Sophia Hu

BEST IN SHOW – “Origami—Window with a View Collection”

S. Hu image.jpg

Sophia Hu’s Best in Show collection of jewelry pieces, one of the Jewelry Collection - Fashion/Bridge entries, richly deserves this honor. The line is cohesive, consistent, innovative and just plain beautiful to look at. Clearly her background in architecture and interior design are a huge plus when designing around the body. Sophia gets it; she understands all the elements that are required to produce a collection that not only wears well but also visually looks great.

About the winning collection:

What materials did you use in the winning collection?
Oxidized sterling silver and 23K gold.

 What processes did you use?
These designs are “folded” from sterling silver sheet to create different angled surfaces that are not only geometrically beautiful but also structurally sound. Added dimension is also achieved by keum-boo applied gold. Each piece of gold is applied and burnished by hand to obtain its own character and uniqueness. Its hand drilled/pierced perforations allow light, shadow and reflection to dance together to add life to the design, especially when these designs are moving with human bodies.

What was the inspiration for the piece?
I’m always fascinated by origami. Seeing a piece of paper folded into a flying bird, a blooming flower, or even a sailing boat, it’s like a magic to me. So I challenge myself to make this magic happen in metal. I think my architecture design background helps me a lot to achieve this goal. It helps me to think three dimensionally with confidence to play with volume and geometry.

How long did it take to make?
I’ve been working on this collection for over three years. The winning collection has 20 pieces. I think I made well over 65 pieces in this collection. I keep making improvements, replacing one piece with new better designs. This is an everlasting process; I still have so many ideas. I’ll keep working on this collection for sure.

What did you learn from the collection?
So many things, the long journey to design this collection almost covered all of my career as a jewelry designer. Not only did I tackle many technique challenges, but it also helped me to understand what it takes to develop a successful collection.

Now when I look back to see how my Window with a View collection got its shape, I think the experience and knowledge from my architecture practice played an important role. An interesting analogy between jewelry design and architecture design helps to explain this. Architecture design normally starts from a master plan—identify the main structure and its relationships with other buildings, landscape, traffic patterns, etc. This whole master plan will provide visitors an overall experience of the whole design. So when we design a jewelry collection, we need to carefully plan ahead, identify what’s the focal or highlight, what’s the structure, scale and proportion in order to achieve well-balanced relationships between each design.

I believe good collection design needs to have depths and layers. Not only the whole collection conveys a strong image/message, so does each individual design. When customers look at each piece, holding it in their hands, looking from different angles, there’s always a surprise, a new discovery for them.

Are you going to sell the pieces?
Yes, I’ve been selling this collection in several craft shows and also on some online platforms. This experience helped me to make improvements to this collection very effectively. I got first-hand feedback from real customers. I observed their reactions when they’re trying them on. I try to figure out what works and what doesn’t work. I ask myself questions, like why they like this design, but not that one? What stops them from placing an order? Is it because of price, or comfort, or color, or size or weight? To hear the first-hand feedback is a very effective way to improve my collection.

Does it reflect your current look/designs/brand?
Yes, this collection perfectly reflects my brand’s image. Three words to describe my collection:

  • Confidence –  I design for those with confidence to show their differences to the world.
  • Sophistication – My design has depths and layers in order to display good taste and wisdom.
  • Strength – Individual elements in my design are not rigid, but when they connect with each other in a special way, they become a strong structure.

What do you like most about the collection?
I’ve been working on this collection for so long, I’m kind of attached to it. It’s like an old friend of mine. I think we are actually growing together.

About the Artist:

Where do you live?
Las Vegas, Nevada.

Did you study jewelry?
No. I did my undergraduate work at Beijing Jiaotong University. I also have a master’s degree in architecture from Texas Tech University.

How did you learn to make jewelry?
At the very beginning, I just wanted to make jewelry for myself since it’s very difficult for me to find jewelry I really like to wear. So I took a basic jewelry night class at a local creative center. After that I’m pretty much self-taught, which means I learn by mistakes. I just finished a stone-setting class with Phil Scott at Rio Grande. I’ve learned so many tricks and advanced techniques in just one week. Otherwise I think this will take me years if I try to figure out everything by myself.

