15 Questions with Zoe Chicco, Fine Jewelry Designer
From delicate pieces that exude femininity, to modern designs that can be worn both alone or beautifully layered, Zoe Chicco’s jewelry line is everything you could want in your accessories. Chicco had a knack for jewelry designing from a young age, while in college, she studied metal smithing and later went on to do several apprenticeships with well-established jewelry designers around the nation. In 2000, Chicco took the plunge into design, creating her own line which built on her signature style with the use of 14k gold, diamonds, and semi-precious stones-- so it’s no wonder it quickly gained a celebrity colt following. Much of her line is designed with particular muses in mind, and includes influences from friends, artwork, and fashion in her collections. Read on as Chicco shed’s some light on her career as a jewelry designer and gives us her best advice for Making it in Manhattan.
1. When did you first realize you wanted to pursue a career as a jewelry designer?
I was an art major in college with a concentration in metalsmithing, so jewelry was really the only career I ever wanted to pursue. I was lucky to have such a clear vision so early on and was able to start working towards my dream job right out of school.
2. Where and when was your first internship?
While I was still in college, I met a goldsmith whose work I thought was really beautiful and unique and spoke with him about a possible internship or job after I finished school. We stayed in touch and sure enough right after I graduated, he offered me a job and I packed up my stuff and headed to Northeast Harbor, ME to work for him as one of his bench jewelers in the gallery that he owns there. It was an amazing opportunity as I was thrown right into the job and learned so much in my time there. I feel really fortunate to have had such an invaluable experience in a such a beautiful, serene setting.
3. What was the most valuable thing you learned from your first internship?
First, I would say how to work quickly and efficiently. In college you could take a whole semester to make just a couple of pieces. It isn’t quite the same situation when you are doing production - you want to do things well, but as quickly as possible. That skill set comes from lots of practice, and I owe mine to that first job and the little things I picked up from the other amazing women who worked there. I also learned how to work in gold, which is very different from silver. If I hadn’t had that experience, I don’t know when I would have gained experience working in gold as I couldn’t afford to practice with it on my own back then. So I am very thankful that I was given the opportunity to experiment with someone else’s!
4. Who have been your biggest mentors in this industry and what is the best advice they have ever given you?
Cindy Edelstein was a huge mentor to me, as she was to so many jewelers. I guess you would say she was a consultant, but she was so much more than that. She founded the Jewelers Resource Bureau which was established to nurture and support fine jewelry designers and help grow their businesses. We met a long time ago and her advice over the years was invaluable to me throughout my career. I remember one time when I was upset because a relatively new designer was making a name for herself with a design that I had been making for years. Cindy knew my collection and that I’d been making the piece for a long time, but she told me it didn’t matter. If I wasn’t known for doing it, I couldn’t own it. She said I needed to let it go, that I couldn’t move forward looking in the rear view mirror so to speak. She taught me how important it is to design with a clear voice and have a specific point of view and then to go out and promote the brand and my vision as best I could. It was tough advice to hear at the time but it is so true and I often have to remind myself or that and just keep on moving forward and making new pieces, because that is what true designers do. I, like so many others in the jewelry industry, was devastated when Cindy passed away earlier this year. But her words will always be with me and helping to push me forward. I was lucky to have known her.
5. What was the first job you landed out of college?
See the above internship answer.
6. What did you wear to your first interview?
It wasn’t really an interview, as I met my first boss at a jewelry tradeshow and that was the only time we met before I started the job. Unfortunately, I don’t recall what I was wearing…it was 20 years ago!
7. If you could go back and tell yourself one thing before beginning your career what would it be?
How important is it to hire good people, getting the right team in place will only help your business grow. By the time I got around to hiring my first employee I was so busy that I didn’t know how I was going to train them because I had so much work I had to get done. It is better to get help in place before you are desperate for it. It is true what they say, ‘you are only as strong as your weakest link’ so choose the people you work with wisely and treat them well – it pays off in the end!
8. What is one thing you look for when interviewing a potential candidate for your company?
We always look for someone who is passionate about the brand and has a good work ethic. We have a couple of interview questions that we always ask that will give us a little insight into both. And then we look for someone who has a personality that we think will work well with the rest of the team. It’s important that they be a team player as everyone has to wear a lot of different hats in a small company and we need people who are flexible and do whatever needs to happen to get things done.
9. How is working in fashion different today from when you first started out?
The two things that stick out are social media and online shopping.
I started my business in the year 2000, before many key social media platforms were created. The way fashion brands engaged with consumers was through a traditional stand point – editors defined trends, and models were on the cover of fashion magazines. Now bloggers are defining trends on their social platforms and magazines are featuring tastemakers. I’m able to stay in touch with editors, stylists, celebrities and connect with customers around the world on social media.
As a result people are able to shop for the things they see on the bloggers, celebrities and brands that they follow and find them online. Gone are the days when you needed to find something available in a store near where you live. Now you can shop for anything you want from the comfort of your home.
10. What role do you think social media plays in fashion today?
Social media plays a huge role in fashion today! Different platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat can really help build brand awareness. It can also break formal barriers between brands and customers. It creates spaces to build personal connections with our followers. Through social media, we’ve been able to connect with customers and tastemakers around the world. It’s pretty amazing!
11. What was your biggest fear when going out and starting your own line?
That no one would buy it! I think fear of failure is probably the biggest concern of any entrepreneur. But if you are passionate about what you are doing and really pour yourself into, chances are you will find a way to move forward and be successful.
12. Where do you go for inspiration when working on a new line?
I am a very visual person, so what I see inspires me – it could be anything - a pattern, a building, a work of art. My last collection was inspired by a ceiling in a Paris apartment where I was showing. I tend to gravitate towards clean lines and classic forms – in my home, personal style and jewelry line. I look to current trends in fashion to inform my designs but don’t rely on them. Instead, I create what I like and what I can see myself or my friends wearing every day. It is always my goal to make my clients go-to pieces that feel current but transcend trends.
13. What is your favorite part about being a designer?
I love what I do. Creating something and being able to share it with people who appreciate it is so fulfilling. I am happiest at work when I can just hole up in my office and design the next collection. But I also love the flexibility that owning your own business allows. I am very lucky that I can make my own hours and get to spend mornings at home with my son, Truman. We waited a long time to have to have him and I knew that when we did I wanted to put my family first, and I feel grateful that I am able to do that.
14. How do you want women to feel when wearing your jewelry?
Every woman should feel special and beautiful in the jewelry that she wears. Jewelry is the thing that you can put on with a t-shirt and jeans and depending on what it is can completely change your look. I strive to create designs that become the staples in your closet. The personal pieces that women want to wear every day, that when they put it on, the instantly feel a little bit better.
15. What advice would you give to young girls who look up to you and want to enter a career in design?
Some words that ring true for me: “Do what matters; forget the rest”. I have been lucky enough to pursue a career doing exactly what I love and following my passion. It requires a TON of hard work, dedication and fortitude but 16+ years later I can truly say I am the happiest I’ve been both creatively and personally. Having your own business, jewelry or otherwise, is not as glamorous as it seems and most of my day is spent answering emails, overseeing my staff and putting out fires so to speak. Each day I make a list of HAVE to-do’s, and anything else can wait. You have to prioritize and delegate to run a company successfully.
Have a question or just want to say hey? Shoot me an email.