Talking Stone Film

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Megan Robertson: Welcome to the Frist Center
for the Visual Arts. My name is Megan Robertson and I’m the Associate Curator of
Interpretation here at the Frist Center. We’re so pleased that you’ve joined us this
evening for our first Artist Forum inspired by the exhibition Italian Style: Fashion since 1945.
The Frist Center has been inviting local artists to participate in these forums to share their work
with the community for several years, but recently we’ve been trying to expand the forums
to encompass non-traditional media and make stronger connections to the exhibitions on view
in our galleries. Italian Style posits the question “How does place impact fashion design and
production?” By spotlighting our local fashion scene, we hope to relate the exhibition to our
own modern concepts of style and to the creative output of Nashville. We hope you’ll join
us for our second forum which will take place on August 27th and will feature two designers of
leather goods, Phillip Nappi and Susan Sherrick. Tonight we’re so pleased to have the fashion
designer Amanda Valentine and jewelry designer Mclaine Richardson, here to tell us about their
sources of inspiration and processes. So I’ll go ahead and introduce them. Amanda
Valentine is a fashion desiger and stylist. She graduated from the University of Nebraska
with a clothing and textile design degree. After school she spent time in Los Angeles
working as a wardrobe stylist and costume designer and playing bass in a garage rock
band. She moved to Nashville is 2006, where her work in fashion has taken many forms, from
owning a vintage shop to managing boutiques and to music video styling, photoshoots,
commercials, and red carpet events. In 2013, she was selected as a designer to compete on
the 11th season of Emmy award winning Project Runway. She placed 8th that season and she
did get to show at Merdedes Benz Fashion Week. She returned to Nashville and to styling
and launched her own clothing line, Valentine Valentine. In 2014, she was invited
back to Project Runway for season 13, for an all-stars edition, where she placed 2nd and had
another stellar collection to show at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. So stepping back from
styling, Amanda is now focused on her own collection and these are all manufactured right
here in the Nashville area. Mclaine Richardson is a jewelry designer and the owner and creative
director of Margaret Ellis Jewelry. Richardson’s love of art and design was fostered during her 13
years at the University School of Nashville and at Furman University where she graduated with
an individualized curriculum degree in business and design. It was while studying abroad at
Lorenzo de Medici in Florence, Italy, that she first discovered her interest in metalwork and
jewelry design. In 2009, she joined Margaret Ellis’ jewelry design studio, Margaret Ellis Inc.,
as a production metalsmith. Ellis’ company was established in 1983 by the designer. Shortly
after joining Ellis’ team, Mclaine began to take on more and more responsibilities in studio
management design and it soon became apparent to the owner that Mclaine was the only
person that she could imagine carrying on her business in her name. In 2013, Mclaine
Richardson purchased the business upon Ellis’ retirement and she now carries on the legacy of
the founder and forges her own path at the helm of Margaret Ellis Jewelry. And so tonight each
designer is going to do a short presentation about their work. Afterwards, we’ll open the floor
to questions. We’ll be very informal in that Q&A so while you’re listening if you’ll think up things
you want to know, your burning questions, we’ll share some of those back and forth with
one another. I also want to thank our sponsors for their ongoing support of the Frist Center’s
exhibitions and programs, the Metro Nashville Arts Commission, the Tennessee Arts
Commission, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Mclaine, Amanda, thank you so much
for being here. Amanda, please come on up to the stage and share your work. [Applause] Amanda Valentine: Hi everybody. I’m wearing
high heels tonight so I’m a little out of my element. I don’t know how you ladies wear these
all the time, I’m just going to be honest. So thank you to the Frist Center for having me,
thank you everybody for coming tonight. All I ever really want to do is talk about my
process and my inspiration and all of this so I’m in heaven. But if I go off on a tangent and
talk about color blocking too long, throw something at me and I’ll stop. So specifically,
I’m going to be talking about the amazing collaboration I had with Mclaine Richardson, you
heard her background a little bit. Jewelry was a very big part of the collection I showed at
Mercedes Benz Fashion Week last fall. It was my Spring 2015 collection and it got me
second place. Almost, almost, almost. But the jewelry was really a highlight of it so I
think it’s so neat that Mclaine and I are together tonight because she was such a big part of my
collection. So that collection was actually inspired by–cheesy photo number one–by a trip
