Elena Chien is a jewelry designer in Los Angeles. Taught at an early age to navigate the bustling marketplace by her Chinese grandfather, Elena is a collector and a treasure hunter. Traveling to markets around the world, she has accumulated beautiful collections of textiles, beads, talismans, and artifacts. These are both the inspiration and the materials for her jewelry line, See Real Flowers.
What is your background and how have your past experiences fed into your art?
Creatively, my greatest motivators have been curiosity and narrative. Before See Real Flowers, I worked as a photographer, studying documentary photography and traveling to record different cultures and ways of living. Photography really taught me to examine the physical world – light, texture, form – and it taught me to ask questions. How do I tell this story? Why is this important to me, and to other people? I try to apply these practices to my jewelry business. I think a lot of about how things are made, where materials come from, and the environmental and social impact of production. Travel also continues to be an integral part of my process. It’s how I gather most of my materials and inspiration, and it helps me to better understand the human relationship with jewelry and objects across different cultures.
Do you feel that your environment feeds into work and if so, what makes your work distinctively Californian?
Growing up in Southern California, I was always goofing around outside, hiking, climbing trees, tidepooling – all the while collecting little objects. A sea stone full of holes, a blue jay feather, baby clam shells, a dried seed pod. This appreciation for nature fed my interest in design. Looking at a single leaf on a tree, I can’t help but think, “how can I ever create anything as beautiful and perfect as this?”
What are your top 3 studio essentials?
Natural light, coffee, and nimble fingers.