I discovered and fell in love with Emily’s jewelry over 5 years ago. Since then, Emily has been somewhat of a mentor to me as I launched my own jewelry line (now shut down), and we both worked with the same brilliant p.r. woman, Blair Brindley. Emily has the most unique sense of style of anyone I know. She seems to have evolved from another era, but from which I couldn’t pinpoint, because she defies all stereotypes. She is feminine, yet unconventional and sees the world in bold, beautiful color. Her jewelry line, Larkspur & Hawk, which is sold at places such as Net-a-Porter, Neiman’s and Kirna Zabete, embodies her spirit. Here, Emily shares how she went from being an antique jewelry dealer to a designer, what color means to her and more.
Before you started Larkspur & Hawk you sold antique jewelry. Tell us about how that passion evolved into a jewelry line. My background is in antiques and the history of decorative arts, meaning anything other than painting–three-dimensional objects, silver furniture, etc. I was a museum curator for many years in decorative arts at the New-York Historical Society. Objects really speak to me and not always beautiful objects, but interesting objects. I stopped working when my youngest son was about two, and that coincided with a time when I started to collect esoteric antique jewelry for myself. Things that you could buy at antique shows that didn’t need to be a major birthday present–things that fell into the category of paste, cut steel and jet. Antique jewelry fascinated me, because it was like little mini pieces of furniture. It all related to what I knew about other areas of decorative arts, but it was something you could wear on your wrist or on your hand.
I decided that I would become an antique jewelry dealer and I would do it privately. That really just started with trips to London and getting up at three in the morning with flashlights and going to markets that don’t even exist anymore. I quickly came to learn that my favorite period was the 18th century and Georgian jewelry.
I was absolutely enamored by foil jewelry, a technique that was used in the 18th century simply to add color, sparkle and shine to gemstones. Basically they didn’t have the lapidary techniques that we do today, so even diamonds got foiled. When a stone is on top of a colored metallic foil, there is this really distinct play of color and light. As you wear it, it moves, and it was something I would teach my clients about. As my business grew, I had this creative desire to make my own foil jewelry, but not commercially. I literally played with gemstones and candy wrappers and had a few designs in my head that were kind of Georgian Revival. I found a jeweler in New York to try my first designs, in 2007, 2008, and that was my turning point. Seeing those first pieces, I knew that I had achieved something that I couldn’t have if I hadn’t had 20 years of education in decorative arts and twelve years of selling antique jewelry—it was so personal for me. I was so artistically fulfilled by being able to hold something that showed all these years of work and knowledge indirectly.
Jewelry foiling was almost a lost art. Did you have to teach your jewelers how to foil? Yes, we still do. It’s hard work, and it’s hard to find craftspeople who understand it as it’s not a commonly used technique and is very laborious.
What does color mean to you? What draws you to it? Color means everything. Color excites me. I am always thinking about color and trying to achieve new combinations–like someone who uses paints. ‘What if I mixed this color with that color?’ Or I’ll see a beautiful color and think ‘how do I get that color?’
Most of our jewelry uses colorless stones on top of colored foils, but some of it uses colored stones on top of colored foil. It’s different levels of play of color.
Not only is your work colorful, it is very feminine, too. It is very feminine. It’s feminine, but it’s not sweet. I’m at a crossroads in development right now–I’m ready not to be just Georgian Revival and I don’t feel I have to define my work by foils anymore. I can make a very contemporary, modern design that might employ foiling, because I never tire of finding new ways to use foil, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be in a way that I’ve used it before. I’m not bored with the things that I’ve done. We have, in a relatively short period of time, created some classics.
What are your classics? Hands down, our most iconic is our Olivia Button earrings and Rivière necklace. Rivières are very special to me. I liked them as an antique jewelry dealer and I like them today. And rivière meaning simply an all-stone necklace; rivière is French for a river of stones.
Why do you think women love the Olivia Rivière so much? The colors are so pretty. It brightens the face. It has a juicy scale and it’s a flexible in the sense that you can wear it with jeans or you can dress it up. You can reverse it, because it has this pretty patterned back. So if you’re feeling like oh, I just want a metal finish–a black necklace or a gold necklace or a rose gold, it’s convertible. You can also choker it up.
Your Sadie collection is not as classic as your other designs. Sadie is my irreverent mix of classics all into one. All of my collections have women’s names, so Sadie was taking all of my “ladies” and mixing them up. It’s mixing colors, bezels, settings, scale and stones and once I started, I couldn’t stop. It just worked. For example the Crazy Quilt necklace was my favorite, but I thought it was going to be editorial–no one would buy the necklace. Lo and behold, Crazy Quilt flew out the door. I think that’s a sign of fashion and a sign of the times, and a sign of Gucci. Gucci has now made us all happily adjust our eyes to pattern, to color.
