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Chan Luu's leather-wrap bracelet is a widely copied look

| Sunday, June 1, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

The bracelet is ubiquitous: Small gemstones or silver beads are woven with thread between two lengths of leather cording, and the finished piece wraps around the wrist three to five times.

The mixture of earthy and bling has made it a top seller for Chan Luu, who is credited among many jewelry artists with originating the design. It's also made her handmade bracelets widely copied.

They are easy to duplicate, so Chan Luu Wrap Bracelets, which sell for $170 to more than $300 at her online shop and in high-end catalogs such as Sundance, also are a fast, do-it-yourself project offered in bead shops and online tutorials. (The Potomac Bead Co.'s YouTube link takes little more than 4 minutes; Beadaholique's is an easy-to-follow 15 minutes.)

Luu does pursue counterfeiters — those knocking off her bracelets and selling them as genuine Chan Luu products — but she's unfazed about the crafters who post detailed instructions online, and the thousands of DIYers who copiously copy “Chan Luu-style” bracelets.

“I've been in the fashion business long enough. It's part of the game,” says Luu, who lives in Los Angeles and has designed jewelry, accessories and clothing for more than 15 years. “Most of the time, we think it's a flattering thing. At times, it's annoying. People use my name to sell their merchandise, and that's not right.”

What is this bracelet's charm?

It's easy to learn, simple to make, and the supplies — leather cording, thread, beads, a needle — don't need to cost much (costlier beads equal a costlier project).

And, frankly, when bracelets retail for hundreds of dollars, crafters are driven to make it themselves, says Allie Buchman, co-owner with her husband, Nathan, of Potomac Bead Co., based in Hagerstown, Md.

“The Chan Luu style is very easy and very friendly,” Buchman says. “We can advertise (a class) and say, ‘Yeah, you can make one for $10.' ”

Bead shops promote the wrap bracelet because it sells beads — several hundred, depending on how many times the bracelet wraps and the size of the beads, Buchman says.

What started this phenomenon?

The bracelet Luu's been designing — and redesigning — for nine years stems from a chance encounter with “a very bohemian man” on a street in India. His wrist was wrapped in beautiful, colored thread, Luu recalls, so she jumped out of her car to ask him about it.

“It was all worn, and it looked very spiritual to me,” she recalls. “He wore a stack of them. It looked very cool.”

The man directed Luu to a nearby Hindu temple, where the threads were blessed by priests and bestowed upon worshippers.

“I came out thinking, ‘It does feel spiritual,' ” Luu says.

In the wrap bracelet that evolved from that idea, many women are drawn to the natural materials — the gemstones, silver or pearls, the leather.

“It's a very versatile look. Anyone can wear it, whether you're 75 years old or 5 years old,” Buchman says.

Crafters make the design their own depending on the materials and colors they use. Buchman defends copying when it's done for personal use — not mass production.

“Everyone does kind of have their own little style,” Buchman says. “People are making them for themselves and making them for their friends.”

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Jennifer Forker is a staff writer for The Associated Press.

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