People entering the Laurel Burch Studio flagship store in West Berkeley will not only see and be surrounded by immeasurable beauty; they will be seen. Amid the elongated cats; lavish and layered flowers; bold butterflies; iconic swirl, squiggle or circle patterns; and brilliantly hued birds given wing on the renowned designer’s classic cloisonné jewelry, apparel, bags, wallets, clutches, homeware, gifts, prints and other artful products, visitors will fall under the warm gaze of the shop’s owner, Aarin Burch.
Aarin Burch, an independent video producer and filmmaker, stepped up to lead the company as an e-commerce business out of her Oakland garage in 2012. Her brother, Juaquim Burch, ran the international business. The company holds bi-annual warehouse sales that attract thousands of devoted fans and collectors, both local and from around the world.
The brick-and-mortar store that honors and carries forward the Laurel Burch legacy was launched by Aarin Burch in March 2020, mere days before the pandemic shelter in place mandate shuttered businesses nationwide. Laurel Burch Studios thrived online during the COVID years and reopened to the public in 2021.
“I have to start by saying I took on the Laurel Burch business as a woman who has spent most of my life going, ‘I’m my own woman. My mom had her thing, and I’m doing me,’” said Aarin Burch. “I was defiant about that and had this famous mom, so I was constantly trying to figure out who I was in that shadow.
“I’m amazed that I decided I wanted to take on the business, but it’s because her messages are my same messages, absolutely. She felt it was important that people felt seen. She didn’t teach me that explicitly. But our parallel trajectories mean that in my life—through teaching hip-hop, martial arts, my travels, film career—making sure people feel loved, seen and celebrated, is the core,” she continued.
Laurel Burch died at age 61 in 2007. As a graduate of the California College of Arts and Crafts with a career in film, the younger Burch is working to complete a documentary about her mother’s life. The film is not a biopic, but a view of Laurel Burch through the eyes of a daughter, a person of color, a businesswoman and a woman who identifies as queer.
“There is the dynamic of my perspective,” said Aarin Burch. “If I painted a perfect picture, if I gave it a white woman’s perspective, that would be flat. My mother was a white woman married to a Black man. That’s significant. She had mixed children, she defied the odds, worked in a world that was all businessmen, and she had osteopetrosis, a bone disease. She still said, ‘I’m going to do this.’ It was important I get the texture in there and tell the story through my eyes.”
Despite the surprise of wanting to run the business—or maybe because of it, as Aarin Burch is innately attracted to the open window and territory yet unexplored—she’s found in her stepping out of her mother’s shadow an emboldened sense of “home” and illumination.
“When I realized I could touch thousands, millions of people through her paintings, artwork and products, I was sold,” Burch said. “Her desire to support causes that would be, if she were alive, the same as the ones I support, her desire to create amazing art and support humankind—that’s what I’m doing. I might support things related to animals, the planet, Black Lives Matter, queer rights, but it’s with my flavor of what’s important. To me, it’s not so different from her vision.”
Importantly, her mother told her before she died to run the business her way and it would be the right way. Thus freed, Aarin Burch took on the mantle and learned all about contracts, negotiation, licensing, running wholesale and e-commerce businesses, and eventually, opening and curating a walk-in retail store. “I say, just come by and get a hit of color. You don’t even have to buy something. I have the same sense of creating beauty and order; it’s like a Burch gift,” she observed.
Burch shares her mother’s high standards: obsessing over the perfect magenta while also escaping the trap of becoming an echo chamber of past success. She said she has moved beyond suffering imposter syndrome and in the last few years trusts her instincts.
“I trust my energy and way of communicating,” said Burch. “I don’t hold back. I’m good with being thrilled with what I do and turning people onto it. This is beautiful, incredible art. I’m on fire with it because I get to bring people out. When someone carrying a bag or wearing earrings talks about how it makes them feel, I’m doing magic.”
Elements she has introduced include more black-and-white items with just a pop of color; single blossoms enlarged in addition to the familiar densely repeated flowers; and pulling circles, squiggles and little icons out of artwork to create classic, iconic and retrospective jewelry that ranges from joyful to whimsical to elegant. There are debut necklaces named for streets in the Haight Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco, where she grew up.
“I created I-See-You tokens, thousands of them, and started giving them out,” Burch said. “It became a physical talisman that continues today.”
Burch doesn’t compartmentalize herself, allowing different expressions of who she is and encouraging visitors in the shop to do the same. “You might come into my store and I’m dressed in jeans to be comfortable. Or let’s say we’re having an event and it’s all magenta. Or I’m going out to hear live music, dressed head to toe in black. For so long, I felt I had to fit into my mom’s mold: Don’t be too boyish, wear dresses and skirts, makeup. Now, I’m unapologetically myself. My mom would have dug that too. It feels good. I can have short hair and be boyish, feminine. It feels so good to bring all my parts together,” she noted.
Burch is honest and said her relationship with her mother, while always loving and never estranged, was challenging. She has embraced her mother’s passion and drive, choosing to be real about the painful parts, but also sincere when she said, “She was doing the best she could, and I stopped making her wrong for that. Once I did that, we got closer. That’s real stuff.”
Asked about the 50th anniversary of the business that comes in 2024, Burch said customers remain avid about handbags, wallets and jewelry, but new products are also receiving interest. Newly introduced tea towels have been impossible to keep in stock, and a new line of drinkware shows indications of being equally popular. A special edition wall calendar and prints that bring back artwork from the 1990s, along with the annual Christmas sale Dec. 9 and 10, have created an early buzz. Undoubtedly, there will be early orders for the documentary Burch expects to complete in early 2026 too.
Burch said her definition of home is a place that is cozy, comfortable and beautiful. “You can touch everything; it’s accessible and not stuffy. There is art on the wall, it smells good, the light is warm. How would you answer that?” she asked.
The question is trademark Burch, coaxing a back-and-forth conversation, inviting a person into her circle and making that person feel like the shared space is simultaneously “ours” and a place of one’s own. All of which begs for a trek to the shop and a chance to see beauty, be seen and depart with a bit of “Burch magic” to take home.