More Than Just A…Beyoncé Video
Bliss Lau’s voice is an ocean wave.
In one moment, it’s low and lilting, like water washing over the sand of her native Hawaii, making it easy to relax into conversation. The next, it’s swelling with passion and surprising you with its depth (like when she explains, “A person is complex, and my designs need to match the complexity of the woman”). Bliss Lau is at once a calming and commanding presence–a duality that’s reflected in the delicate, bold jewelry she’s spent the past 15 years designing.
Bliss, now 37, started her business at 22 years old, fresh out of the Parsons School of Design with a degree in Fashion Design. After a series of happy accidents (like playing with leftover scraps of material to create her first body chain), a stroke of luck (Beyoncé rocking one of said body chains), and years of hustle (because luck only works if you do), Bliss has come into her own as a custom fine jewelry designer–not to mention a Parsons professor. But, as she puts it, her success “has nothing to do with planning and everything to do with letting life happen.”
Read on to discover how Bliss found her calling, founded a business, and made a fan out of Queen Bey.
FAME: What would you consider to be your job title?
Bliss: That’s a hard question to answer! I guess I always just consider myself to be a designer on a simple level. I hesitate to call myself my founder…I guess that’s what I am. When I was 22, it was just about starting something for creative expression, it wasn’t so company-based as it is now. So I don’t think of myself as a “founder.”
FAME: You studied at the prestigious Parsons School of Design, and now you’re a professor there. How did your career bring you full circle?
Bliss: I teach an entrepreneurial design class called Centering Your Brand, with a partner who is a brand strategist. I teach about the idea of having a creative company. We created a small workshop we’re taking around the world, as well–we’re working on teaching in Zurich and Spain this year.
FAME: How did jewelry become your focus? Was it always something you wanted to do, or did it evolve from another interest?
Bliss: You know, when I was 18 I thought I was going to be a shoe designer. I launched my senior thesis collection out of school, and I was designing handbags. I studied apparel and made a bunch of handbags to go with my apparel, and sold those out before I even graduated. About five or six years later, I created a collection of body chains. I was just sort of playing around, and I made body chains out of the chains from my handbags. Eventually, I started making jewelry.
But the real reason I do fine jewelry and custom jewelry has nothing to do with planning and everything to do with letting life happen. I met my husband, I fell in love, and he proposed to me with a sketchbook and was like, “I really want you to design your own ring.” Then I made my ring–I finished it like two days before I got married.
I ended up creating this really fun, crazy concept one day–this locking sort of function for a two piece ring that fits together. People started asking me to make them rings. It was just something I tried doing, and ended up giving myself an education in jewelry over the course of the next two years. In 2014 I launched a fine jewelry line, because everyone kept calling me to do this thing. Interestingly, most of my clients are female entrepreneurs. Other women in business are the ones who reached out. Girls who own shops and are launching companies–that continues to be a large part of my client base.
FAME: A lot of features on you have identified you as “half Chinese, half American.” Do you think this culture mish-mash affects your work?
Bliss: Yeah, I think that being a person of two cultures is something you can’t ignore, and if you do, that’s kind of crazy because it’s so prevalent in how you think. Even in things as simple as the food you eat–one parent teaches you to eat food one way, and the other parent teaches you something different. It informed my design in a lot of ways.
When you grow up in Hawaii, you largely grow up in an Asian culture–everyone takes their shoes off, for instance, when you enter a room. There are these sort of rituals that are a part of who we are as people in Hawaii, and I feel like I identify equally with the Chinese and with being from the Islands. I am definitely Chinese–I’m working on a project using jade for that reason. It’s a special type of stone that is culturally significant.
There’s a lot of push and pull, and it comes from the ocean and the cement of New York; being somebody that comes from an Asian culture and then entering into the East Coast culture, which is even more of a stark difference to me. Now I see the duality in everything that I do. I’ll always make a ring that has hard lines, and I’ll disrupt it with curves. I can’t get rid of it.
FAME: I’d love for you to talk more about jewelry as a “physical experience.” What does that mean to you, and how did you develop that ethos?
Bliss: Because I started as a clothing designer, there’s a certain perspective–and you guys have that at Fame and Partners–where the entire purpose of your brand is to give your clients the opportunity to incorporate something into their personality. That’s sort of largely what I love about clothing: it’s a form of personal expression. It moves with you, it lives with you, it becomes something that is another language, that’s a part of your body. When I transitioned into making jewelry, I was making these body chains that would conform to a person’s body. The first collections of body chains I made, I didn’t just make size two, I had sizes that went up to 20, I had bust sizes that ranged from small to big busts. We’re sharing in the movement of customization. I love that part of what you guys are so–we’re in alignment that way.
FAME: Your site says you’re inspired by things as varied as the writing of Anais Nin to the Chrysler building. How do those inspirations make their way into your jewelry?
