Last month, actors Isabelle Huppert and Viola Davis excitedly walked away from the Golden Globes gifting suite with leather belts and handbags crafted by Santa Barbara designer Amy DiGregorio.
Amy grew up in Boston and studied art at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Adventure brought her to Santa Barbara, but when she arrived, she didn’t know what she wanted to do. “I was shy about telling people that I wanted to be an artist,” she says. “I wanted to do something creative and something with my hands. I had in mind that I was going to make a living with stuff I made, but I never thought it was going to be jewelry.” In the meantime, she took a job in internet sales.
In 2001 she went to Costa Rica, where she noticed handmade jewelry made out of seeds. She returned to Santa Barbara, quit her job, and “booked a ten-week trip to Southeast Asia — no rhyme or reason.” She traveled to Indonesia and wound up in Bali. “I found myself on the floor with a salesperson with millions of stones going through all the stuff she had,” recalls Amy, who then went to Thailand, where she found “big, beautiful, and faceted stones” like lapis and amethyst. “I got home and started to learn about metals,” she says, set on becoming a jeweler.
Sales started to take off, first by word-of-mouth, then through a sales rep (who’d been told about the jewelry by Amy’s friends during a trunk show at Alcazar), then through retailers. She went from creating one-of-a-kind pieces to working on a full line. “I had to define what my look was,” she explains. “It’s simple with contrast. There’s a raw and rough material element mixed with a very polished element. I want my pieces to look high-end as well as having an organic feel by using natural materials. I try to make my pieces very identifiable.”
Despite her growth, Amy still designs and crafts everything herself. “I worry about the quality,” she says. “I’m very efficient with my time. Sometimes I’ll work the whole night through.”
Amy DiGregorio answers the Proust Questionnaire.
What is your current state of mind?
Thrilled! Earlier this month I introduced my handbag and jewelry line at the pre-Golden Globe gifting suite, and now there’s a bunch of celebrities running around in Amy DiGregorio swag!
Who do you most admire?
People who set and achieve their goals. There are endless distractions that can easily pull us off track, so I really admire those who stay focused and true to themselves through all the noise.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Eating organic food everyday. Chemical-free food should not be considered a luxury, but until the prices drop, it is where I spend most of my hard-earned dollars.
What do you like most about your job?
I absolutely love having complete dictation of my time. Despite working twice as many hours when self-employed, it doesn’t always feel like a “real job” when I have total freedom to work, or not work, on any project I’m in the mood for.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Road tripping for a couple weeks, or visiting a foreign country for a couple months, or sitting in front of a huge plate of really, really good food.
What is your greatest fear?
Letting people help me with my work. For years I’ve been advised to hire people so my line can flourish even further, but I can’t seem to do it for fear of compromising quality.
What is the quality you most like in people?
I love down-to-earth people. People with no front, no bullshit, and truly speak from the heart.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
Shallow people who value themselves or others on a material level.
What do you most value in friends?
Having each other’s back. My true blues know I will do absolutely anything for them, and vice-versa. Anything!
What is your most marked characteristic?
Being an artist/designer. That’s been my identity since childhood, but especially so since making it my career 15 years ago. I’m also told I smile a lot. 🙂
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
I’m not sure, but I definitely overuse most cuss words. I’ve always enjoyed expressive people, and cuss words help accentuate emotion.
Which talent would you most like to have?
To be multi-lingual. I’m close to fluent in Spanish, but I want to speak Italian, and French, and German, and Japanese, and so many other languages.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
To not be such a workhorse. I often push myself beyond exhaustion, skipping an entire night’s rest in order to get a job done.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My really tight relationships with my family and friends. I wouldn’t be who I am today without their genuine love and support.
Where would you most like to live?
I’m already living here, in Santa Barbara. I moved to Heaven on Earth 20 years ago, and consider myself very fortunate if I’m able to live here the rest of my life.
What is your most treasured possession?
My passport! Exploring new food, fashion, sights, and embracing foreign culture is one of my absolute favorite things to do.
Who makes you laugh the most?
My very silly family. We all have the same crazy sense of humor.
What is your motto?
To live in the moment. I have been this way all of my life, and hope I never lose it.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Coco Chanel designed simple and practical fashion for “the way we live.” I’m all about that — it’s important to me to create useful and uncommon pieces without compromising style or comfort.
On what occasion do you lie?
I’m not going to say I don’t lie on occasion but, honestly, nothing is coming to mind. Perhaps that’s a lie?