Looking Back on the Legacy of Alex Woo

EditorsApr 12, 2021

Looking Back on the Legacy of Alex Woo

Editor-in-Chief Michelle Graff shares memories of the designer, who died of cancer late last month at 47.

Alex Woo, an innovative jewelry designer and savvy businesswoman, died of cancer late last month. She was just 47 years old.
I was off work on Friday, April 2 and disconnected for the day, so I didn’t get the news until late that evening, when a colleague texted me to say her heart was broken over the news about Alex Woo.

Mine is too.

The talented designer and savvy businesswoman, 47, died of cancer March 30 at her home in New York City.

A private memorial service was held April 2—the same day her company announced their founder’s passing via social media—at the beautiful Siesta Key Beach in Sarasota, Florida.

Alex was awesome.

She was, good friend Lynette Brubaker remembered with me last week, the perfect “left brain-right brain,” a rare find in the field of jewelry design, or any field really—someone who can be creative but also balance the books.   

Alex’s sculptural, three-dimensional charms have a distinctive look and feel, fulfilling a tenet of good design continually preached by another woman we lost too soon, Cindy Edelstein. 

Alex certainly did not invent initial jewelry, but she carved her own place in the field, particularly with the launch of her iconic, trademarked “Little Icons” collection.  

“Her take on personalization,” Lynette said, “was very new.” 

“She made charms sophisticated, in my opinion. This was not your mother’s charm necklace or charm bracelet.”

“Alex Woo was one of the smartest people I knew in the industry. Over the years, she worked strategically to take her company to another level. Every major department store and luxury retailer carried Alex Woo. Her design aesthetic was strong and she created a niche in the market … She [also] was a kind soul who was always willing to help with a smile. The industry has experienced a huge loss, but her work will always live on through her classic designs.” — Jay Lakhani, Deepa Gurnani   

While the sculptural look of the charms set them apart, it was the savvy placements engineered by Alex that helped put them on the map, observed Lynette, who was publisher of InStyle magazine when the pair first met in the early aughts.

Alex Woo jewelry was all over the uber-popular series “Gossip Girl,” which aired on the CW from 2007 to 2012 (“Will Gossip Girl fuel a must-have necklace craze?” this very publication asked back in 2010), and on another CW show, “The Carrie Diaries.”

Airing for two seasons in 2013 and 2014, the latter followed the misadventures of a young Carrie Bradshaw, played by AnnaSophia Robb. Having the lead actress wear an Alex Woo “C” was a smart way to reach a younger audience, especially given the trend-setting precedent set by “Diaries” adult forerunner, “Sex and the City.” 

Then there were the collaborations.

Alex was onto the idea of seeking out partners to help expand her reach before “collabs” became ubiquitous, before every other collection was “Somebody x Somebody.”

Knowing there were female sports fans out there who were looking for ways to show support for their favorite team, she partnered with Major League Baseball to design charms for all 30 teams.

She made charms for numerous Disney movies, and when it came time to soften up her line with the addition of the cursive “Autograph” collection, she teamed up with high-end nail polish brand Smith & Cult.

And it was another collaboration that brought me to Alex’s New York City showroom in June 2019, the last time I sat down for an extended interview with her.

Alex Woo (fourth from left) is pictured among friends at the 2019 Gem Awards. JA’s Amanda Gizzi remembered of Woo: “I knew I would see her at the industry’s events. She went to support the events and to connect with her friends. For GEM Awards, I knew, she was there to support me; that’s who she was. The industry lost one of our brightest souls and talents. I will miss her dearly.” (Photo credit: Bart Gorin)
Alex Woo (fourth from left) is pictured among friends at the 2019 Gem Awards. JA’s Amanda Gizzi remembered of Woo: “I knew I would see her at the industry’s events. She went to support the events and to connect with her friends. For GEM Awards, I knew, she was there to support me; that’s who she was. The industry lost one of our brightest souls and talents. I will miss her dearly.” (Photo credit: Bart Gorin)

National Jeweler Associate Editor Lenore Fedow and I went together, heading uptown ostensibly to spend an hour or so with Alex talking about her deal with Sugarfina.

We ended up staying most of the day because I just enjoyed chatting with Alex, which doesn’t happen every time I do an interview, trust me.

She was smart and engaging, and I felt like I left her studio with a refreshed perspective on the industry, and several story ideas. 

We talked about everything—retail distribution, trade shows, the intrinsic value of jewelry, how she picked her collaboration partners.

She looked for brands with a solid base of sophisticated clients who appreciate quality (all of Alex’s jewelry was top-notch, and all of it was made in New York City).

She also said she gravitated toward women-owned, or co-owned, brands because she liked working with other female entrepreneurs.

“It’s heartwarming,” Alex told me, “to see how much we can, and want, to help each other.”

She cut a path for other female business owners and, as Greenwich St. Jewelers co-owner Jennifer Gandia noted in her touching tribute to Alex shared on Facebook, for BIPOC designers and entrepreneurs as well. 

“[Alex] was a wonderful colleague and friend. We are both mothers of boys and shared stories about our sons and juggling work/home life. She was very busy, but often reached out to invite me to dinner or a coffee. I will remember her warm smile, her enthusiasm for projects such as Disney or the MLB items and, importantly, her commitment to charity. I will miss Alex dearly.”— Karen Giberson, Accessories Council 

The last time I saw Alex was at the 2020 Gem Awards, which took place in January of last year. It was the next-to-last industry event I attended before the shutdown. 

When I think of Alex being gone, the same few thoughts cycle through my mind. 

I wish I would have reached out more over the years—had more coffees, more lunches, more phone conversations, eschewed my overpacked schedule to connect. At the end, those will be the things worth remembering, not the day you finally cleared your inbox or checked off everything on your to-do list.    

I wish I had one more chance to hang out with Alex at her showroom and talk. 

And I wish I would have known that the last time I saw her would be the last time. 

These are the same thoughts I remember having after Cindy Edelstein died and, yet, it seems like I never learn.

Because here I am again, five years later, saying an unexpected goodbye to another kind friend with the same regrets.  

Rest in peace, Alex. You will forever be missed. 
Michelle Graffis the editor-in-chief at National Jeweler, directing the publication’s coverage both online and in print.

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