By Olivia Wolf
AsAmNews Staff Writer
Hollywood jewelry designer Peggy Li never dreamed that one of her DIY hobbies would grow into a full blown career. Based in San Francisco, her work has now been featured in TV shows, films, and fashion magazines.
Growing up, Li’s parents, both scientists from Taiwan who moved to the United States to pursue graduate school, encouraged her to follow a more financially stable career path.
“As a kid, my parents wanted me to play the piano and attend summer school, but I always wanted to learn how to cook, make potpourri, and paint. I was in my teens when I first started making jewelry,” Li told AsAmNews.
When Li was accepted to UC Berkeley as a chemical engineering major, it seemed that she would likely follow in her parents’ footsteps.
However, during her chemistry and biology lectures, Li found herself covertly writing science fiction stories and screenplays for The X-Files. She was also inspired by the street artists on Telegraph Avenue to continue her jewelry making as a side hobby.
“At first my parents were very much like ‘you’re going to be homeless on the streets, please don’t do that,’” Li laughed. “But ultimately they came around and supported me.”
After graduating from Berkeley, Li made the move to Los Angeles, where she worked as a pop culture writer for Channel One News.
“I loved TV and film and was trying to make it in LA as a starving artist” recalled Li. “At that time, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was really big, and I just loved the fashion on the show.”
Li landed an interview with the show’s costume designer, who just so happened to be from Li’s hometown. Needless to say, the two hit it off.
Afterwards, Li dropped a few jewelry samples into the designer’s mailbox, and a few weeks later a journalist from USA Today called to ask where customers could buy her products, which would be featured on the next season of Buffy.
“I told the journalist to look at my website,” said Li. “Then, I literally hung up the phone, turned to my friend and was like, ‘I need to build a website right now.’”
From there, Li’s jewelry was featured on Pretty Little Liars, Riverdale, and Superbad to name a few examples. Her designs also made appearances in magazines such as Oprah, Lucky, and Sports Illustrated.
As costume designers moved from project to project, they took Li and her jewelry along with them. To reach more clients, Li sent out samples of her work. The designers kept what they liked and sent back what they didn’t. Others reached out to Li with character profiles and asked her to design pieces that matched their characters’ personal styles.
For an episode of Pretty Little Liars, Li created a small, delicate earring that served as a key clue in the show’s storyline.
Li describes her current collection as simple and feminine with a modern twist. Her biggest influence at the moment is Matisse and his use of shapes and cutouts, which she mimics with wire and metal. However, she says her style is constantly evolving.
“When I started, I was actually making large, chunky pieces. It’s fun to play around with different materials. I don’t limit myself to a particular look.”
Li’s background in science also influences the way she thinks about designing jewelry. “I like to understand what it means to solder metal, why one stone is one color versus another. I have a love of natural materials and find joy in manipulating them into something beautiful.”
Li’s eclectic style has been worn by both male and female actors. While jewelry is predominantly worn by female characters, Li has also been commissioned to craft two pieces for male characters: a Star of David pendant for Detroit and a replication of Prince’s belt for Empire.
However, Li admits that her jewelry is rarely featured on people of color. Because of her interest in supporting other Asian American artists, she’s reached out to actresses like Jessica Lu on Reverie to try and change that.
On the website for Peggy Li Creations, customers can sort through jewelry pieces based on where they were featured.
“Shows with younger audiences like Arrow and Vampire Diaries have awesome fanbases,” said Li. “They’ll get every piece worn on every character, even if it’s only been on the screen for a few seconds.”
Li’s favorite character to design for so far has been Felicity Smoke on Arrow. “She’s this nerdy professional who wants to start her own business. She’s also the main love interest. Because she’s such a multidimensional character, both edgy and feminine, I can have a lot of fun with her.”
In terms of dream clients, Li would love to have the opportunity to collaborate with costume designers on The Bold Type, a new comedy-drama about three young women working in New York publishing.
“There are a lot of cool up and coming young actresses on there,” said Li. “I’m keeping my fingers crossed!”
Li says she’d encourage anyone who has an artistic dream to cultivate it. “You don’t have to start big. Not trying at all is obviously the one thing not to do. You never know where a few small steps will eventually take you.”
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