In the second instalment of CNA Lifestyle’s Collectors Club series, accessories enthusiast Angie Chen shares the stories behind her jewellery collection, and offer tips on how to start yours.
Angie Chen’s passion for accessories isn’t just a leisure interest, it’s a legacy that she has happily embraced. “My grandma and mum are huge collectors of accessories, and they base their looks on the pieces that they are wearing at the moment,” explained the 32 year-old manager at a communications agency.
She described how her grandmother would even plan her outfit for a trip to the market beforehand around the accessories she had chosen to wear and her mother would do the same for work.
”I loved seeing them get ready to go out. As a child, I could just stare at them while they put things together by mixing and matching contrasting prints and bright colours and somehow make them work,” she said.
Chen’s outfits as a young girl were also accessorised with bonnets, matching socks and hair clips.
This early influence led to her penchant for accessorising. “I believe that accessories are a great way for people to express and style themselves as it’s not particularly size-centric compared to clothing and at the same time, it gives your own style where you can mix and match pieces creating an entirely different look,” she enthused.
Accessories are a great way for people to express and style themselves as it’s not particularly size-centric compared to clothing.
Even on leisurely days, she said she completes a simple outfit with accessorises, “I could just put on a really nice necklace, a pair of earrings from an interesting independent designer, and it would completely change the look. It’s really the finishing touch. The finesse on every outfit.”
A TROVE OF UNIQUE PIECES
Chen started actively collecting accessories right after she finished secondary school. She estimates that she has invested over S$10,000 on the collection and now has over a hundred pieces of jewellery in an assortment of colours, from costume pieces to fine jewellery. Her soft spot? Earrings and rings which make up the bulk of her collection. Interestingly, a pair of earrings she wore at the photoshoot for this series are heirloom diamond earrings that used to belong to her great grandmother.
A treasured piece in her collection is her engagement ring which her husband diligently worked on, sourcing the emerald from Hong Kong, sending it to Switzerland for certification and finally to London to be designed by award-winning jewellery designer, Anabela Chan.
“It’s something that he spent almost a year preparing from the sourcing of the stone to the design details which makes it extremely sentimental and precious to me. He also knows my exacting tastes, so when everyone saw my ring they said it was made for me,” she said.
A recent meaningful addition to her collection is a Baroque pearl necklace that was customised at a pearl supplier in Guangzhou while on holiday with her mother. “She has been my mum’s pearl supplier for many years, and I went to her and said, ‘I want to make something interesting, something that’s different, that’s not like a regular pearl necklace,” she said.
To her delight, the supplier brought out an array of irregularly shaped Baroque pearls with jagged edges and she soon had herself a classic yet unconventional necklace.
She also cherishes the Ann Demeulemeester Bug Brooch which she bought as a 17 year-old with money she earned from part-time work. This purchase was pivotal as this was when she began to actively collect accessories. Moving to London soon after to further her studies helped to expose her to a wide variety of new and vintage fashion and piquing her interest in vintage jewellery.
A favourite vintage piece in Chen’s collection is the 1987 Billy Boy Fraternity Goon necklace which she snagged for £200 (S$335), she described the necklace as a statement vintage piece that can bring out casual looks and also adds quirk to a formal one.
She appreciates vintage pieces because they are often unique and not mass-produced. She explained: “If they’ve lasted 20 years, they’re going to last another 20 years more. There’s longevity in them.” Chen recently spotted the same Billy Boy Fraternity Goon necklace from a reseller. “It was going for US$1,355 (S$1,855)!”
She also has a keen interest in history and geopolitics and enjoys seeing how history and current affairs directly impact fashion trends, “I’ve always loved the glamour and contrast of the 80s and 90s the most, it was a great time with flourishing economies and it showed on the runway,”
SHOPPING WITH INTENTION
Chen believes that collecting accessories is about acquiring pieces that tell a story. “It could be something that was purchased in a far-flung location or any kind of setting that creates an experience that is meaningful and memorable,” she said, adding, “Stories are really important to me because I think that is fundamentally what creates human connection.”
A key factor in deciding whether she should make a purchase is how unique the piece is and she sources her accessories from independent designers, vintage jewellery sellers and even Taobao.
Her approach to shopping is conscious and intentional as she doesn’t believe in being wasteful. Before making a purchase, she asks herself a few important questions. “When I walk into a store, number one is ‘Do I have the intention to buy?’ I don’t really like to browse for the sake of browsing. Number two is ‘Can I afford it?’ And number three, ‘How would it fit into my closet and my lifestyle?’”, she explained and assured that by responding to these questions, shopper’s regret can be avoided.
Has she made mistakes with her collection? “I rarely make mistakes when it comes to design and have kept almost everything since I started collecting. But I would say that after so many years I’d steer clear of obviously branded pieces and also materials that tarnish or wear easily in humidity as I find that these pieces do not have longevity and can look dated,” she said.
To store her collection, Chen keeps the smaller pieces in clear pouches for visibility and to prevent tarnishing, while larger and more fragile pieces are kept in their original boxes. Hats and most hair accessories are kept in hat boxes in her cupboards with charcoal filters.
THE IMPORTANCE OF KNOWING YOUR STYLE
Chen doesn’t believe in taking yourself too seriously when dressing up but shared that when mixing pieces, having a ratio helps. She explained, “For example 4:1, four low-end pieces mixed with one high-end piece creates a good synergy and does not make you look like a walking brand advertisement.”
Contrast is also important, and she suggests pairing something simple or classic with a statement piece or an item that is more outstanding, and vice versa.
She intends to wear her collection for as long as possible because she believes that her style will stay unchanged as it has since she was a youth. “Of course, maybe it’s gotten a bit more classic. I pick things that are maybe not so crazy,” she said but emphasised that her taste in accessories hasn’t changed.
She added, “I think if you have a very singular vision of what your style is, and you’re very decisive about the pieces that you pick, then they will never go out of style because your style shouldn’t go out of style. It’s you.”