What's new, trendy or just plain cool

Tuesday, September 29, 1998

Photos courtesy of Chiu Leong
Asia Leong, inset, and a necklace she designed
as part of her Spring '99 collection.

Below, most of Leong's designs are organic in shape,
representing the fluidity of the ocean.

Jewelry as art wares
well for upscale

Like any kid, Asia Leong grew up wanting to be different from mom and dad. It didn't matter that her mom and dad -- dancer/choreographer/videographer Eva Lee and ceramist/photographer Chiu Leong -- were a little cooler than most 'rents.

"Art was a big part of my everyday life. It was never forced. It was all about freedom and development," Asia Leong, 26, said. "I grew up with the clay, helping my father in his studio, and dancing with Eva. I was quite involved with dance, mostly ballet, until I was 15.

"Then I rebelled against ceramics and dance for whatever childish, immature reason. I had a clear vision of doing something creative, but I wanted to find my own path with the gifts they had given me."

That path turned out to be jewelry design. And now, after spending five years establishing her niche in New York and Paris, Asia Leong's designs have come home, most spectacularly in the showcases of Neiman-Marcus alongside such industry names as Gerard Yosca and Erickson Beamon.

Her Spring '99 designs -- priced from $60 to about $200 -- sold quickly. After a week of sales, the store has only a few pairs of earrings in stock.

Although her jewelry had been carried by small boutiques, such as Nuage Blue in Maui, Leong said she had trouble convincing bigger retailers to carry her work.


Even so, she didn't want to give up on the Hawaii market. "It was important for my work to come home as the completion of a circle," Leong said, "It's bringing my current world together with the world of my childhood, my foundation."

Not that Leong has ever strayed far from her roots. Although her pieces are as sleek and sophisticated as a skyscraper, they also possess a quiet strength and serenity born of the artist's upbringing in Volcano on the Big Island, another force that shaped her design aesthetic.

"The shapes are organic, natural," she said. "They have the feel of the ocean. There's also a bit of romanticism. It's all about Hawaii."

In some pendants and earrings, silver disks are made to curve around a metallic bead, like the nacre-lined shell of an oyster embracing a lustrous pearl. Dangling earrings are reminiscent of shimmering waterfalls.

Leong comes home at least once a year to recharge, and when she does, she said it's easy to shift from big city to local mode.

"When I'm back home, boom! I'm with the slippers, the rain and the cats. When I'm back in Paris I'm back in city attire, tons of black, tons of gray.

"I'm lucky now because slippers are very fashionable in France. When I was creating my last show I wore slippers all the time and everybody loved them!"

The designer is humble enough to admit she could use a little help with her wardrobe from time to time.

Leong leaves her parents' home in Volcano tomorrow for autumn and winter in New York with just a bit of dread. "I'm still a terrible winter dresser," she said.

By Nadine Kam, Features Editor


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