that I took, and the three other finalists of last season’s Project Runway, to Rome and so this
kind of ties it all together, kind of insanely how this worked out, with the exhibit if you guys
haven’t visited. I went when it first got here and I just kind of did another run-through and it’s
crazy, a lot of things I’m going to talk about actually, you’ll see little, I don’t know, it’s really
funny how it all works out. So first I’m going to give you a really quick, taking it all the way
back. Just so you get to know a little bit about me. So clearly, fashion is the great love of my
life and ever since I can remember I’ve been putting together outfits and accessorizing them
and being a total weirdo. So my parents were really encouraging. They bought me a Vogue
subscription when I was 12 years old and when I was in junior high they bought me private
sewing lessons instead of dance or whatever normal girls do. So when I graduated from high
school my next step was really clear, I knew I wanted a degree. I couldn’t afford to go to one of
those wonderful New York colleges that I kind of wish I would’ve gone to. So I went to the
University of Nebraska, which surprisingly has a really great fashion program. A really great
international quilt studies center. So I got my clothing and textile design desgree
from there and I started kind of discovering my thing, as you can see. It’s a little weird. I’ve
always been into this Pop Art, 60s, bordering psychedelic thing. And for some reason we
always modeled our own garments in college which was weird. That was not the career for
me. I always did something that was a little bit 70s bohemian. Think quilting and patchwork
and long, draped dresses. I’ve always done that. I always had an international influence. I think
this comes from my father traveled for business the entire time I was growing up. So he would
bring home silks from China or Doc Marten’s from England, that was awesome, I had green
ones. And rugs and tapestries from South America. And when I think about that, it’s really
interesting how all of those things kind of melted together and created my style. So thanks dad.
And it’s all really kind of through the filter of the 90s, because that’s when I grew up. I’m 34
years old. So it got real real weird. [Laughter] I started shredding fabric in college and that was
my way of making a very cheap fabric look kind of interesting. I was putting myself through
college. I actually worked as a janitor. Not glamorous. But all of my peers were
spending just hundreds and hundreds of dollars on silks and I thought, I’m not going to keep this
after college. So I would buy double knit polyester and I would shred it and I would
stretch it and I would burn it and I would paint on it and do all sorts of things to it because it
was completely indestructable. [Laughter] It will survive long past all of us. Cockroaches
and polyester. So that was kind of where my style started to develop. It got a little more
glamorous as time went on, thank goodness. This is a shoot I did with Nashville photographer
Heidi Ross. Look her up, her stuff is amazing. We just had a lot of fun in the street outside of
her house one night. So the backstory you kind of heard from Megan already is I moved to LA
and then eventually Nashville, pursuing a career in wardrobe styling and costume design, just
trying to make a living, with a fashion degree. All while creating collections every season on
the side. When I look back now, I know that my point of view was definitely developing, but really
at the time I just had kind of an expensive and time-consuming hobby. What I really wanted to
do was design full-time, but that’s very very difficult. I love this shoot, it was so fun. I think
that’s been knocked down and new condos are up right there. It’s a glimpse into Nashville a few
years ago. So the sketches aren’t going to get any better. I’m a horrible sketcher and I used to
be really self-conscious about it but when I had to sketch on television I kind of realized, you
know what, it is what it is. So I could endlessly chop up simple shapes with a thousand pieces
and I think that comes from watching my mother quilt as I was growing up. I was fascinated with
that process. I loved watching her collect scraps of vintage fabrics and put them together in weird
ways and sometimes a piece was too small so you’d have to change the shape of the quilt
block. I was just fascinated with it. So this is actually there’s a lot of images from my real
sketchbooks. So I definitely am a vintage fabric addict, as you will see. So I continued kind of
making collections and building my brand of ready to wear. This is when my sketches were a
little bit cleaner, sometimes they’re clean. So this collection, which I showed at Nashville
Fashion Week I think in 2011. I called this collection French Medieval Fly Girl. So for a few
years, my technique for creating collections was very simple. I would take two dissonant
ideas and I would mash them together as hard as I could. So in this case it was kind of
medieval armor and 90s hip-hop. But it kind of works, that’s the weird thing, it kind of works.
