How did you manage?

By the grace of the Lord. The initial impact for us was the same as for everyone else—it was just triage. The toughest call was that I had to let my staff go. I told them, “This is not a reflection of your excellence. This is bigger than us, and my job now is to steer this ship and make sure you have a ship to come back to.”

And you did reopen, last summer. Your website includes a wide range of price points, from inexpensive pieces by local artisans to your own line of fine jewelry. Was that helpful?

The store fits the neighborhood. I’ve lived here for 16 years, and we have lots of walk-in traffic. People come through every week on their way to the farmers market or the antique movie theater next door. The majority of the [stock] is $100 to $600 for non–fine jewelry, fine jewelry from $500 to $7,000, and we specialize in artists of color. Everything is fresh, and [customers] can treat themselves to a $100 necklace that they wear every day. The fine jewelry section is curated so that when you walk in the store, it makes sense. I didn’t want to create a store that was just special occasion jewelry, because people come in casually with their dogs or their groceries or after yoga.

Jasper necklaces
Ocean jasper necklaces by Courtney Weil

The pandemic must have put a big dent in foot traffic. Is that improving now?

It’s slowly coming back because more and more people are vaccinated. We’re seeing fewer clients, but [sales at] higher price points. A lot of people are seeking us out because of Instagram and wanting to buy local and support a minority business. We also deconstructed our website and built it back up in 2019. We had a huge [sales] explosion on our website during quarantine, but often, people would spot something [online] and then come in to see it in person. Local people like the connection of coming in.

You also have a gift for marketing, with perks like dance parties, gem coloring books, and a Mother’s Day promotion combining a facial kit, dried flower bouquet, and “Mama” necklace.

I’m really big on collaborating. In Chicago, a lot of business owners are friends. I know where my demographic is shopping, whether it’s a specific clothing store or tattoo artist or a florist who does funky arrangements. These are the people I want to partner with, because we’re cross-promoting on all platforms. I have a good sense of who our ideal client is, so whenever I create marketing ideas, I’m thinking of that person and what she will love.

Viviana Langhoff Rings
The Isabel ring set with white diamonds and yellow sapphires, the Zelda ring with an olive tourmaline, and the Frida ring with a teal-green sapphire, all designed by Viviana Langhoff

Speaking of collaborations, how did you decide to interview jewelry designers on Instagram?

I wanted customers to see that there are people behind what they are buying. I actually started that [series] five days after quarantine began [in March 2020]. At that point, I wasn’t pushing product, because everyone was financially frozen. I found it morally irresponsible to make people feel guilty about buying things in the middle of a crisis. I decided to just talk to [designers] in their studio, and I got extremely comfortable being in front of the camera. Before 2020, I had been light on Instagram, and at that point, I thought, “Okay, I’ve got to face forward.” I got over my self-consciousness fast.

While steering your business through COVID-19, how did the year affect you as a designer?

I feel like the pandemic tested the grittiest of us. I really had to watch my thought life and my mental diet. Some people stayed online and doomscrolled all day, but I realized that wasn’t going to be beneficial for me, so I poured my creativity into marketing and custom orders and virtual consults. I rethought the whole design experience, from packaging to bringing [clients] champagne. I have a little Vespa, and I did home deliveries. Everybody’s anxiety manifests in different ways, but for me, it was, “Let’s do this!” I leaned into it, and my creativity went up 1,000 percent.

Viviana with loupe
Designer-retailer Viviana Langhoff

How did you decide that the time was right to enlarge your store? 

I’ve always wanted to expand, but I’m pretty fiscally conservative. When the space next to us became available, I didn’t want to jump the gun and commit to something that might sink us. I patiently waited, and when the time was right, I decided to pull the trigger. The response from the neighborhood has been wonderful. When people see a favorite shop not only surviving but growing, they stop in and say thank you.

Finally, how do you relax?

Relaxing for me is some combination of working out, gin and tonic, Real Housewives of any city, and prayer.

Top: Viviana Langhoff outside Adornment + Theory (all photos courtesy of Viviana Langhoff)

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By: Kathy Henderson

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