In every generation, there is a Chosen One. And that Chosen One doesn’t just wear crucifix jewelry to ward off demons. Beyond clothing, costume designers utilize other pieces that help make an outfit on screen—and in real life—pop. One of the most famous bits of style advice from Coco Chanel is “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off,” but Chanel also had strong feelings about the power of accessorizing. “It’s the theatrical aspect of jewelry that fascinates me.”
SYFY FANGRRLS spoke to jewelry designer Peggy Li about how a hobby turned into a career, her big Buffy the Vampire Slayer break and engaging with fandom. Li’s work has appeared on numerous television shows including the aforementioned Buffy and more recently Arrow, The Vampire Diaries, Riverdale and The Good Witch.
Living in Los Angeles in the late ‘90s, Li was an aspiring screenwriter. At the time she worked as a journalist for Channel One News—a high school news program—writing about pop culture for its website. This was peak Buffy popularity, Li was a big fan of the show in general, but the fashion side was also a big draw. She wanted to write a story that combined her love of both these things, so Li got in contact with costume designer Cynthia Bergstrom to set up an interview.As part of the profile, Bergstrom took Li shopping, “She and I hit it off. Turned out we were from the same hometown.” A few weeks later, Li sent her some of the jewelry she had been making; this is where this story goes from typical to wild. “Then I got a phone call,” explained Li. “This woman says, 'I am a reporter from USA Today, Cynthia Bergstrom at Buffy tells me they’re going to use your jewelry on the show this coming season. Can I interview you? Where can people buy your stuff?'” The tables had turned. Interviewer became the interviewee, and Li set up a website for people to buy her designs.
The episodes Li’s jewelry appears in aired nearly 20 years ago. It was Season 4. Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Willow (Alyson Hannigan) had just started college, so their style was slightly shifting away from their high school looks. While the episodes are of the past, some of the jewelry worn in them is still available to buy. Not only did Buffy have its big anniversary last year, but style from that period is also having quite the sartorial revival. You might not be able to buy the exact spaghetti strap tank Buffy wore, but you can still get her necklace.Li described the style of these pieces in context with the trends: “It was back in the ‘90s; floating chokers, necklaces and Swarovski crystals were huge. The stretchy Swarovski crystal bracelets, floating crystal necklaces and some cuffs using vintage felts.”
Buying items you have seen a character wear on a show that aired last week can be tricky, due to the lag between when the episode was shot and its air date. This is often months, even longer if it is a movie. But Li noted that with her store, “I’m lucky that [as a business] I am small enough that often those pieces will be available. So it is something they can actually see, go on online and get. I think that is very satisfying.” Visitors can buy items that appeared on Buffy nearly two decades ago, as well as something Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) wore on Arrow more recently.
Often when you visit a site like Worn on TV, you will find a Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart) sweater on the pricier end of the scale (and probably sold out). But you can get the triangle necklace Betty wears for $39.On Riverdale, Li mentioned that the jewelry they have used is “smaller, delicate. Not the most showy pieces. There is a lot to choose from on Riverdale. The fashion is fantastic. It can be a little hard to stand out.”
Making the leap from jewelry-making as a part-time gig—which meant working late into the night—to her full-time career was a decision Li made a few years ago, and when asked how she was able to make that switch, she was quick to mention how important it is to establish relationships with costume designers.
“As Cynthia from Buffy moved onto different TV shows, she would take me along and request my stuff,” explained Li. “She is a big reason my business is what it is today. I got to got from show to show with her and she would introduce my stuff to other costume designers.” And because Buffy is a genre show, the follow-ups would often be similar in tone.The process for how Li’s handcrafted pieces end up on screen varies. Some costume designers request certain pieces. On other occasions she will send a box of options, which they then make their selection from. Some designers send a character breakdown, whereas others will simply pick the pieces they like from a wide range. Occasionally a piece will be a prop, integral to a storyline, as was the case on Pretty Little Liars when the request was for a “delicate dainty gold earring.” Li’s pieces have been used on Arrow since Season 2, and that relationship has given Li “a feeling for the kind of things they like." For example, costume designer Maya Mani asked for more silver pieces for the most recent season.
Pitching costume designers is another method, something Li is gearing up for at the moment as shows are about to go back into or start production for the fall TV season. The Charmed and Roswell reboots are two she would love her jewelry to appear on, but she is also keen to be back on Arrow and Riverdale. The common denominator here is The CW, but Li mentioned that her relationship is with the costume designers, not the network.After stepping back from the business for a few years due to family reasons, Li wants to put more emphasis on engaging with fans of the shows her work has appeared on, “I’m trying to do research and learn more about what is out there.” Li went to the Heroes & Villains FanFest last December, where she “encountered people wearing my jewelry in cosplay. That was really trippy and very cool.” She also plans on going back to San Jose for this event at the end of this year, as well as going to a Vampire Diaries convention. Of this particular fandom, she notes, “They are very vocal, loyal, completist fan base. They want everything head-to-toe. They’re amazing.”
The level of information we have about our favorite shows right down to the earrings a character wears is something that has been enhanced by the internet. Social media is a good way to promote a business and engage with people buying these products. “You want to see people wearing it,” Li noted. “That is the most fun.” There is also a secret language to these items. To someone that hasn’t seen the show, they might just think it is a pretty necklace. To a fan, it is a knowing wink.
Consumers that flock to Li’s site vary, from the “influx of people who are very specific about what they want, they’ve seen it on TV,” said Li. “I [also] have people who have grown up with me. Professional women, they appreciate my stuff is a little more understated, a little more minimal.”
The landscape of television and e-commerce has altered quite substantially over the last 20 years. Li explained that she never saw this as a career option when she was younger. Encouragement from family, friends and other designers has been invaluable to getting Li to where she is today. Buffy the Vampire Slayer helped kickstart Peggy Li’s jewelry-making enterprise, and the advice she gives about pursuing your dreams is also reminiscent of the Slayer: “This is the secret to freelancers and small businesses. Sometimes you have to try and put it out there. Rule number one. You have to try.”