Today’s Stripe Talk feature is a little bit of a two for one… we’ve got sisters Lizzie & Kathryn Fortunato (of Lizzie Fortunato… one of my favorite jewelry lines.) Lizzie designs + Kathryn runs sales + operations. I was lucky enough to meet the sisters at their Fall preview a few months back (the new collection looks incredible, by the way!) and was blown away by how warm + down to earth they both were. I’m excited to feature them here today + give you a peek into their world. I’ve been a big fan of their brand for years and years and just adore everything they create. (If you want evidence of that, just take a peek at my attempts to re-create their work with DIY projects here, here, and here!)
Grace: Tell me a little bit about how you got your start in the industry. You started the line in 2008… but what did you do before that?
Lizzie: I started at Paul Wilmot Communications in June 2006 (following graduation from Duke University that May). I worked in their accessories division, which proved really helpful after I launched the line. I only lasted 10 months there though… I had been making jewelry at college and so many people were requesting it after I moved to NYC that I hopped ship pretty early on to pursue my own thing. At that point I was on my own (Kathryn joined me 2 years later and we had no employees, just a few people helping with manufacturing here in NYC), so it was really around the clock work: I was designing, pitching stores, writing purchase orders and doing the shipping!
Grace: Describe your typical day.
Lizzie: These days there’s no such thing! I’m often meeting with vendors, which I will try and do in the morning so then I can have a big chunk of time in the office. We still do about 95% of our production here in NYC so I’m always meeting with bead and leather suppliers, metal smiths, etc. for sourcing and development. When I’m in the office I’m doing so many things besides just designing the collection – Overseeing production and coordinating with India about our leather goods (which are embroidered there), working on marketing and the blog, and just wearing a lot of hats in general! We also always seem to have evening and dinner obligations for work but my 2015 resolution is to do more evenings at home!
Kathryn: I like to start my days early – preferably with a coffee from Tiny’s and a little peace and quiet in the office to plow through emails. We are managing a lot of production, shipping, wholesale inquiries and logistics during the day so it’s normally really busy. Before I know it, it’s 3pm and I haven’t eaten lunch. I often pop down to El Rey to pick-up lunch and try to cram as much in as possible before heading out for dinner back in Brooklyn and a yoga class if I can fit it in.
Grace: What’s it like working with your (twin!) sister every day?
Lizzie: It’s really amazing. We occasionally squabble, but at the end of the day there’s no one I trust or can count on more. We have really distinct roles – she trusts me implicitly with design and I trust her with the operations and financials so we don’t get in each other’s way much but are always bouncing ideas off each other and I love having a partner that I rarely – if ever – second guess.
Kathryn: Ditto! We are so lucky to get to work together; we are best friends and trust each other implicitly. Until about 3 weeks ago we lived together too — we’re pretty close.
Grace: I’m so excited about your new(ish) “Fortune Finds…” can you tell me a little bit about those?
Lizzie: This is such a passion project of mine. I’ve always been a magpie – collecting textiles on our travels and stopping at every side-of-the-road yard sale, flea market, etc. I love artisanal crafts; I’m such a sucker for ceramics and baskets and all things handmade. Having collected this kind of stuff for so long, we decided we should begin selling some of the pieces (friends are always asking for us to shop for them on our travels so it seemed like there was a market for it). The found items are positioned along curated lifestyle and art objects by third party vendors as well. I try and select work from friends that’s handmade and one-of-a-kind and from artists that I really admire. I’m interested in preserving artisanal craft tradition and showcasing on Fortune Finds is a good way to do it. Furthermore, it’s a really great extension of the accessories brand, which is so influenced by artisanal craft techniques – Personally I like merchandising my jewelry next to all my textiles and keepsakes – they go together!
Kathryn: Lizzie and I have continually thought about how we grow our brand while differentiating ourselves from the other costume jewelry designers out there. It’s been so exciting for us to launch and grow Fortune Finds – found and curated textiles from our travels and artists that we admire. We find our collections merchandise so well next to textiles, fine art and home objects collected from around the world, not surprising given that those travels so inform our seasonal accessories collections. We’re excited about some new fine artists we’ll be loading on the site – beautiful wall art at under $500, perfect for apartment decorating.
Grace: Tell me a little bit about your creative process and how you conceptualize a new collection.
