Eclectic. Hip. Vibrant. Cutting edge. Boho-chic. These are all adjectives–or invectives, depending on your POV–used to describe Valencia Street in San Francisco’s Mission District. Some of our favorite places around call the area home: Accessories/homewares/art emporiums Gravel and Gold, Accident and Artifact, and Gypsy Honeymoon, cult denim store Self Edge, local designers Dema and Weston Wear, not to mention some of our favorite restaurants.
Just when we thought that we couldn’t possibly need another store, bar or vintage shop to moon over on Valencia Street, we were proven wrong. We couldn’t have known how incomplete our Saturday strolls were before Love & Luxe brought such delicious jewelry for us to ogle.
Love & Luxe is the brainchild–perhaps we should call it love child–of talented jewelry designer and maker Betsy Barron. Her work’s lusciously edgy but organically-inspired; it gives a nod to delicacy but has the heft and substance it needs to transmit the confidence of the woman who wears it. Gorgeous. (And it’s all designed and made in the studio, just behind the store.)
But the store’s not just about Betsy’s work: she also showcases the work of other jewelry makers whose work she admires: wearable boundary pushers from Ashley Buchanan, luxe-goth (and extremely beautiful) works by Heidi Nahser Fink, sleek sophistication by Elisa Bongfeldt, graceful delectables from Tessa Kemp, and Maya Kini and cool, cool belts by Samantha Grisdale. As she shows you around, you sense her really genuine–and generous–enthusiasm for the work, and that enthusiasm’s pretty damned infectious.
Betsy’s also a genius stylist. She’s filled the store with finds you just know she’s been collecting forever: a little vintage industrial (including a genius light box), a smattering of some really cool “what on earth is that?” ephemera (turns out it’s jewelry making tools and forms) and thoughtful sculptures (catch the over-sized gem in the window) custom-designed for the store.
But it’s not just style, it’s narrative. She’s resisted the temptation to turn jewelry into museum pieces or precious “look but don’t touch” baubles. Her styling brings the jewelry down to earth, connecting it to the idea of work and craftsmanship, and making it all feel like a part of every day life.
In Betsy’s hands, the jewelry at Love & Luxe transcends accessory status to become essential. Which is as it should be, of course.
Oh, and if this wife and mother weren’t busy enough, she’s also started an extremely cool online store, HoopThing, which sells, of all things, hoops.
Part of what makes this store feel so good is that it feels very personal. And it feels like you had a great time creating it. Yes. This store is me. But it’s about my friends, too. My friends have been a big part of creating it, and I count many of the people whose work I show as friends, too. In many ways, this store really is about love. (Awww….but you do feel it. And in a very good way.)
And how’s it been? Everything’s been better than I thought…customers understand what we’re doing here without long explanations. They understand that the jewelry is art…in the way a tattoo is art. (Love that.)
You’re a perfectly successful jewelry designer and maker. Why’d you open a store? Having a store allows me to bring my vision full circle. I believe the work is living: it involves people, it involves being worn. But a studio is solitary. With the store, you see your work go out into the world, see reactions to it, and see what it means to people. It is so incredibly rewarding.
It must be fascinating–maybe a little terrifying–to see people’s reactions to your work. When I first started selling at trunk shows, my customers weren’t quite who or what I thought they’d be. And they’d wear things completely differently than I’d anticipated. How so? Oh, maybe customers wearing 10 necklaces at once. That kind of thing. (Interesting. But lucrative.)
We’ve talked about your store, but what is your work about? You know, it’s up to the wearer: every piece has personal meaning to them. For me, it’s not about making big statement pieces. It’s about making work that can be worn.
But in terms of the aesthetic, it’s is definitely rooted in classical lines but it has natural forms. And I’ve always been drawn to mixes: I think what started it all was a big jewelry box that my grandmother had. It wasn’t fine, precious stuff: just a big mixture. It’s funny: even now, when I see a mixture, it sparks something in my brain. What inspires me is the refinement of the mix and the contradictions.
How’s your style evolved? When I started, it was all industrial. When I moved out here, I couldn’t help but be inspired by the weird seed pods on the ground at the beach, things like that: my work’s definitely become more organic that way.
How’d you get your start? Was jewelry always your thing? I made jewelry when I was in high school (in St. Louis, Mo). I would work with found objects, anything from other jewelry to toys, and even clay and porcelain.
Then? I went to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and I learned about working with metal. After RISD I came to California. Had you been out here before? Well I had only been out here once, but I was just following my inner compass, which is pretty strong. What was it about California? I can breathe out here.
And did your inner compass tell you to start your own business? No, I worked for an established jewelry designer (Sandra Enterline), but then started my own business and haven’t looked back. I had a lot of early success, like getting into Barney’s, which was great. (Niiice.)
How much do trends come into what you design and make? I make pretty timeless work, and don’t design for trends, don’t design for seasons. People wear jewelry for love, not seasons. I was always a little bit against the grain that way!
How have you evolved the way you work over your career? I’ve actually changed the way I worked to be more local…for me now, it’s about relationships. It’s the old world sensibility…that’s the way it all started.
And I think it’s what people want. Knowing the person who makes your work really makes that work more special…and it’s important for customers when it comes to things like engagement rings…or anything that’s part of your personal style signifier. (We couldn’t agree more.)
What is the craziest thing that’s inspired you? I just remember watching some video with my friends and I designed an entire collection after watching it! What video? Oh…I can’t remember the name of the video! It was the Truth Collection. There were lots of graphics in the collection. Some profits would be donated to the homeless, and it was going to change the world! What was the work like? They were big metal pendants cast in white metal…..graphic and flat. Some were chrome-plated at an auto body shop. They were nutty, and they sold great. Temporary insanity, but it was fun.
Who would play you in the story of your life? It would be an animated movie voiced by Maggie Gyllenhaal. (Someone’s been prepping for this question.)
What genre of story? The arc of life. From punk to finding my way.
Oh wait, how does punk figure in? (Betsy has none of the outward trappings of punk…) Oh punk’s a rebel art, it’s about a yearning for freedom, and I felt that way when I was young. You know, you feel like you don’t fit in, that what you’re surrounded by doesn’t fit your sensibilities. But then surprise…you learn you’re not the only one, and things start to change. Growing up in St Louis we would all somehow find each other, and we rebelled against the values we didn’t have. It never leaves you, that rebel spirit. (Ah, excellent.)
So what do you listen to as you work? Everything.
And do you have a philosophy for life, for business? I only work with nice people. There’s no room for drama. We don’t have time for drama. (Amen, sister.)
First thing reached for in the morning? To turn off the alarm clock. I love to sleep. I take a hot shower instead of coffee.
And, five things that define you….Well, I always have in my purse with me: a Sharpie, a mechanical pencil with a great eraser, a spiral bound notebook, and sunglasses. And of course, family defines me.
As does taste, talent, and boundless generosity.