As a 4 year old, Louise Strøe’s dream was to have her own flower shop in Copenhagen. Today, this jewelry designer, fine artist and interiors specialist is a multi-talented hands-on woman, helping her clients bring to life their lifestyle ideas and expressions of taste through color, texture and multi-media. Ever the entrepreneurial sleuth, I am fascinated by the fact that Louise does not see herself as a businesswoman at all, though success in her own niche market has clearly not eluded her. She is first and foremost an artist and perhaps second or in equal first place, mother.
Having an opinion is essential for the elegant blonde style maven; prioritizing public relations is not. Anyone looking from the outside would say running your own small business in Silicon Valley is challenge enough for any artist. Doing it on your own terms takes backbone and resolve. Louise makes no excuses and does it with a certain stalwart Danish finesse. The implication is that if you make everything values-based, the business side of things will look after itself.
Her 4 year old company Peace-à-Porter is a one-of-a-kind handcrafted luxe jewelry catalog. With each piece lovingly and personally made by Louise, the company is her way of combining an interest in creating jewelry, with a strong desire to support individuals and organizations who are working to promote peace and human rights; issues central to Louise’s core philosophy. She donates a portion of the proceeds from every piece of jewelry sold, to institutions such as the Global Fund for Women, Human Rights Watch, and Doctors Without Borders. Continually inspired by visual impressions gleaned from her travels, a creative spark can be picked up from random sensory experiences in places she visits, from nature, art, a book, from fashion, or from an interesting period in history.
Each tailor-made necklace, bracelet, or pair of earrings seems to match its owner's essence, so that the person wears the jewelry, not the other way around. Using Tahitian pearls, African and Indian amulets and icons, leather, gold and silver in her work, Louise's clients are a veritable Who's Who in Silicon Valley. (Though it’s not Louise’s style to ever admit it). What matters to Louise is that each person enjoys her bespoke-designed pieces, and that each piece is a vehicle of expression for the wearer.
No two pieces Louise makes are alike and if someone asks her for “a necklace exactly like the one you made for X" Louise will gently explain that she does not repeat her designs. Invariably though, Louise is able to capture something ineffably unique and special for that client. Afficionados of Peace-a-Porter say the designs are addictive and that Louise is able to capture an aesthetic that is at once raw and primitive, yet extremely refined in make and design. Education at the prestigious Danish School of Design in Copenhagen had to guarantee Louise complete and utter inspiration from Danish furniture, objects and crafts. And if you feel the vibe long enough while in the company of her collection, you can sense a subtle influence in there somewhere of her love of the great architect, interior and industrial designer Finn Juhl.
Our first meeting was at a fundraiser a few years ago in aid of the Global Fund for Women. She was selling her jewelry designs and I was showing my girls’ fashions. The next time I saw Louise, smiling broadly, she presented me with a stack of well-loved and thumbed-through Oilily catalogs from the 1990's and early 2000's. This Dutch childrenswear company had always been a favorite of my daughter’s. Their use of prints and color had an uncanny way of immediately lifting the spirits and delighting the eye. Without really knowing me at that first encounter, Louise intuitively knew that I would appreciate the gift, and, sizing me up on the spot, she had evaluated my aesthetic and personal style from afar. I was bowled over by the gesture and needless to say, we became fast friends. Surreptitiously generous with a keen artist’s eye, this was her spontaneity in action.
Having Danish blood affects everything Louise does and thinks. From her design aesthetic and world view to the fact that her two daughters speak, read and write Danish - even though they’ve spent most of their lives attending school in the United States. Danish only is spoken at home with the girls and with her Danish husband Jesper. Naturally, they enjoy the wonderful Danish tradition of hygge in the wintertime: cuddling up by a fire together, reading and enjoying one another’s company. A deliciously Danish way of hibernating and re-charging.
With parents who were divorced when she was only 6 years old, Louise knew how to overcome adversity and to turn it into a positive. “Actually we always went on vacation together, so I had 2 sets of parents. I learned how important it was to just get along and to always respect each other’s differences.” Through her university administrator father, his wife, an education law-maker, her micro-biologist-artist mother and teacher stepfather, she adopted their habits of lively and animated family dinner discussions, attending talks, reading, and volunteering. Being hands-on and being involved; being aware also of ecological and environmental issues was huge. Today, as a woman of discerning taste, it’s not surprising that Louise cares for her vintage fashion with enormous reverence and devotion. One summer morning when Yanti and I visited Louise in her sun-lit atelier, we let out uninhibited squeals of delight while reviewing the Stroe archives of Yohji Yamamoto and Ann Demeulemeester shoes, shirts and jackets. Believe me, the treasures were immaculately curated, and, it goes without saying, were a veritable treat for vintage junky eyes.
Jewelry design is only one area of artistic endeavor for this creative powerhouse. Currently in talks, Louise is starting an interior design consulting business with her good friend and design soul-sister Faiza Asaf Hanafi. Both women have trained extensively in interiors, with personal experience building and re-modeling their own homes. Silicon Valley waits with baited breath for what residential marvels will reveal themselves in the coming year.
I met with Louise recently and asked her a few business-related questions.
WATI: What is your best tip or piece of advice to a woman entrepreneur starting up her own business?
LOUISE: Ask a lot of questions. Discuss your ideas with different people you respect or admire. Know what you’re good at. Know your weaknesses; don’t hesitate to ask for help. Don’t think you can do it all. Apply humility to your decisions. I believe it makes you stronger. I don’t really identify as a “business” woman. I am a painter, a designer and I take pride in perfecting my skills… I think identifying one’s strengths is important. Look for support and advice in areas of less interest and expertise. In my work as a painter and jewelry designer, exploration and curiosity have driven my work. I never had the intention of starting a business. I didn’t set out with a goal in mind. Everything happened organically, I sold one piece at a time. I would paint and someone would ask to buy the painting. I sold my first jewelry pieces off of my neck – I still do sometimes…
WATI: What type of issues did you consider before starting the design partnership (Asaf + Strøe Architectural Design) with your friend Faiza?
LOUISE: Before we decided to work together as a team, I spent a lot of time with Faiza discussing our philosophy, our ideas and our personalities. We both believe in very clear and straightforward communication. We respect and embrace each other’s opinions and differences. We have a lot of fun. It is great to work as a team as designers. We walk away from client meetings having picked up different nuances of the conversation; we discuss design options and bring different perspectives to every aspect of a project.
WATI: Who do you admire in the blogosphere today and why?
LOUISE: I still love paper and print like I love notebooks and pens. I am a bit of a magazine junkie. I really like the concept of the Kinfolk magazine, it is refreshing in our fast-paced culture. I buy Coté Sud and other European and Australian design magazines.
Design sponge and Remodelista are great websites for design. The Sartorialist is inspiring. I enjoy The Poetry of Material Things on Tumblr.
WATI: Any business people you follow regularly?
LOUISE: No, not really, but when I remember, I check out Cuyana’s blog and website. www.cuyana.com
I don’t use Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr or Pinterest, but think they are all contributing in a positive way to sharing ideas, concerns and joy. I am not an active Facebook user, but joined at the same time as my teenage girls, just to understand their world – this makes me sound like a dinosaur – I will say I probably use Facebook as others use People Magazine: a bit like a voyeur. I look at my friends’ posts and pictures. Some are interesting and relevant, but I find others to be a bit exhibitionistic and pompous. It is not a place I spend much time!
Story Yanti Amos & Wati Grossman
Artwork Photos Wati Grossman