When did you discover you loved making jewelry?
It wasn’t until I was in my early 40s, a rather late discovery. It made me decide to switch my career after 15 years practicing architecture design. Quite a few people are very skeptical with my choice, but fortunately I have my husband who supported me from the very beginning.

Do any of your other passions influence your work?
Painting with watercolor and markers. I’ve done hundreds of architectural renderings before. One of my goals this year is to start to do some jewelry renderings/sketches. I think this not only will help me in my jewelry design, it will also help me to convey my design ideas/intentions to viewers and my collectors.

When are you most creative?
I think my creativity just kind of jumps impulsively. Some very creative ideas even come while I’m driving. So my husband says that I’m the most dangerous driver in the U.S.

What is your company’s name?
6SHADOWS. It is a name based on my husband’s and my architectural firm. When we started out, we would often work late into the night, and our neighbors would joke that they saw two shadows in the window, so we named the firm “2Shadows.” When I started my jewelry studio, I just added my lucky number, ‘6,’ to ‘shadows’ and “6Shadows Art Jewelry” was born.

What do you sell? What services do you offer?
Currently I have two lines of jewelry. Metal and fiber.

How do you get the word out about your work?
I really need to improve in this field. Most of my time is working on my collections, so I need to dedicate some time in marketing and social media.

What is your favorite material to work with?
I don’t want to limit myself to certain materials. I believe good designs always use material to their best advantage. I’m excited to discover the unexpected characteristics of some common materials in jewelry designs.

What is your differentiator from other designers?
Definitely my architecture background. Over 15 years of experience in architecture and interior design has set me apart.

Are you influenced by trends? If so what is one trend you relate to?
I used to think I am not influenced by trends, but actually I am. I love fashion so much. I tirelessly browse through fashion magazines, seeing videos of fashion shows. I think I also draw a lot of inspiration from fashion design. I just saw a TV series called “The Collection.” It is very interesting how fashion is coming in to life.

What is the one thing you most love about your studio?
It’s a private space in my home. I think of it as my secret garden.

What is your favorite tool?
I love so many tools; I really can’t live without them. But I think now my favorite tool is my mind. I’m a very “handy” woman. I can’t wait for even a second to get my hands on a project before thinking all the details through. Quite often I hear a voice in my mind telling me to stop. So how to start a jewelry design is no problem for me; it’s instinctive. Knowing where and how to stop is very critical to me.

One word of advice you received when starting to make jewelry/run a business?
From my husband at the beginning of my jewelry career: Don’t let money or profits influence you too much or you’ll never have a chance to become a good jewelry designer.

What one word of advice would you give beginning designers?
Just be honest to yourself. It’s not easy unless you truly love it.

What work inspires you?
I like to look at some fashion designers’ collections; they inspire me a lot, like Alexander McQueen, Comme Des Garcons, Yohji Yamamoto.

What achievement in your jewelry life are you most proud?
Definitely the Best of Show award this year. It’s such a highlight in my life, a milestone in my career.

About the Saul Bell Design Award:

What did you feel when you found out you were a winner?
I was really shocked, not because I’m not confident in my collection, but because in my mind, the Best of Show winner normally will have fancy shapes, eye catching color gemstones, gold/platinum, diamonds or use high-tech equipment. So when I heard that I’m the Best of Show winner, I really appreciated the two rounds of judges in the competition, since they have the eyes and tastes to see deeper, to identify and appreciate all the design efforts I put into each design in this collection.

I read the article about the final judging. It’s so interesting to see each judge’s different approach. The finalists are worn on real models. I believe my collection comes to life when it’s moving with the human body. The flexible connections will lay naturally, the hollow, lightweight structure is very comfortable, and the different angles of surfaces reflect light as they’re moving with the wearer.

What made you decide to enter the competition?
Last year I won second place in the Alternative Materials category, but because of my husband’s schedule, he couldn’t go with me to the awards ceremony. I really regretted it. So this year, I decided to enter again and hoped I’d be lucky to win again. Now I’m the Best of Show winner. I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to let my husband share the exciting moment with me at the awards ceremony.

Interview by Marlene Richey