Twins Lizzie and Kathryn Fortunato are the duo behind NYC-based accessories line Lizzie Fortunato. Lizzie designs fashion forward statement jewelry featuring found, reclaimed and precious materials, while Kathryn spearheads operations of the cutting edge brand. Since launch, Lizzie Fortunato has landed pages in Vogue, Elle and Harper’s Bazaar, debuted handcrafted Italian leather bags, and collaborated on repeat runway shows with womenswear line SUNO.
What are your thoughts on the current trend of sister duos running jewelry companies?
KF: I think it’s really great that there’s such a tight community of young designers and that so many of them happen to be siblings. We’re close friends with a lot of our peers (Anndra Neen, Dannijo, etc.) and so we can relate to the benefits (and occasional challenges) of running a business with a family member.
LF: I agree. It’s awesome to be so close with so many young sibling duos that are going through similar experiences that we are. Sometimes we joke that “everyone and her sister” has a jewelry company these days, but we find it more of a support system than competition.
Were you always attached at the hip as kids?
KF: Yes! And we still are, we still live together.
LF: Our boyfriends joke that we’re never going to grow up and move out from each other. We joke that we need a town house for all of us.
Where did you guys grow up?
Wilmington, DE, then down to Duke University for college before moving to NYC in 2006.
Are buyers still gravitating toward statement pieces or more toward the lighter more simple ones?
LF: It’s interesting because we do have markets for both pieces – Japan sometimes goes for smaller/more delicate pieces for example, but overall statement is what we do best and what we’re best known for, so that’s normally the focus of our collections. That said, we’ve learned to do statement in more refined ways. For example, the Double Take Necklace is our favorite silhouette for spring and it’s a really pared down, minimalist collar that still makes a statement.
In what way, if any, has your business model evolved since you launched the company?
KF: We launched leather goods about 3 years ago and have increasingly focused on how to think not just about jewelry, but the Lizzie Fortunato lifestyle.
Do your leather goods and jewelry usually stem from the same inspiration?
LF: They often do. Travel is such a significant part of my inspiration and the places we go often simultaneously inform the silhouettes and colors of the jewelry, as well as the prints and patterns that are embroidered onto the leather goods.
Last year we did our first-ever trip to Japan and completely fell for the country. The Spring ’14 collection draws so much inspiration from the time we spent in both Tokyo and Naoshima (the “art island” about 5 hours south of Tokyo). While the jewelry really speaks to these influences – bright pink and red necklaces to reflect the energy of Tokyo and blue and white porcelain beads to represent the more traditional motifs of Kyoto – the leather goods benefited from the inspiration just as much. Two of my favorite leather goods from the season include The Ninth Bag in Shibuya, a navy calf hair purse with an electric pink beaded strap that is named after the electric neighborhood of Shibuya in Tokyo, and The Safari Clutch in Monet, which was inspired by the incredible gardens and original Monets we got to see in the serene island of Naoshima.
KF: Yes, I think a huge key to success for the jewelry and leather goods is how well they merchandise together without being matchy-matchy. I personally love the Spring’14 Sushi Clutch.
Who designs the prints on your bags?
LF: I do! I have at times collaborated with illustrator Bernadette Pascua on specific prints (Lips, Bananas, Sushi) but of recent have been doing all of the print designs on my own.
What are your pet peeves?
KF: Working with loud music/background noise.
LF: I get anxious when I see jewelry designers all coming out with similar pieces at once.
How do these affect your work?
KF: I love getting in early before the team and having my coffee and getting my emails done in peace and quiet before the craziness of the day begins!
LF: I really try and limit the amount of time I spend on fashion blogs and websites while I’m designing. There is such easy access to inspiration and information these days that sometimes you risk inspiration overload and get totally bombarded with ideas of what’s “in” based on what your peers are designing. I think it’s so important to distance yourself from the market during “design time” so that you can come up with pieces that are truly unique.
Can you share some of your best advice for emerging jewelry designers hoping to follow a similar path?
KF: Innovation is key, and at the end of the day having a strong, desirable product is the most important element. You have to have a product that you believe in.
LF: Absolutely. Though a strong brand doesn’t hurt. Instagram and social media didn’t even exist when we started. Utilize these tools to create a strong, consistent brand from the outset, there is a lot of competition out there and defining your aesthetic and brand early and consistently can be very helpful to gain recognition.