Lizzie Fortunato on the Big, Bold Jewelry You Need For Fall

Exhibit A: The unabashedly artsy wares of Lizzie Fortunato, who visits Houston this week.

By Sarah Rufca Nielsen September 19, 2016

Lizzie and kathryn fortunato designer portrait i50ggz

Elizabeth and Kathyrn Fortunato of jewelry line Lizzie Fortunado.

Remember the scene in Working Girl when, upon hearing how much Melanie Griffith's borrowed outfit costs, balks: "It isn't even leatha!"? Though the fashionistas among us have long accepted that design and craftsmanship are worth paying a premium for in apparel, that idea has taken longer to take hold in jewelry, where the label fine is usually determined by how many carats a piece can boast.

Among the makers changing this mindset are Elizabeth and Kathryn Fortunato, the New York-based sisters behind the line Lizzie Fortunato. Taking inspiration from art and their global travels, the sisters create colorful jewelry coveted for its cool vibe and statement appeal. There are no diamonds here (though gemstones make appearances) but please, don't call it costume jewelry. 

Long available at Houston boutiques like Saint Cloud and Ann Mashburn, the Lizzie Fortunato team are hitting Houston for a meet and greet at Kick Pleat on Friday from 2 to 6 p.m. Houstonia caught up with Elizabeth by phone in advance of their trip to ask about what jewelry trends they are excited about for fall and what Texas women are into.

Houston: I wasn't surprised to hear that you are friends with Wendi Koletar, because your jewelry seems like a perfect fit for Kick Pleat's aesthetic.

Lizzie Fortunato: We launched the line in 2008 and pretty much from the beginning were stalking Kick Pleat because we were specific about the kind of store that we wanted to work with. Her stuff has an elevated point of view that's original and luxurious at the same time. ... I have to say, not being biased, it's my favorite store to shop in. So many of the lines she carries are the lines I aspire to wear and collect, there are so many beautiful, crisp, clean pieces.

With your look I'd expect that the East Coast cities are a natural fit for your line. Are you finding an audience in Texas too?

LF: Texas has actually become an incredible market for us. There's an incredible appreciation of fashion in Texas. Originally most of our success was East Coast, New York—that's where we're from and went to college—and then California became a big market but there are cities throughout the country that have developed a great following. It's usually where there's a buyer that trains the customer and makes it accessible and not so scary to wear. 

Tell me about some of the inspiration for your fall/winter collection.

LF: We always go into a season with a narrative, often times based on travel because we reference different cultures, and we tend to look at fine art and different art movements. For Fall/Winter 16 I was looking at a lot of 20th-century fine artists. I went to the Picasso sculpture exhibit at the MOMA and was inspired by how he was using all these surprising shapes to create figures.

In the office we called them the totem shape and the kidney shape, one angular and one rounded and biomorphic and they reminded me of these sculptures. It's interesting how much fine art was on my mood board when I started designing—we even put some in the look book so buyers could see the connection and where the look was coming from. We've actually developed a following of customers wanting to know what the names are for different pieces, because we do name each one and sometimes they like to get to know the thought process behind each one. And sometimes they don't care and just want to wear it.

I'm always fascinated to see what kinds of materials your pieces will include. What are you working with now?

LF: We try and use as big a breadth of materials as possible—new materials lend themselves to new ideas. We're always using beads and stones, we have a stone cutter in the Pacific NW who is working on rough turquoise from mines in Colorado and rough coral. This is the first season we're doing inlaid stones like lapis, coral and onyx inlaid together, it's a new technique for us and really fun to design.

Similarly we are always playing with tactile elements—we do a lot of casting but incorporate more fabrics, fringes and beads. Our fringe earring has been so popular, it's so lightweight but has statement appeal in that it's a fringe earring but at the end of day it's straightforward. Also more elaborate necklaces with lots of layers together, kind of mixing those elements; tassel with metal with beads for a look that the sum is greater than the parts.

You've really embraced a 'more is more' vibe, which is really fun.

LF: I think that's continuing to trend—there's been some movement towards tiny, delicate diamonds... I think that's still around, but we're seeing such a swing back into statement jewelry. Proenza Schouler had big cut-out enamel jewelry for fall and in the Céline collection for spring we're seeing so much color. More is definitely more right now.

What are you seeing as big trends for fall?

LF: I would say my number one takeaway from fall is the statement earring. Our earring sales have been spiking, there were so many big earrings on the runways from Loewe and Balenciaga and we see people catching on at the customer level, too. In terms of trends of fashion and jewelry, we're still seeing people really attracted to chokers, which go well with a higher collar, you can do a little mock collar, no sleeve, shirt layering and it looks great.

And higher necklines seem like a great palette to layer your necklaces over.

LF: Whenever we're shooting look books it's rare we shoot straight on skin—there's always a sweater or a shirt. I'm usually running around Manhattan pretty covered-up, so I love wearing it over a button-down or a t-shirt. It's not necessarily wearing a strapless gown and a necklace. We have layered pieces and different lengths of pieces perfect for putting over a mock-neck or a light-weight sweater.

What are you looking forward to for this trunk show?

LF: I haven't been to the Houston Kick Pleat store ever and I'm excited to see how it varies from Austin. I'm excited to see how the Houston shopper compares, too—are they more dressy? It's such a treat to see how they style their Lizzie because people definitely do it in all sorts of different ways and we love that it's worn by different people of different styles, ages, you name it.

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