On a snowy Monday afternoon at a cafe in Hudson, NY, jewelry line partners Malu Byrne and Rick Van Streain Low In Studio, were discussing their collaboration. “If we’re not 100 per cent aligned on an idea or a material, that’s a sign that it’s not quite right and it can get better,” said Ms Byrne, 32.
It’s been that way since they met at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, where they studied jewelry design. “Our paths have 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 metalwork. “We both lived in LA, in Echo Park, and we went out to lunch,” he said.
(Ms. Byrne’s father is musician David Byrne and her mother is artist, actress and costume designer Adelle Lutz, whose sister is late model Tina Chow.)
“We started brainstorming and doing projects together,” Ms Byrne said. “We had a lot of fun together and loved what we created outside of school. It felt like we were slowly shedding something that was true to how we felt, but it took a long time.
They ended up leaving Pratt before graduating. “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’m sure our many trips to the Met can be seen in the collection,” Ms Byrne joked.
The line is unlike anything else on the market. “I like to think we’re kind of in our own lane,” Mr. Van Streain Low said. “Our line is an exploration of matter.” They use colored gold and look for stones with visible inclusions.
“We love character stones,” Ms. Byrne said. “Generally, the clearer the idea, the better. But we look for the unusual stones that speak to us.
Their pieces have lots of bold shapes, like their silver hairpins with rock quartz ($440) or their papal earring ($3,200, in hand-cut green jade and 14k green gold), but there is also a delicacy reminiscent of the Me&Ro jewelry line, where Mr. Van Streain Low worked in his Elizabeth Street store. (The store has since closed, and now the old Me&Ro counter is in En Studio’s Catskill workshop.) heavy earrings.
Diamonds are often just a pinch, like in their constellation ring ($2,200), which has been purchased more than once as an engagement ring, according to the designers. There are stackable rings in silver, 14k green gold, 14k rose gold, 18k Venetian brown gold, and 22k yellow gold that look like a more urban riff on Cartier.
Ms Byrne grew up in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, but moved upstate to Catskill, NY six years ago, where she lives with her partner, Will Squibb, an artist, and their son, Bo, 3 years.
“My parents let me run free on 12th Street putting on shows for street people,” she said. “Now, raising a child, I’m like, ‘Oh my god, I can’t imagine picking up cigarette butts. Here it was a fit, all the little talk and everyone wanted to say hello.
Ms. Byrne has become something of an evangelist for life in New York’s Hudson Valley. Her Instagram account serves up enough publicity, with images of apple orchards, puffy sheepskin hats and milkweed pods. (“Somebody spinning the milkweed yarn over there…?” she posted recently.)
“This is upstate Brooklyn,” Mr. Van Streain Low said as they crossed the Hudson River. “Hudson these days is starting to look like Bridgehampton.”
In their Catskill studio, where everything in the collection is made, they highlighted paintings by Mr. Squibb, ceramics by Julia Chiang and furniture by Vonnegut/Kraft, with whom En has a future collaboration. Saks recently purchased 25 styles from En to haul them online.
“There is such a beautiful and open community here,” Mr. Van Streain Low said. “We have friends from so many different disciplines.”
Mrs. Byrne nodded. “There’s a lot of resource sharing and collaboration, intimacy and togetherness,” she said. “But we like to go out.”
“This part of the city has not left us,” Mr. Van Streain Low said. “A new restaurant is opening, and here we are. We entertain a lot.
Mr Van Streain Low stayed in Catskill during the pandemic and Ms Byrne convinced him to move there permanently last year. Her mother also lives in Catskill and her father is a frequent visitor. They all celebrated Thanksgiving together with Ms Byrne’s partner and their son. Mr. Van Streain Low, who grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, cooked.
There are current jewelry fashions that both do not relate to. “There’s a fascination with the zodiac going on now,” Mr Van Streain Low said. “I like to read my horoscope, but I don’t need it on my body.”
Another thing they don’t like is an overreliance on mechanisms, such as hinges and hooks. “It’s a big jewelry school thing,” Ms. Byrne said. “There is a natural synthesis between us. We have slightly different aesthetics, different weights that we like to carry. We test things. We want things to stand the test of time.
She knocked on wood. “We’re thinking, ‘Is this something we want to wear all day every day? ‘” she continued. “Does it stay on my finger or does it rip my neck off? A 3-year-old child is a real joker.
They recommend taking off their jewelry to take a shower. “But we don’t do it ourselves,” Mr. Van Streain Low said. “We love the patina of life.”
There’s a joy to working in jewelry, Ms Byrne said. “You know it goes to someone who’s already excited about it. There’s a lot of emotional value there that isn’t always present in other accessories or clothing.
Mr Van Streain Low said giving and receiving jewelry is “usually a happy thing unless you’re in the niche”.
Did someone buy jewelry from En as an apology? “Not that I know of, but I’m sure it happened,” he said.