So, here’s a little bit more, but it’s still that kind of patchwork idea, different textures, simple
shapes. That was fun. I liked that collection. So let’s fast forward to Project Runway, let’s get
that out of the way. Let’s talk about this. I love these pictures that were taken without my
knowledge because they very clearly express my feelings about the first time I was on Project
Runway. That show is kind of simultaneously the best and worst thing for an artist. It’s the
worst because most of us are introverts. I’m going to speak for all the artists in the
audience right now. Most of us work alone for the most part. Most of us don’t love
deadlines. Most of us enjoy the process of watching our work change, of changing our
minds, of changing course mid-stream. So this also leads me to why it’s the best. You
are forced to make very quick decisions, which are often from your gut, which is good. You’re
forced to defend your work, to back it up. And you’re forced to pull the richest inspiration
from the depths of your soul because there’s no inspiration in a white room with flourescent
lights and all you can hear is the hum of a giant camera right by your head and probably
someone yelling in the corner. So it’s an intimidating situation to try and relax and be
creative. So all that being said I started doing I think much better work when I came off of the
show the first time. I was fired up about it, I was feeding my offbeat inspirations but still creating
wearable clothes. It was kind of streamlining a little bit. I love this shoot, that was fun. And
also my styling work improved too. I was starting to create custom pieces. I created that
jacket and the sash and the jewelry. I was having a little bit more fun with my styling. This
was a Verizon commercial that I spent days and days and days trying to find the perfect futuristic
waiter costumes. They’re out there right? [Laughter] So after calling I think I counted 42
costume houses across the United States I finally said to the director, I can’t find them. I’m
going to have to make them. So I stayed up for I think three days straight and made every single
piece of clothing you see in that commercial. It was rough, it was rough. And I also just found
like-minded clients that were willing to go there with me and it really gave me the confidence
that there’s a market for my work. Fans responded to it, they loved it, it was great.
I was getting paid to do this, it was amazing. So, the executive producer of Project Runway
called me last spring and said, what if you came back on the show? And she said fans are going
to vote someone back and I thought, nobody remembers me. Anyway, just kidding, I’m on!
[Laughter] And I just thought, I don’t want to be miserable this time around and I want to do it
right. So I was ready to roll. So because you literally have no inspiration beyond what they
give you in a challenge, you don’t have books, you don’t have music, you don’t have art, it’s
rough. You’re forced to just kind of transpose your point of view on a wide variety of occasions.
I learned what my look looks like for red carpet. I was terrified of red carpet. I did kind of a street
wear casual look, that I can do. I can do that all day. But especially when we had the
children’s challenge, I just thought, I have never made children’s clothes but I kind of quilted a
little jacket and called it a day. Worked out really well. And honestly, it’s an exercise I wish
all artists could participate in because I learned a lot of valuable lessons about what my base
line is, what my foundation is. To be forced to design or create for something you wouldn’t
naturally is just a really great lesson. And I got to make an eye ball dress. [Laughter] This is
like my dream. I was safe that week, I was so stoked. I would have gone home for that dress. I
just got to have fun this time around. I wasn’t so worried about being everything to every judge, I
just thought, I’m going to make whatever I want to make. Turns out that’s a really good place to
create from. So at the end of season 13, last summer, we were whisked away to Rome as an
inspiration for our finale collections, our spring 2015 collections. I kind of get frustrated that I
don’t have better pictures but then I remember I have a TV show. The pictures aren’t great, I’m
like, it’s all on TV! [Laughter] So Tim was a phenomenal tour guide and we spent three days
wandering the streets and sketching and shopping and eating and drinking wine. Tim
Gunn loves white wine. And because of the oddness of filming a television show, there’s a lot
of down time. So we stood in alleys more than anything else, waiting for cameras to be set up,
waiting for lights to be moved. And what’s funny is you kind of can’t help but look around and I
was very inspired by all of the taupe stone and the intricate metal. I love all these metal doors.
These are the cheesiest pictures, I’m sorry. But I loved the graffiti against old buildings.
There was just all these little subtle things. I’m used to such bold graphic stuff that I really
had to kind of sink into this subtlety. One of my favorite images, I’m obsessed with this, I’m
obsessed with this image. I just love the idea of the old and the new mashing up. I’m
obsessed with opposites so any time two disparate ideas knock up against each other, it’s
very exciting to me. And there’s something about all those structures that are just
otherworldly and a little bit creepy, honestly. They’re so huge and they’re so old. So when I
got back to New York after the trip I stayed several more days in the city to buy my fabric,
to kind of get ready, to make the collection. So first I went to the Met. And kind of wanted to
round out my inspiration for this collection. So these are all pictures from my iphone. I
spent an entire day wandering through every nook and cranny, snapping images that fit into
this world that was starting to form in my head. Be it jewelry, or pottery, or paintings. There’s
always a Mondrian. It all came with me into this universe. This is me in my happy place.