I’m excited for the next iteration because I had a little bit more fun with this idea. My husband knows how much I love Sadie, and he said ‘you love Sadie because you are Sadie’. And I am Sadie. I’m not really Olivia. I love the Olivia Button Rivière, but I am much more Sadie. I am mismatched. I am a little wonky. I am a little bit irreverent.
What inspires you? Everything. When I’m in a design zone, which is often, the world becomes jewelry. Everywhere I look, I can’t stop seeing jewelry. So I’m inspired by jewelry, by objects, by pattern, by furniture, it just all like kind of gets jumbled into my head. Sometimes it could be something very specific like when I designed the Antoinette collection. That was a capsule of suspended chandelier earrings that was directly taken from Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors and me wanting to recreate the feeling of a suspended chandelier. That was very specific, but in general, it’s everything. It’s every day.
I’m not going to say everything’s successful, because it’s not, but sometimes things just feel right, and you just know you have to do it. Whether it’s an idea for a photo shoot, a collaboration or a collection–I never stop thinking. It’s like my head hurts at the end of the day from thinking about colors and collaborations….it’s just ongoing.
Why do you think women respond so well to Larkspur & Hawk? I think it’s that it pulls a little bit on the heartstrings. It’s old fashioned but modern. It’s a little bit like the stuff your great great grandmother had, but it’s not. I think there’s a warmth to it and an authenticity to it, but it’s also color. I think pretty foils and pretty cut stones together just make pretty jewelry. People react to our unique use of color.
What do you think has been a key to your success? I think part of the reason I’ve been successful is nothing is ever forced. I don’t think ‘oh, what will this woman want to wear?’ and try to design for some random woman. It’s more about what am I feeling. Because if you start to design for someone in mind, you’re going to fail. To keep it interesting you have to feed yourself. You always learn from something, and something always leads to something else, and when you least expect it….
The expense of developing a collection is far smaller than the reward you get from going through it and learning from it. Probably one of the hardest collections I’ve worked on is one that we’ll be launching in the spring. Until you tweak it and have it, you don’t know how it’s going to be. But I don’t regret going down that path, even though it has been extraordinarily draining and time consuming for me, because I will have learned from it. If it’s not the perfect collection, then the next one I now know more.
How hard would you say you work? Even though people think, oh, jewelry designer, it must not be a lot of work–it’s a lot of work. There are times when I sit with colored pencils, and I sort of joke that if someone had said to me when I was ten years old, ‘When you grow up, you’re going to be able to color things for eight hours straight,’ I’d say that’s the best job ever!
Meanwhile I’m sweating over it, like this is so not fun. Why isn’t this fun? You just have to keep it fun. I think that’s always a challenge for everyone in business: how do you keep going and balance the things you don’t like doing with the things you do like doing?
Three words that describe you: I would say there’s something distinctly old fashioned about me. Not conservative old fashioned, but like I was born in another time. I’m the person that would really love to wear 18th century dresses every day. And yet, I’m a modern person and I have modern views and I have I think a distinctly modern aesthetic. I think I’m a little bit irreverent in a surprising way. I think those two things don’t go hand in hand. Which is why I’m Sadie. I don’t know what the third thing would be to describe me. I think I’m actually kind of funny, but you have to know me pretty well to know how funny I am. My children think I’m hilarious, and not always in a laughing at her way. This past Christmas I didn’t go skiing with them and they were calling me, ‘Oh, it’s just not fun without you!’
Three words that describe Larkspur & Hawk: Colorful, whimsical and a modern take on the past.
What’s next for Larkspur? I’m happy to be in my own showroom now; that was a really big step for me. I think that’s allowed me to think more creatively. We are embarking on two big collaborations this year, one with an artist that will be very different for us. Those kinds of authentic partnerships excite me, but I really can’t talk about them yet.
For me, it’s about how do you make your business enticing to you. It can burn you out really quickly if you don’t do the things and take the chances that creatively fulfill you.
Biggest splurge you don’t regret:I don’t really have big splurges, but lots of medium ones. The Chanel bag that I purchased during a Heathrow layover (pre-Brexit) was splurgy and scary at the time–no regrets!
Album currently on repeat: I have been turning back the clock to Petula Clark…never gets old.
Scent that brings back memories: Italian glove leather.
Lucky charm: My wedding band (and all the many rings given to me by my husband).
Favorite hour of the day: Sunset because it marks the end of the day–a time to reflect and a time to be at home with my family.
Follow Larkspur & Hawk: Instagram.