Meet our next #FREDAGirl(s), twin sisters and co-founders of accessories label, Lizzie Fortunato. We’ve had our eye on the brand’s one-of-kind statement jewelry and leather accessories, that are just the right balance of bohème details and modern style. Equal parts business savvy & design visionary, it is the sister’s classic meets eclectic signature style that we can’t stop obsessing over.
How did you get started in accessories design? Are you doing what you always imagined you’d be doing?
Kathryn Fortunato: Well Lizzie is the designer so I will let her answer but for me .. I actually started my career on Wall Street – working 18 hour days in an Investment Banking job. Lizzie founded the business without me and as much as I helped her on late nights and weekends, at the time I was fairly committed to my finance job. I would always speak hypothetically about “some day” joining Lizzie Fortunato full time and finally one day, Lizzie sat me down and said: “No one is going to force you to quit your high-paying Wall Street job and you can’t hit rewind on your 20’s. If you really want to join this company you are going to need to be the change”. I know this sounds like tough love but it was the exact push I needed. It feels like yesterday that I joined our company but it’s been over 6 years.
Lizzie Fortunato: I always loved the process of creating things. As a kid I would cut apart my clothes and alter them or make new things out of them. In high school I designed and made my prom dress… I actually still have it; a raw silk spaghetti strap v-neck dress in a really light lavender grey. Too bad I don’t fit in it. When I visited my first bead stores (in Philadelphia around 10th or 11th grade) I thought “this is fun and addictive and faster than making dresses” — if I had only known though! Now sometimes it takes me a month to make a necklace.
Travel and art are sources of inspiration for your collections. Can you tell us a little bit about your creative process of turning a vision into a collection from start to finish? Do you have a favorite place, near or far, that you travel to for inspiration?
LF: Travel and art definitely inspire me. Especially tactile art like textiles, tapestries, and other handicrafts that I collect in the places I visit. I always try and go to markets when I’m traveling and oftentimes a woven textile souvenir will provide the initial inspiration for an entire collection. I aggregate tangible tactile things like this (scraps of fabric, vintage beads, textiles) and also look at photographs, fine art and architecture and try and derive a ‘feeling’ or mood from those items. The next step in my process is gathering the materials that will be used in the collection: beads, fabrics, leather cords, brass castings. These materials reflect the mood of the collection and drive the “sampling process”. I don’t do too much sketching (except for the designs on our leather goods which I hand-draw before they are embroidered on looms in India) because it’s more natural for me to lay out the materials that go into an earring or necklace and really let the materials dictate the final form. For example, the FW17 season that I’m designing now is influenced by our recent trip to East Africa. In Kenya I saw so many awesome fabrics and brought back some of their traditional Kangas. Then when sourcing fabric in NYC I discovered some beautiful silks in a floral print that really echoed the fun Kanga prints. I will incorporate this fabric into necklaces for the upcoming season and a huge piece of this fabric is living on my moodboard right now!
I love traveling anywhere that I’ve never been before. I also love visiting Brimfield the antique market in Massachusetts. Sometimes I go to shop for my home and sometimes I go to shop for inspiration.
What has been one of the best moments of your career so far? Any regrets?
KF: We have had some career highlights that always seem to come at the right time – providing a boost and motivation amidst the long hours! Early on we had an incredible full page credit front of book in Harper’s Bazaar, it was amazing – it felt like a credit that should have been reserved for Gucci or Louis Vuitton. We also were admitted entrance into the CFDA [Council of Fashion Designers of America] in 2015 which was a a great milestone. Most important and rewarding so far is our ability to be a sustainable company that employs a range of talented, diverse females.
Tell us a little bit about your personal style and what’s important to you?
KF: I like to be pretty neat and tailored. I am short so tend to get all of my pants (preferences: Acne, Jesse Kamm, Apiece Apart) hemmed and then will work clean / easy tops (Demylee sweaters are a personal favorite) layered with a vest and of course a necklace. I find statement necklaces really easy to wear, ours tend to be light and wearable so they’re actually the easiest way to dress up for day. For evening I tend towards a cuff and statement earrings. I live in 2 pairs of Freda Salvador shoes: a pair of ankle boots that have literally gotten me through the NY winter (I am now lusting for the smart, Sleek Chelsea Ankle Boots) and for spring I can’t wait to wear the Keen x Andra Neen mule. I love the mix of hardware on the shoes (the Andra Neen jewelry sisters are good friends of ours) and I think these will be really cute with culottes and skirts for spring.
LF: I really love classic basics mixed with a good dose of “art teacher”… I’m drawn to beautiful embroideries and embellishment but like to mix this with tailored, neat shapes and classic looks. I have a boyfriend blazer from the Row which is a go-to for work events. I would pair this with tailored jeans and my new rust Freda Salvador boots. Layer a necklace on top and I’m out the door. For dress up I really love Dries van Noten.
What is the best part of working with family?
KF: I get to work with my best friend, someone I can trust and someone who related to me 24/7.
LF: My best friend is always in the office.
What is your life mantra or motto to live by?
KF: Work hard, be happy.
LF: Work hard, play hard.