[Laughter] We had a conversation. I’m just kidding. [Laughter] So once I had the
foundations of this universe I was trying to create for this collection, the fabric buying and
notions buying came pretty easy. So I found dead stock vintage embossed suede.
Oh my gosh. I couldn’t believe when I saw this because it felt like the exact marriage of the
inspiration from Rome and my thing. So I bought a lot and then I also bought red and blue. This is
an amazing place, Libra Leather. When I went in they said, oh we’re tie-dying leather for
Alexander Wang right now downstairs. I felt very fancy. So then begins the mood boarding.
Collecting images. I do a lot of this. This mood board, Rhianna made the cut, hey girl! This
mood board honestly could probably work for about every collection I ever make. These are
kind of my standards. But I immediately realized that jewelry would be crucial to the collection.
And my horrible sketches begin. Wait til you see these. They’re very bad. [Laughter] Rough.
So I contacted Connie, who I’d known for years, had run every fashion show I had ever done in
the city, because I knew her daughter was a killer jewelry designer and I knew that she
especially specialized in heavy, hearty metal. I knew she could do it. So we met and thank
goodness she is as intelligent as she is and could understand these sketches and made
sense of them. And had the most insanely awesome ideas that took it to a whole other
level. We had a really tiny time frame too, I had three weeks to put together a ten piece
collection with jewelry, which is stupid, just so you know. [Laughter] But this is really where it
began. Look, I even have your e-mail address. This is from the sketchbook, trying to figure it
out. Trying to spell the names that we’re going to name these things. So I went back to my
mood board again and got real weird. The spookiness of those ancient buildings and
my affinity for all things 70s and bizarre kind of came up with this. I’m interested in
bizarre spirituality. Is that a thing? Cults fascinate me. If you guys haven’t seen the
Source Family documentary, it’s on Netflix. You have to watch it. This is, I always get his
name wrong, Father Yod. I’m sorry, he is a fashion icon! What is he wearing? I’m just
obsessed with him and it was this cult in Hollywood in the 70s and they wore huge
caftans. I also have Italian pop star Patty Pravo. That’s not pronounced correctly, I’m sure. Who
kind of looks like David Bowie. So it’s this kind of spooky, doesn’t she? It’s crazy. It’s a little Art
Deco, and it’s definitely Roman, and it’s a little spooky and it was really starting to come
together. So I just kept thinking, who is this woman who is wearing these big metal pieces of
jewelry and these giant color blocked dresses. She’s probably the leader of a cult. So my
working title for this collection, because I can’t help but come up with a stupid title, was “70s
Art Deco Cult Leader in Rome.” [Laughter] It kind of makes sense. You guys are laughing
because it makes sense, it totally makes sense. So anyway, to just run through some of
the jewelry pieces we did, the Oculus Cuff was named for the Oculus inside the Pantheon which
was my favorite place. I actually walked in this building–I’m not that emotional, maybe I am–
and just started bawling. I couldn’t believe it. This was my absolute favorite favorite spot in the
whole city. The Fibula Cuff, which was named for Roman brooch. Mclaine geniusly came up with
this concept of creating jewelry based on toga clasps. Once she said that, I was like, can
we be best friends forever? Genius. And then, let’s see, we skipped one. Oh, the
Amanda Collar, which we get to call it Amanda because it’s my favorite. I just wanted to have a
really hearty, protective collar. And Wisdom of the Ages Cuirass. I always say
that wrong. It means armor, basically. Over the torso, specifically. It’s inspired by this jewelry
designer, and watch me botch this name, Sergey Zhiboedov. He’s from Uzbekistan, he’s
been in America for a long time. He’s a contemporary designer but I think his
work is so 70s and spooky and totally impractical and I wanted one of my one. So that
was the finale piece, what the cult leader wears to identify herself. That’s what the leader wears,
right? So I also collaborated with knitwear designer Joseph Segal. If you guys watched
season 11, he was the cat sweater guy. He’s an amazing knitter. So he did this machine
knit that brings back in that evil eye and my obsession of geometrics and it felt vaguely
Egyptian. What I was trying to do was call back to all that knitwear from the 70s, but kind of
transpose a little Art Deco on top of it. So that’s what I came up with. With this
collaboration I was really aware of the venue that I was going to be presenting this and I wanted to
make sure the audience had a 360 degree experience. So I wanted the side seams to meet
in interesting ways, I wanted the backs to come to a satisfying point in ways that would keep
your interest walking towards you and walking away from you and really this calls back to all
the sculptures and monuments we saw in Rome that were just a 360 degree experience and told
a story all the way around. I would sketch things out, more crappy sketches. I would sketch
things out flat often just to kind of get an idea of how to pattern them, to see each view. This is
