What made you two decide to work together as sisters?
Kathryn: Lizzie has always been the creative brain while I studied economics and was interested in finance / sales so our personalities are well suited to work together. We informally launched Lizzie Fortunato in undergrad (at Duke) where Lizzie was making jewelry from her dorm room. Girls caught on and would stop by our room and ask to borrow a necklace or pair of earrings for their formal or party that night. Lizzie jokes she would still be giving away jewelry if I didn’t step in and start organizing semi-annual trunk shows which gave us our first taste of creating and selling a collection (at the time the trunk shows subsidized spring breaks to Paris and college life!). These early years when Lizzie Fortunato Jewels was more hobby than business gave us the foundation for what the brand – and our working relationship – are today. After we graduated Lizzie moved into Fashion PR and I started working on Wall Street. She launched the brand first and a few years later when we knew the business was big enough to support both of us, I hopped ship and joined her. These days we are a great balance of creative and numbers, neither of us aspires to the other person’s role and we deeply respect and trust each other as business partners!
What challenges do you face working together?
Lizzie: Well at the end of the day we’re still sisters! So unlike other professionals sometimes we can get our “sister voices” on and squabble with each other – but that is rare and normally ends in an “I love you” about 5 minutes later. We sit at opposite ends of the office and each have great team members supporting us and our roles so we actually don’t interact closely during the day. We will email each other if we really need to get the other’s thoughts on something and sometimes our best conversations are on the subway ride to / from the office.
Do you find that you have similar styles? In what ways does your style differ?
Kathryn: In the early years after I (Kathryn) joined the business Lizzie joked that I still had Wall Street in my blood. She would say that I didn’t know how to get dressed up without including a blazer in my outfit. These days I think our style is pretty similar but Lizzie is probably a bit more eclectic than I am – at a recent party she opted for a bright, colorful, almost “loud” Dries VanNoten cocktail dress while I stuck to a super simple, pale pink Wes Gordon sheath dress. Overall we both tend to wear classic and clean clothes – tailored jeans or wide leg pants from Apiece Apart with cropped shirts and big jewelry. We both like to let our accessories do the talking.
Your jewelry is so unique – where do you get your inspiration?
Lizzie: I love to travel and take a lot of inspiration from the places we visit. I was an Art History major so artistic, cultural and architectural references also tend to play a role in our seasonal collections. I tend to start each season with a mood board of color / texture / artistic / travel references and weave a narrative throughout our pieces. For Fall/Winter 2016 I was very inspired by the Picasso Sculpture exhibit at the MOMA last year. I was so impressed by Picasso’s breadth of work and mediums and created different cast “biomorphic” shapes (brass “kidneys”, “macaronis”, pendants and more) that spoke directly to many of the pieces I saw in the Picasso exhibit. The resulting narrative was all about that funky – yet chic – high school art teacher dressed in her Southwestern garb and dripping in exotic and interesting statement jewelry. I designed Spring/Summer17 immediately following a trip to Vietnam and Cambodia so expect to see the “Divine Eye” symbol that was painted on so many of the cemeteries and temples, and larger statement bibs covered in flowers and organic materials – reflecting the wild jungle that grew up through so many of the ruins we visited.
What are your favorite pieces from your collection right now?
Kathryn: We are definitely having a “fringe” moment so the Crater Earrings and Indigo Tassel earrings are two go-to’s. Not only do they feel very on-trend but they’re really light and an easy way to dress up an outfit.
Lizzie: I love the Picasso Palette earrings for their more literal interpretation of my FW16 inspiration. I also have been living in the Icon Necklace. I love the charms and the “collected”, “talisman” aesthetic of this piece. I find myself continually gravitating to this necklace in the office and throwing it on with a crew neck and jeans.
What has been the most exciting thing that has happened since starting the company?
Lizzie: There have been some really exciting milestones that make all the hard work worth it. I remember about a year in before we had practically any retailers or even a “real” collection, I had sent a few statement necklaces to editors when a friend called at 6AM telling me to rush to the newsstand; I did and saw a gigantic picture of my statement necklace on the cover of WWD (Women’s Wear Daily) which is our industry’s trade publication. Successes and recognition like this certainly helped justify all the late nights of hard work – especially in the beginning but still now, even 8 years in. I also just gained membership to the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) in 2015 and so am honored to be a part of our industry’s most prestigious organization – the networking, visibility and prestige associated with the CFDA make me realize that I’m not just a “young designer” anymore.
Kathryn: It’s always really exciting to be on the street or in the subway and see someone wearing one of your creations. I remember we were in Japan and saw a cute Japanese girl in the street wearing one of our purses; that was a highlight! And just recently Julianne Moore wore one of our Black “Double Take” necklaces and wrote us a beautiful and thoughtful thank you note – another definite highlight. Overall, each season of selling and interacting with happy and loyal customers makes our work really rewarding.
What are your future plans for the brand?
Kathryn: We just launched leather belts for Fall’16 and have had a great response. Next up for Spring’17 are amazing printed neck scarves that can be wrapped or tied in a multitude of ways. We really like exploring new accessories that expand on our current categories – look out for more!