Bliss: I believe that there are always two or three things that need to go into every design. What is the feel, what is the experience, and then you have visual inspiration. So there’s the physical, then the experience, then the direct inspiration–which would be like Art Deco, or something like that. I always feel like I need to make a combination of all of those things, because a person is complex and the designs need to match the complexity of the woman.
FAME: What was your “big break” moment–was it when Beyoncé wore one of your body chains in the “Drunk In Love” video? And how did that affect your business?
Bliss: As a designer, as an owner, if you really focus your company on having a “break out moment,” then you might live in a constant state of failure. I try to celebrate small things as equally important, so I always feel like I’m achieving. It took me so long to get Beyoncé–it wasn’t something that happened right away. It was a huge moment. I didn’t really believe it when it happened!
Before that I had micro-goals, which is a part of the philosophy I teach. Sort of, what are your achievable goals? Something like having my first one-of-a-kind commission. That, to me, was equally as cool as getting Beyoncé, because that meant someone valued me for my concepts and my ideas enough to do a commission.
Beyoncé was just luck. She planned that video in two weeks, and one of the local stylists I know just called me and I happened to be at work on Saturday so I could give her the body chains an hour before she got on the plane. She came back two days later and was like, “It was amazing, I used it!! And I was like, “Yeah, right.” And then it came out and I was like, “OK, you really did!” You don’t believe it ’til you see it.
It was a really pivotal moment for me when that happened, because a lot of being a designer has to do with trust–and when the Queen says that you’re good enough to wear, everyone else trusts you. That’s the really major thing that came out of that. People trusted me with whatever I was creating for them. It was such a blessing.
FAME: How big is your team today?
Bliss: We’re hiring right now, so we’re growing! I have a few people who work for me. Most of the people who work for me are entrepreneurs themselves. I believe in entrepreneurism wholeheartedly. Everyone owns their own company that works with us, even if they’re a one-person business, like the graphic designers or the gem setters. It’s all separate companies. In house, we only have a couple people.
FAME: You create a lot of custom engagement and wedding rings. How would you describe the Bliss Lau bride?
Bliss: There are a few different types of people who come to me. I would say there’s one type of bride who never thought about a ring and wants it to disappear on her had. She wants the most simple thing possible, but she wants cool design.
I would say the overarching truth of all of my clients is that they care about the fact that I operate on a mindful luxury scale. The thought that goes into everything, the origin of everything from the metal, to the gemstone, to the manufacturing and all of the ethical boundaries we follow–that’s the most important thing to our girl.
Our girl is sort of this woman who is fearless, and she’s freely dominant–which I think is fun–she’s strong. Sometimes she’s decisive, sometimes she indecisive, but she really knows her taste.
FAME: What’s that design process like for your custom pieces?
Bliss: I get to know people . Sometimes I don’t get to meet the person I’m designing for, sometimes there’s a big secret happening and the guy will see that she’s following me on social and stalk the social and say, “She liked this picture!” and I have to kind of make a guess. But I do have a questionnaire that I ask, and there are a lot of questions on there. Tell me your story, What made you fall in love… So I get as much information from the person’s partner, and they paint the picture for me. From there I choose a stone–the first thing has to be a stone, because that’s a question of color, preference, and shape. From there, I design a variety of options for them. If I get to meet the person who’s receiving that ring, we meet multiple times. We get to know each other. It’s really fun, I’ll sketch with them sitting there with me, and they’ll say, “Yes, no, yes, no.” It’s very personal.
FAME: How would you describe your personal style?
Bliss: I don’t know… Unconventional. I always seem to like the thing that the designer of the collection is like, “Oh, we only made one of that because it didn’t go into production.” I always seem to like things that are obscure and extremely unique. Mostly black. I always get it in black! I bought a pair of white pants recently–they’re leather though.
I get most of my clothes custom-made and have for many, many years because I’m friends with designers. A friend of mine in Milan knows my measurements, and he’ll show me his collection and we’ll sit together and I’ll customize the pieces. I customize my clothes when the collections come out, then I order them six months ahead of time. I’ve already ordered all my clothes for fall! And hats. I have tons of hats.
FAME: Best style advice?
Bliss: What you wear is a conversation you’re having with the world. What do you want to say?
FAME: Best business advice?
Bliss: I think it’s just about being true to yourself. The biggest mistakes I ever made where when I listened to people who told me what I was supposed to think.
FAME: What piece of jewelry should every woman have in her closet?
Bliss: An heirloom. And even if you created your own heirloom, it would be something you’d expect to keep forever and pass on. That’s what jewelry is.
FAME: Do you have a power outfit to feel good on a big day?
Bliss: I do–but It changes on a monthly basis. I’m a fashion person at heart–there’s never going to be one thing that always works!
Shop Bliss Lau’s jewelry here.