When it comes to accessorizing, actress and model Karrueche Tran definitely knows more than a thing or two. Next to playing the saucy role of Virginia Loc in the TNT series Claws, Tran has quickly become a style icon all on her own. Now, she's turned her love for accessorizing and getting dressed up into a business with the launch of Kae by Karrueche, a jewelry line that draws inspiration from her hometown of Los Angeles and turns it into earrings, anklets, and everything in between.
"I have always loved jewelry," Trans tells NYLON. "I think it's the perfect accessory for dressing up or down an outfit. For me, [Kae by Karrueche] was an opportunity that I couldn't pass up. It's been so exciting and so much fun to create my first jewelry line."
Tran's debut collection, called "Goldmine," is an ode to LA, as well as her childhood and love for the '90s. "Whenever I do any new venture or project, I always try to make and keep it authentic and genuine to me," she says. "I love the '90s; it's one of my favorite eras. I got these nugget rings a couple of years ago, which are very much from the '90s, and being inspired by that and the '90s in LA, I incorporated a lot of styles and materials and started from there."
Following the launch of "Goldmine," which pays homage to Tran is already onto the next collection for her jewelry line. Dubbed "Jade" and released on Wednesday, the new pieces stem from her Tran's memories of growing up with green stone, which is both a protective and lucky symbol in Asian cultures. "This first collection, Goldmine, was more derived from my Black side and culture," notes Tran. "So the next collection is more inspired by my Asian side."
In between filming the fourth and final season of Claws, we caught up with Tran to talk about '90s nostalgia, her favorite pieces to wear, shooting the debut campaign with famous LA photographer Estevan Oriol, and more.
Why is the '90s so important to you?
I think it's really because it's an era that I really grew up in. I was born in '88, so more of the late '90s, but I just remember the fashion back then being so effortless and just so cool and females just had such dope style. I was younger in my early teens and I wasn’t able to really able to wear bamboos back then, so it was always something that I obsessed over. When it came down to this collection, I was like, 'I have to incorporate these pieces.' They're pieces that I've seen as a young girl growing up.
What are some of your favorite pieces from the collection right now? And how would you style them for an everyday look?
My favorite everyday piece is the Baby Nug. It's this nugget style earring but it's still small and dainty, so it's not too over the top. This is an earring I've worn literally every day. I've worn it to work out, I've worn it to go out at night, I've worn it to set. It's just an easy earring that has just the right amount of detail.
I really love each piece. Each piece is different in its own way. The Crescent [earrings] are something I would wear if I wanna get dressed up. It's more of a dressier earring to add to my outfits. I love the Baby S, which is the matching anklet to the Slauson necklace, which, again, is that nugget style. I don't know why I always love anklets, I think they’re just so sexy and add a little umph to a foot. It's definitely one of my favorite pieces, especially for that summertime vibes.
The eclipse rings — I love stackable rings, those are definitely a favorite you can wear every day. You can stack them on one finger, or you can spread them throughout. The Knockher earrings is an ode to the old school bamboos in a smaller size. The Slauson, of course, is one of my favorite necklaces. You can layer them or just wear one by itself. And the TT earrings I really love because that style is just so '90s. I feel like an auntie or somebody in them.
All of the prices are very affordable ($50 or under). Is that something you wanted to do from the beginning?
Definitely. It was very important to me to make sure that everybody could be a part of this or have a piece of this collection. You know, it’s so funny to me, because someone said to me, 'Why don't you do a fine jewelry line or an all-gold collection?' And that would be nice, and I think down the line I'll do a fine collection that will be a bit more expensive, but I think it's important to have these prices so everybody can afford it.
I used to be that girl back in the day where I couldn't afford the expensive things and something like this would have definitely been more so in my budget. As a young girl, if I were to see somebody that had a collection like this and I looked at these prices, it would have made me so much happier. The price was very important to me, and even at a more affordable price the quality is still at a higher rate.
For those who might not be familiar with LA's Slauson or the Slauson Swap Meet, why was incorporating that space so important to you for this collection?
Keeping what I do very genuine and authentic to me, and being from LA, the Slauson Swap Meet was just a spot you went to where you could literally buy anything. You could buy socks, you could buy shoes, they had toys there — just a bunch of different vendors. I remember going as a young girl and they would have jewelry vendors there and they would have the more expensive fine jewelry and gold. I remember always seeing those nugget earrings and expensive bamboos and just lusting over them; just wishing I could wear them. I would see the girls at school have them on so I definitely had to take it back to the '90s, pay homage to LA and where I’m from.
That's where the nugget style and material started for me. That's where my love and obsession came from. It's from the Slauson Swap Meet. So I had to make sure I named my favorite necklace Slauson, of course.
Now it's funny, I see on Instagram that the Slauson Swap Meet is like a trending photo op for people. A lot of people go there just to take photos now, which is pretty cool because it's kind of like a landmark and it's been a place I've known since I was a young girl.
What was it like to work with Estevan Oriol?
It was interesting because when you think about a jewelry shoot, you think about tighter shots, so you can really see the jewelry. But I knew that people were gonna see the jewelry regardless, and so I wanted more of a vibe and feel [of the '90s.] Even when it came down to the makeup, the hair, the styling, we made sure we had everything on point. I had to do the '90s justice, especially shooting with Estevan Oriol.
We glammed at his office in Downtown LA then hopped in his truck — me, Estevan, and his assistant — and we drove around LA. He would pull over, hop out the car, shoot, then get right back in and maybe drive around the corner to this alley with this crazy graffiti in the back. I mean it was nuts! While I was shooting, I was like, 'This is wild!' Just going with the flow and just following Estevan's direction and he's so easy to shoot and work with.
I am so thankful and grateful that the photos that I took are with Estevan. He is such a legend and icon in Los Angeles. He shot so many people from Tupac to Nipsey to Snoop, everybody, and going back to making sure I gave my collection justice, I really pinpointed that '90s LA vibe and it was so important to me that he was involved and I'm really blessed to have him.
Tell us about the new "Jade" launch from Kae by Karrueche.
The "Jade" collection was inspired by my Vietnamese heritage, as well as my love for jade growing up. If you know me, then you know I'm all about creating good energy, whether it be in my home or daily life. In Vietnamese culture, jade brings wealth and good fortune and is also said to protect you from evil. Jade is very significant in Vietnamese culture. I’m really excited for it. This second collection is a more daintier collection — very thin gold chains with a lot of cute fun stuff and it’s perfect for the holidays, as well.
What's next for the brand?
I have different collections already queued up and ready to go. For me, hoops can never go out of style. You can never have too many hoops, and I feel like most girls could say the same thing, so I'm working along the lines of doing different variations of hoops because hoops are just legendary! They’re like the OG earring. So I got a lot of stuff coming. Right now, most of it is gold. We do a triple gold-plating and I just have always loved gold, on my skin, just the way it looks and how it pops. So I'm super excited for it.
How important is it for you to bring both sides of your culture through your brand?
It's who I am. It's in my blood, it's in my genetics. When I'm creating products and coming up with ideas, I like to be as authentic as possible. I'm Black and I'm Vietnamese and it was important to incorporate them both. I always try to find a balance between the two, and never leaving either out because I'm equally both.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.