August 10, 2022

Mariedelices

Taking The Lead For Fashion Quality

Malu Byrne and Rick Van Streain’s Polished, Yet Casual, Jewelry Line En Studio

On a snowy Monday afternoon at a cafe in Hudson, N.Y., Malu Byrne and Rick Van Streain Low, partners in the jewelry line En Studio, were discussing how they work together. “If we aren’t 100 percent aligned on an idea or material, it’s a cue it’s not quite right and can get better,” said Ms. Byrne, 32.

This is the way it has been since they met at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, where they studied jewelry design. “Our paths had probably crossed so many times,” said Mr. Van Streain Low, 40, who has worked for jewelry lines like Me&Ro and had gone back to school to learn metalsmithing. “We both had a stint living in L.A., in Echo Park, and we went out to lunch,” he said.

(Ms. Byrne’s father is the musician David Byrne, and her mother is the artist, actress and costume designer Adelle Lutz, whose sister is the late model Tina Chow.)

“We started bouncing ideas off each other and doing projects together,” said Ms. Byrne. “We had more fun together, and we liked what we created outside of school. It felt like we were slowly chipping away at something that was true to how we felt, but it took a long time.”

They ended up leaving Pratt before getting degrees. “We are art school dropouts,” Mr. Van Streain Low said with a laugh.

They founded En in the spring of 2019. The “en” is a nod to enso, the Japanese Zen Buddhist practice of circular ink painting. Ms. Byrne is one-quarter Japanese, and her grandmother’s minimal aesthetic is a big influence, as are Bernini and Brancusi.

“I am sure our many trips to the Met are visible in the collection,” Ms. Byrne said, joking.

The line doesn’t quite look like anything else on the market. “I like to think we are in our own lane a little bit,” Mr. Van Streain Low said. “Our line is an exploration of material.” They use colored gold and seek out stones with visible inclusions.

“We like stones with character,” Ms. Byrne said. “Typically the idea is the clearer, the better. But we are looking for the unusual stones that speak to us.”

Their pieces have a lot of bold shapes, such as their silver hairpins with rock quartz ($440) or their Papal earring ($3,200, in hand-carved green jade and 14-karat green gold), but there is also a delicacy reminiscent of the jewelry line Me&Ro, where Mr. Van Streain Low worked at its Elizabeth Street store. (The store has since closed, and now the old Me&Ro counter is in En Studio’s Catskill atelier.) The idea for ear cuffs in lapis ($750) or blue chalcedony ($1,040) came from Ms. Byrne’s mother, who no longer wishes to wear heavy earrings.

Diamonds are often just a sprinkle, as in their constellation ring ($2,200), which has been purchased more than once as an engagement ring, according to the designers. There are stacking rings that come in silver, 14-karat green gold, 14-karat rose gold, 18-karat Venetian brown gold and 22-karat yellow gold that look like a more downtown riff on Cartier.

Ms. Byrne was raised in Manhattan, in Greenwich Village, but moved upstate to Catskill, N.Y. six years ago, where she lives with her partner, Will Squibb, an artist, and their son, Bo, 3.

“My parents would let me run loose on 12th Street putting on shows for people on the street,” she said. “Now raising a kid, I’m like, ‘Oh my god, I can’t imagine picking up cigarette butts.’ Up here it was an adjustment, all the small talk, and everyone wanting to say hi.”

Ms. Byrne has become a bit of an evangelist for life in New York’s Hudson Valley. Her Instagram account serves as advertisement enough, with images of apple orchards, puffy shearling hats and milkweed pods. (“Anyone spin thread from milkweed out there…?” she posted recently.)

“It’s the Brooklyn of upstate,” Mr. Van Streain Low said as they drove across the Hudson River. “Hudson these days is starting to feel like Bridgehampton.”

At their atelier in Catskill, where everything in the collection is made, they pointed out paintings from Mr. Squibb, Ceramics by Julia Chiang and furniture from Vonnegut/Kraft, with whom En has a future collaboration. Saks recently bought 25 styles from En to carry online.

“There is such a beautiful and open community up here,” Mr. Van Streain Low said. “We have friends from so many different disciplines.”

Ms. Byrne nodded. “There is a lot of sharing of resources and collaboration, intimacy and togetherness,” she said. “But we love to go out.”

“That part of the city hasn’t left us,” Mr. Van Streain Low said. “A new restaurant opens, and we are there. We entertain a lot.”

Mr. Van Streain Low stayed in Catskill during the pandemic, and Ms. Byrne convinced him to move up there permanently last year. Her mother also lives in Catskill, and her father is a frequent visitor. They all celebrated Thanksgiving together along with Ms. Byrne’s partner and their son. Mr. Van Streain Low, who grew up in Kalamazoo, Mich., cooked.

There are current jewelry fads the two don’t relate to. “There is a fascination with the zodiac that’s going on now,” Mr. Van Streain Low said. “I am into reading my horoscope, but I don’t need it on my body.”

Another thing they don’t love is an overreliance on mechanisms, such as hinges and hooks. “That’s a big jewelry school thing,” Ms. Byrne said. “There is a natural synthesis between us. We have slightly different aesthetics, different weights we like to wear. We test things out. We want things to withstand the test of time.”

She knocked on wood. “We think about, ‘Is it something we want to wear all day every day?’” she continued. “Is this staying on my finger or being yanked off my neck? A 3-year-old is a real wild card.”

They recommend taking off their jewelry to shower. “But we don’t do it ourselves,” Mr. Van Streain Low said. “We like the patina of life.”

There is a joy to working in jewelry, Ms. Byrne said. “You know it’s going to someone who is already excited about it. There is a lot of emotional value there that is not always present in other accessories or clothing items.”

Mr. Van Streain Low said that giving and receiving jewelry is “generally a happy thing unless you’re in the doghouse.”

Has anyone bought jewelry from En as an apology of some kind? “Not that I know of, but I’m sure it has happened,” he said.