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If you haven't heard of Jennie Kwon, it's because jewelry design wasn't even on the Los Angeles native's radar a year ago. Oh, how times have changed—and fast: Now her cuffs, earrings, necklaces, and rings are being sold at Barneys outposts across the country.
The multi-talented Jennie began her career as a classical violinist. "That was the focus for the larger part of my life," she says, having attended a music conservatory for both her undergrad and graduate degrees before going pro and playing venues like Carnegie Hall. "Then I started going through this idealistic, wanting-to-save-the-world phase. While music is great, it's not a practical way to be an advocate for the poor or a voice for the voiceless."
After volunteering with the homeless on L.A.'s Skid Row, Jennie enrolled in law school and landed a job at a firm, but that wasn't quite right either. "It felt like ever since I had decided to pursue law, I lost every creative bone in my body," she admits. "That was a scary thought. I really wanted to find some passion again." But it wasn't until she got pregnant with twins and went on maternity leave that she reevaluated her career: "It was a now-or-never moment. I thought, 'If I don't take the leap now, I'll be stuck doing the same thing for the next ten years.'"
After a three-week metalsmithing course at a local college, Jennie found her new calling. Though she didn't have any connections in the creative community, she took a few of her designs to the jewelry district downtown to have them produced, set up a website all by herself, and launched her eponymous line.
"It's exciting in the beginning when you're getting your feet wet," she says, "but there's a steep learning curve when it comes to running your own business. From sourcing stones to finding a place to buy boxes to figuring out proper etiquette with retailers and wholesalers—every single detail was from scratch." But Jennie learned fast: Within two months, her pieces were on the shelves of big-deal stores like Catbird.
Today, Jennie still operates her biz out of her home in California. "There's a lot of diversity and things to see here," she says. "Whether it's someone on the street or a pattern in nature or the wall of a building, there's constant inspiration around you in L.A." This results in pieces that are simultaneously dainty and edgy and reflect her own understated-but-eye-catching style ("I like black and white, clean lines, and geometric shapes.")
For Jennie, it's all about being crisp and balanced. While she's worked with diamonds and onyx, more recently she's taken to colored stones like emeralds, opals, and sapphires; this season, she's toying with incorporating smokier red gems. "Each piece has a strong voice of its own," she explains. "The scale is fairly delicate, but pieces are also meant to be stacked."
Since the beginning, the creative process has been organic for Jennie. Take the Lexie ring, one of the most popular items in her collection. The emerald stunner started out as a custom project for one of Jennie's friends: "We came up with the design together, and when I posted it on my social media, people were in love with it, so eventually I incorporated it into my line."
That's not to say she's one for design-by-committee though. "It's important to stay true to your aesthetic. It's tempting to make things you think people want to see and buy, but if you have your own strong voice, people can sense that and find it appealing."
As her for quick ascent to the fashion forefront? "It's crazy! I never thought things would take off at the pace that they did," she says. "It's a combination of the stars being aligned and a lot of hard work. Talent will only get you so far—that's something I learned through my other two careers. The rest of it is blood, sweat, and tears."
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