ON A RAINY (what else is new?) day last week, MyLittleBird met thirty-something twin sisters Lizzie and Kathryn Fortunato. They were showing their 2016 spring/summer jewelry and leather collection at Ann Mashburn’s inviting Georgetown digs. (The 80-piece line, which incorporates semi-precious stones, leather, brass, African glass beads and embroidery, is exclusive to Mashburn in D.C.) The sisters, who hail from Wilmington, Delaware, studied art and English and economics respectively at Duke University. They now live in Brooklyn’s Clinton Hill and work with a team of eight metalsmiths and seamstresses at their Lower East Side office, where most of the line is produced.
We talked to them about design, business, travel and sisterhood.
MLB: I know a lot of people who would shy away from working with their sister? What drew you together?
KF: I was working in finance on Wall Street and Lizzie was working full time on the business (she left her PR job in 2007 to launch Lizzie Fortunato in 2008.) After two years of designing, fulfilling and pitching, she knew she needed to hire a full-time operations manager. In 2010, I jumped ship. We work really well together because neither of us aspires to the other’s job. Lizzie heads up all creative and is the artist in the business. My focus is sales and operations — I like numbers.
MLB: Lizzie, what led you to jewelry design?
LF: I was always drawn to the process of creating. Growing up I made my clothes and would get resourceful: taking apart items in my closet or going to a home decor store with my mom and buying trim to add to a skirt. I love the idea of combining different materials in unexpected ways to create something “greater than the sum of its parts” and growing up, I was always thinking what can I find and combine to make my outfit unique? Jewelry was really a natural extension of this. I always loved beads and stones and it seemed like the possibilities were endless. The irony is I always thought making jewelry would be so much faster than making clothes (working off patterns didn’t come naturally to me and I remember making my prom dress took about three months), but now some of the jewelry I make is far more involved and goes through so many iterations I’m not saving that much time after all!
MLB: Were you inspired by anything in particular for your spring collection?
LF: Yes, there was this photo of model Daria Werbowy wearing a crown of flowers in a 2004 issue of French Vogue. What appealed to me was the mix of rustic and tropical.
MLB: What do you like to do in, er, your spare time??
LF and KF: We both love to travel. It fuels inspiration for the line and we love to immerse ourselves in other cultures, to be inspired by the architecture, craftwork and techniques in places like Peru, Guatemala, Mexico, India, Turkey, Japan. We both have recently moved to Brooklyn where we have a lot more space, so spending time with our boyfriends in our respective apartments — cooking, gardening, entertaining — is the perfect downtime from work.
MLB: Who are your favorite clothing designers?
MLB: Being in the fashion business requires you to look “dressed.” Do you have go-to daily uniforms?
LF: Levis and an oversize blazer. My current rotation includes a black Phillip Lim and an off-white double-breasted blazer from The Row.
KF: I love Apiece Apart; the brand specializes in neutral separates great for mixing and matching and easy dressing. I wear a lot of cropped pants and love a good vest on top —layers are an easy way to finish off an outfit. For shoes I wear Dieppa Restrepo loafers and then complete the look with a Lizzie necklace. My go-to is the leather and brass Double Take collar.
MLB: Any role models?
LF and KF: Our mom. She’s the hardest worker, most fun and incredibly stylish. She’s a classic beauty. And Ann Masburn is pretty awesome, too. Like our mom, she really is an example of how to have a family, a career and enjoy life, too.