my husband’s favorite picture because he’s like, it looks like a Picasso! [Laughter] Like if
Picasso was a little drunk. But it is kind of cool how the sketches turn out because I was
obsessed with the idea of this shape moving across the side because the sides of garments
are ignored sometimes. And yes, they are a nightmare to put together. They’re like 30 pattern
pieces, it’s really stupid. But I also would just I’m just trying to show you sketches to show
you how I really work. I draw and re-draw the collection over and over and over again to kind of
figure out the order, to figure out what I’m missing, and it changes constantly. And I also,
my sketches are usually very practical. And just like, trying to figure out the math of a
dress. And trying to figure out how to keep the pieces labelled. It looks really OCD but it really
works, I have a system. So honestly I draw and redraw a dress probably an average of 30 times,
so the sketches are very primitive. And I need new sharpies. But then look, a
dress! It was that and now it’s this. Really it was so thrilling with this collection
because I had a budget and I was able to do things I hadn’t done before to collaborate with
Mclaine and Joe and artists that are the best at what they do and can kind of fall down the rabbit
hole with you a little bit and just really go there. That’s a rare thing to find. And the jewelry made
the collection. And that was very special. And Nina Garcia loved it. She Instagrammed
about it. She kept calling it a really personal collection which I take as a huge compliment.
And she said, see up there, I adored the jewelry. So you know, it’s on to the next collection as
always. This was Fall 2015 which I showed last spring. This is when I showed in Austin at Austin
Fashion Week. It’s another batch of inspiration. This one I call “70s Sci-Fi Ski Lodge…”
[Laughter] Hold on, I’m not even done. “…Meets Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead
and Working Girl.” Right? It totally works. So it’s always on to another batch of jewelry.
Still giant, still fringey. And I really appreciate you guys having me tonight because I need to
go into my cave and design Spring 2016, I’m very behind. So this may be the last time I see
humans for a while. [Laughter] So thank you very much for having me. [Applause] [Applause] Mclaine Richardson: Alright, y’all are going to
have to bear with me because I’m going to be a lot more analytical than Amanda. Alright, so
as y’all briefly got the little introduction by Megan, I’m Mclaine Richardson, I’m the
owner and designer of Margaret Ellis Jewelry. We do handcrafted artisan jewelry made in
sterling silver, bronze, 18 and 22 carat gold with touches of stones and pearls. And using
traditional metalsmith techniques to create. You know, I’ve known since I was a little girl that
I wanted to pursue something in the art world. But when I won a contest for the Nashville Zoo,
actually when it first opened, I was interviewed by a local news station asking, what did I want
to be when I grew up? And I came up with the brilliant answer of “a paintist.” Yes, I know. Not a
real word. But everyone thought it was really cute. So we went with it. But my love for things
that were creative was really fostered at home and then at USN. Sorry, I don’t like speaking, so
you’re going to bear with me. [Laughter] But I was really pursued heavy in the arts with
that being photography, mixed media, sculpture, and just graphic design has been my passion
growing up. It’s always what I was involved in. And really, yes. But the thing is I also excelled
in math and science so I was not your typical creative in the fact that I had a stong aptitude for
organization and administration and through internship opportunities, volunteer projects, and
different leadership positions I had growing up I knew I could manage multiple details and
people. So I always thought that I should go into something more in business and definitely had
never thought I would be designing jewelry and running a business. But I did know I wanted to
do something in the arts. So after I graduated high school, I attended Furman University. Sorry,
this is backtracking a little bit, these are all of my things that I did as I grew up. Graphics,
sculpture, some photography. If anyone can identify the bowling lanes, then you’re a true
Nashvillian, because they no longer exist. But this is kind of me growing up. It had nothing
to do with jewelry. It was your typical going to summer camps and all that jazz. So I attended
Furman University with the inclination of doing something in the arts. Thankfully they allowed
me to create an individualized curriculum program. I did a custom degree in business and
design so that kind of fit my right and my left side of my brain and how I think things through. I
actually found my ICP proposal the other day as I was preparing for this and I thought this was
rather telling. I said, I’m more interested in the business side of design than becoming a
designer. I cannot see myself sitting at a computer working on layouts and I do not
believe that I have the talent to become a successful studio artist. I would also like to
develop my own line of products some day or open a line of boutiques. And it would be
extremely important to have business knowledge to be a successful entrepreneur.
