Ingrid Chen’s warmth sparkles beautifully just as her jewelry does. The East Bay native and owner of Viv & Ingrid welcomed me to her Berkeley store at historic Oxford Hall, which hugs the Cal campus on Oxford Street. As if spending a lot of time poring (and re poring) over stunning pieces from hoop earrings to necklaces wasn’t enough, she then asked me to tea. We had a great time on Shattuck Avenue talking about her East Bay roots, what it is like running her own business, and how her background in science led her to become a designer and entrepreneur. Here is what I learned:
24 East: You have an undergraduate background in science and a master’s in design. When did you decide to switch paths?
Ingrid Chen: After graduating from Cal, I interned at the government lab, Lawrence Livermore Lab. A year into my internship, I had to give a talk and realized that I enjoyed creating my presentation board much more than the actual research itself! My supervisor pulled me aside and asked me what I really wanted to do with my life. I told him I had often thought about design. Surprisingly, he told me go to art school and if it didn’t work out, he said: “Come back and I’ll give you a job.” So, I left for art school [Academy of Art University] and never looked back!
24E: What is your design philosophy?
IG: The Academy of Art faculty was an amazing group of teachers who had worked with designers such as Calvin Klein, Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen. As a student, I was inspired by every precise stitch, proportion and color at the designer and couture level. But even the simplest couture piece can begin at $10K per garment!
My creative focus has been to distill the beauty of luxury craftsmanship into designs that can be enjoyed everyday.
24E: What do you want people to feel when they walk into your store?
24E: You mentioned that when designing your store, you wanted it to feel like a library. Why was that important and how can we find that color blue?
IG: I’ve always been fascinated by architecture and interior design. I love how a space can be designed to inspire community (like the Piazza Del Campo in Siena) or how color can inspire feelings of hope or joy (like the stained glass windows of Notre Dame).
Oxford Hall is a historic building and my space has high ceilings with a built-in arched wall. When I found a Tim Walker image of a stunning model draped in this ethereal blue, I wanted to capture the serenity and grandeur in the photo. My fiancé is a contractor by profession and he’s worked with a lot of interior designers on high-end homes. So, we took my Tim Walker book to his color guru, who helped us pick the famous “Oxford Hall blue” in the shop.
24E: Tell me how your design style has evolved, and what are quintessential Viv & Ingrid pieces?
IG: When I started the company, we were designing jewelry, bags, scarves, belts and even tee shirts! Everything was made by hand in gemstones, cotton, silk, leather, precious silver and 14k gold and gold-filled. The quintessential Viv & Ingrid pieces are mainly jewelry, still made in the original materials and made by the same local artists who have worked with me for years!
24E: I am coveting your Pearl Knot earrings! What was the inspiration behind the design?
IG: The Pearl Knot earrings are one of my favorites! Freshwater pearls and precious metal beads are handwoven together to create a pattern inspired by a vintage Art Deco post earring.
24E: What do you love about being a business owner in Berkeley, and what is challenging?
I love having my shop in Downtown Berkeley- the diversity, the energy of fellow entrepreneurs and students, and the fact that you can run around town in your pajamas and nobody really cares!
The most challenging part about doing business in Berkeley is still the parking. It has improved a bit but is still quite tough for both employees and customers alike.
24E: Where are your favorite East Bay places to go?
IG: On a free day, my favorite go to places are Solano Ave and 4th Street. If I’m running or walking, I love the Lafayette Reservoir and any of the marinas (Emeryville, Berkeley, Richmond).
24E: What surprises people about you?
IG: I think most people are surprised when they discover I’m a total introvert.
The business has been featured in top fashion magazines, Hollywood films, a Visa national TV commercial and the Today Show, so my brand is much more vocal than I am!
To learn more about Viv & Ingrid, go here
Photography by Anya Ku