January 6, 2011
Librarian by day, creative force by night, Brooklyn based Julie Tran Lê is a Renaissance woman of sorts. Armed with her Master’s degree in information & library science, Lê heads the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute Library, where she helps designers and scholars research fashion history. The job informs her own love of vintage, which is directly expressed in Lê’s preference for dressing in the ladylike silhouettes of the 1950s – a decade that has not only shaped her unique sense of style, but influenced her choice of design projects. In forging a new definition of elegance and domestic goddessness, Lê has created a jewelry line and a mini baking empire.
Lê’s handmade approach to design carries over into her epicurean pursuits. Mirroring her omnipresent cherry red lipstick is the red velvet interior of her cake balls, SWEET JEWELS. Hailed by Daily Candy as the “belle of the balls,” Lê’s confectionery treats are created by crumbling red velvet cake into cream cheese frosting which is then dipped in chocolate and rolled in coconut. The ultimate indulgence in a small, ball-shaped serving, these cake balls have been making a regular appearance at private events at SPIN NY. Sweet Jewels were also the exclusive culinary treat for the opening of Todd Oldham’s exhibition “New Voices, New Works” at the Wolfsonian Museum, which made its debut at Art Basel Miami 2009.
I sat down with Julie for a quick interview and to photograph the making of the world’s first cake ball necklace!
Are you wearing a necklace made out of cake balls?
Yes. I’m also wearing my latest cakeball flavor: Vietnamese Coffee Cake. This piece is a combination of the two things I love to do outside of librarianship – designing jewelry and making cake balls.
How do you make cake balls?
Wearing red lipstick. Always. In fact, rule number one for baking in my kitchen involves wearing the proper attire: lipstick, matching apron, and heels.
Who and/or what inspires you?
By day, I am a fashion librarian at the Metropolitan Museum of Art at the Costume Institute Library, so I am fortunate to be surrounded by inspiration everyday in the forms of books and periodicals. I have materials in the collection dating as far back as the 18th century. Working at a museum everyday is pretty incredible too.
My mother inspires me in all things fashion & food. My parents came to the United States from Vietnam in the late 1970s and my mother was a seamstress. As a child, I always wore custom-tailored clothes, but she also gave me free reign to wear whatever I wanted (within reason of course). I learned to sew at a very young age, so we often would work together in re-working vintage dresses or creating designs from scratch. My mother is also an incredible cook, so all of my Vietnamese dishes I learned from her. My look hasn’t also changed much since the age of three and I can owe that to my mother.
How many times do you say balls in one day?
As many times as possible.
What other projects are you involved in? Future projects?
I am participating in the Hester Street Fair once or twice a month so people have an opportunity to taste my balls and also meet me in person.
I will also continue my collaboration with Poppy King of Lipstick Queen where I create flavors inspired by her lip products (last Valentine’s Day I created a spicy red velvet cake flavor inspired by her Fired Up Lip Gloss).
What’s next for Julie Lê?
A cake ball bakery in NYC! Can’t you imagine?