Lizzie: I’m really influenced by the places I travel. I’m always trying to get a little off the beaten path and visit markets in foreign places (most recently: Japan, Mexico, and Morocco) and this informs a lot of my work. Fine art and architecture also play a role.
Grace: You’ve said before that you’re all about dressing to tell a story. What narrative does the new Spring collection tell?
Lizzie: Spring ’15 was entirely informed by a recent trip to Oaxaca Mexico & Mexico City. Outside of Oaxaca we visited ancient Pre-Colombian ruins (think Machu Picchu) called Monte Alban I was really inspired by the graphic architecture and came up with a lot of linear, structural pieces. The second story that developed from this trip was inspired by Frida Kahlo’s home outside of Mexico City. I was so moved by her “cabinet of curiosities”; the home was packed with taxidermy butterflies, folk art, paintings by Diego Rivera & herself, and keepsakes from her travels. The pieces that emerged from this story are more ornate and layered – they incorporate silk flower petals, vintage components, plexi glass beads, and pearls.
With all of these pieces I love that there is a really distinct influence and “story” involved. Even if the customer doesn’t know that the cast bronze cicadas in her flower bib are an homage to Frida Kahlo and her extraordinary home, I still love that she’s wearing something that’s thought provoking and piques curiosities. I try and incorporate such a range of materials and create pieces that turn heads and tell a story.
Grace: And what are your best-selling pieces right now?
Lizzie: The embellished leather goods have been so popular! I think the more novelty the better – the “Toucan” from spring has been hard to keep in stock. Statement earrings are always a great sell because they price is more accessible and they can be worn dressed up or down. As for necklaces: we still find that statement sells best because it’s what I’m good at. I’ve never really worn dainty jewelry and I specialize in pieces that are thought provoking and intricate – this is what the Lizzie customer wants.
Kathryn: It really seems like we’re having an earring moment right now. It’s incredible to see weekly sell-throughs from our stores and observe how popular the great dangly earrings have been. They’re a great style to carry over from chilly spring days with a layered look to summer nights with a cocktail dress and a great earring. I love both our more graphic / geometric semi-precious earrings and the more ornate brass and crystal pieces for spring.
Grace: Which are your personal favorite pieces?
Lizzie: We have done several necklaces inspired by a New Mexico “squash blossom”. They’re the pieces I always come back to.
Kathryn: The Original Dresser necklace is a favorite of mine. I love the clean and bold silhouette and how it was inspired by / for “Original Dressers”.
Grace: Let’s chat fashion… what trends for Fall are you most excited about?
Lizzie: I’m terrible at trends and not a trend shopper. I tend to invest in a lot of statement blazers (navy) and pants (navy and black) and then updated my wardrobe with accessories.
Kathryn: During market all the buyers kept talking about the 70’s trend. I am excited to bring out some of my high-waisted / flared jeans and rock the Fall fringe Lizzie seemed to perfectly add to several of our clutches.
Grace: And who are your favorite designers?
Lizzie: In a dream world: The Row, Stella McCartney, Proenza Schouler. In the real world: 3.1 Phillip Lim, Hache, Apiece Apart, No. 6… And I live in boots from Ann Mashburn and loafers from Dieppa Restrepo.
Kathryn: Agreed! I love investing in strong basics and then adding a strong necklace or cuff to the look. Apiece Apart is a personal everyday favorite of mine and I just tried on a Stella dress at the Webster (in Miami) that I am lusting over.
Grace: Let’s talk about beauty… tell me about your beauty routine and the products you use.
Lizzie: It’s pretty minimal. I love facialist Kristina Holey and she turned me onto Rose Oil instead of moisturizer. I use a pretty basic Laura Mercier tinted moisturizer with SPF & I use Nars bronzer. Then carmex and occasionally some blush. I’m not a big makeup person.
Kathryn: Ditto again. Oribe hairspray is phenomenal and I always keep Nars Heatwave lipstick in my purse.
Grace: If you were going away for 3 months and could only take 3 beauty products, what would they be?
Lizzie: Japanese hair wax (so necessary for short hair), Bliss body lotion, and Nars bronzer.
Kathryn: Oil of Olay lotion, Oribe hairspray, Nars bronzer
Grace: Who are your style icons?
Lizzie: My maternal grandmother. She was always the best dressed in the room and it was effortless.
Kathryn: Confident women.
Thank you so much to Lizzie + Kathryn for participating in today’s Stripe Talk! Be sure to check out previous features here!
photography by Jason Rossavage