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Studio Visit: Vrai & Oro

Story by Rachel Schwartzmann – Shop Vrai & Oro – Photos by Karen Hernandez for The Style Line

“I like to think of Vrai & Oro as the little black dress of jewelry; it’s an essential across all different styles,”

says Creative Director Vanessa Stofenmacher. “Our pieces are designed to be simple and versatile, acting as a base to express your own personal style rather than defining it.” With a nod to minimalism and built around the pillars of quality, simplicity, and transparency, Vrai & Oro is on its way to becoming a household name.

Translating to “truth and gold” Vanessa prides herself on cultivating a brand that not only offers beautiful pieces but one that also fosters big-picture values. Despite adopting a “slow and steady” approach to growth and coupling this with Vanessa’s penchant for thoughtful design, Vanessa contends that maintaining quality and remaining true to Vrai & Oro’s ethos is what truly sets the brand apart. As she put it in our interview: “For me, design is a form of storytelling, and if done correctly, it creates a connection between people and the brand. It’s creating this connection that excites me the most.”

After our recent visit with Vanessa and her team at their studio in Los Angeles, we’re inclined to agree. Today we’re honored to share our full conversation with the flourishing designer who shared more on Vrai & Oro’s story, the allure of jewelry design and her position on sustainability. Enjoy the full feature below with photos from our visit captured by Karen Hernandez for The Style Line.

*THIS STORY WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN September 2016 AND REFLECTS UPDATED CHANGES TO THE LAYOUT AND INTRODUCTION

Hi, I’m Vanessa, the Founder and Creative Director of Vrai & Oro.

I’m 29 and live in a Spanish home in Echo Park with my husband, Sebastian, and my son (French bulldog), Frankie. I’m a sucker for the simple things in life, like Friday date night at our favorite Italian restaurant and Saturday morning walks to our local coffee shop. My favorite vacation spots are Napa Valley and anywhere on the coast of Mexico. I’m lucky enough to love what I do so ‘work’ is more of a passion and less of a job. I’m also passionate about learning so if I’m not working on Vrai & Oro, you’ll find me watching documentaries, reading eastern philosophy, or taking business classes on entrepreneurship. I’ve always known I wanted to be a designer, but I would have never considered myself a jewelry designer. For me, design is a form of storytelling, and if done correctly, it creates a connection between people and the brand. It’s creating this connection that excites me the most.

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Walk us through the initial inception of Vrai & Oro. Being that it loosely translates to “truth and gold” what role do these ideas play in the brand’s ethos and would you say the definition has changed as the brand has evolved? 

Vrai & Oro was born out of a personal passion that I never even knew I had. The whole story starts a few years back when my sister and I decided to launch a gifting startup together. With her background in business and my background in design, we figured we would make great partners, so after brainstorming ideas, we discovered a mutual pain point.

Both of our husbands were terrible at buying us gifts, so we created a website centered around a learning algorithm that helped men find the perfect gift for their significant other. We quickly realized that jewelry was the number one gift men gave women so our site turned into a personalized marketplace for fine jewelry. With no previous knowledge of jewelry, I was blown away by the astronomical markups and lack of transparency in the industry. Jewelry was being purchased from catalogs overseas and markups we’re averaging 8-10x by the time it reached consumers. Quickly after this realization, Vrai & Oro was born. 

Vrai & Oro has always been centered around the three key values of quality, simplicity, and transparency. We use only solid gold (rather than plated, vermeil, or filled gold) and make all of our jewelry domestically and locally here in DTLA. Our designs are simple essentials that you can wear every day because we focus on the tiny details such as the millimeter size of a bezel or the depth of a prong setting. We believe that good design should go unnoticed. We also believe in transparency so we strive to be an open book. By selling direct to consumer, we’re cutting out the middlemen and retail markups, offering honest pricing without sacrificing on quality. I’m proud to say that while our brand has grown and evolved over the past two years, our key values have remained the same since day one.

There’s definitely a resurgence in the jewelry industry as we see more women buying fine jewelry for themselves as a symbol, rather than an accessory. In the same way, I like to think of Vrai & Oro as a community rather than a jewelry brand. Our values are our language, and our jewelry is just the code that connects us all together.

What is one question you wish people asked you more often?

We’re lucky to have a curious customer base that asks a ton of great questions, but I do wish more people would ask us about our name and where it comes from. Most people assume it’s part of my middle or last name but the real meaning is “Truth & Gold,” two core principles of our business. I love that our name connects something tangible and real with a value that’s abstract and philosophical, and I think other people will connect with that meaning as well.

How would you advise the next generation of creative thinkers/makers/designers to leave an imprint in the world simply by doing what they love?

I would advise the next generation to always question traditions and keep an optimistic mindset. I believe that success is 90% mindset and 10% skill set, so turn life’s lemons into lemonade and never make excuses.

When it comes to sustainability or “slow fashion” we’ve learned that these at times can have plural meanings. How do you define sustainability as it pertains to Vrai & Oro’s mission and how do you think LA helps foster these values?

Living and working in LA has hugely influenced our definition of sustainability. There is an underlying obsession here with healthy lifestyle and work/life balance, creating an inspiring culture of conscious consumers. Because of this influence, we create for style over fashion and quality over quantity. We’ve always believed that less is more so we’re constantly challenging ourselves to find what can be taken away rather than added.

How do you think creativity contributes to some of the world’s bigger conversations and what role is Vrai & Oro playing in this shift in thinking?

With so much information at our fingertips, creative thinking is playing a larger role than ever. As a society, we’re finally shifting our focus from those that talk-the-talk to talk to the people that walk-the-walk.

It’s exciting to see people like chefs and designers, who typically live behind-the-scenes, being noticed and celebrated for their creativity, drive, and passion.

What are you most proud of to date and what can we expect from Vrai & Oro this season? 

To date, I’m most proud of our ability to stay true to our brand. We’ve been presented with so many marketing opportunities that would have lead to quick sales and increased conversions, but that just didn’t feel right for us. Because of this, we’ve been able to grow organically and authentically through word of mouth, so I’m proud to see our customers feel the same way. Coming up, you can expect to see us taking more of a stance and announcing some exciting big news. Stay tuned! 

How does Vrai & Oro encourage celebrating personal style? 

I like to think of Vrai & Oro as the little black dress of jewelry; it’s an essential across all different styles. Our pieces are designed to be simple and versatile, acting as a base to express your own personal style rather than defining it.