Little did I know. So having that business foundation I have found is really the best
decision I could have made. I’m going to take a break. But I concentrated on my art studies in
graphic design, sculpture, art history with the basics of business classes of accounting,
marketing, statistics, computer science. So my senior year I went and studied abroad in
Florence. You know, I took digital photography, interior and industrial design classes, Italian
fashion classes, as well as a jewelry class. And here I really fell in love with the process of
making jewelry. It took, you know, I was designing with my graphics background and not
sketching by hand because I always hated drawing but I loved playing around with the
computer and making shapes and subtracting. And so I would design on the computer and then
I would take that and it would turn into these lovely little pieces that I did when I was in Italy. It
was, you know, earrings and little tentacle shaped rings that I pulled from a photo of my trip
to the beach. So I’ve always loved, as I said, making things by hand, cutting out paper
shapes and patterns and assembling them. The computer gave me the ability to do this by
electronically and then metal gave me a way to do this, getting out of my paper clipped world.
So after graduation I moved back here to Nashville and got a job in a health care company
in the marketing department. I instantly learned that is not what I wanted to do with myself. It
was good business experience but I thought I would not make it through the year. But so to
feed that creative need that I had while working for the company I actually started volunteering
here at the Frist Center with the membership department as well as I found a copper jewelry
class that Vanderbilt does over at the Sarratt Art Studios and started doing that. Shortly, not
too long after that, the company was bought out and we were all laid off and so through a series
of freelance graphic and photography projects I got reacquainted with Margaret Ellis. I’d grown
up with my mom wearing Margaret. If you are a native Nashvillian many of you might remember
Mclure’s. That is where most of the people in Nashville are familiar and it’s where she would
send my dad to buy her Christmas gifts. So it was quintessential to her kind of fashion
aesthetic as I was growing up. Margaret brought me on as a full-time production metalsmith with
the warning that she would probably only be here 3-5 more years so I hope that was cool,
was basically what I got told. Which was fine because I didn’t know what I still wanted to do
with my life but just like in Italy it kind of rocked my world of I fell in love with it, saw it as
something that I could keep going. But of course I can’t just make the jewelry, I get bored with
that. So I also became tech support, I became shipping coordinator, studio manager, and then I
moved our business processes to the 21st century. We were making style sheets with
xerox and hand written notes and copiers. So we’ve moved that to the computer. Three
years later, she asked me if I’d be interested in purchasing the business. And she had planned
to close the door and walk away. But thankfully she thought enough of me that I would be able
to take her 30 year old business and turn it into something more. Upon her retirmement in
January 2013, I took over and literally made my took my first collection to New York three days
later. So I didn’t really have a clue what I was getting into but I knew I had to do whatever to
make it work. I had loyal employees who had been with the company since the foundation as
well as customers who bought for 30 years who still loved the designs. So I had to make it
work. Not to mention I really liked the sound of owning my own company. As an artisan jeweler,
we could market to galleries all the way to you know, the craft fairs. Because that’s what most
people think of. But we chose to focus on the fashion market and really take that and produce,
follow the fashion seasons. And so we design and produce three collections a year. We attend
two large New York trade shows. So this is me being goofy, setting up the booth, where we live
for three days and sell to high end boutiques and galleries across the country. So we have
about 60% wholesale business and 40% retail. Because we also sell off our website as well as
our show room that’s across the street in Cummins Station. Here’s our lovely studio. We
source all our stones and pearls from reputable vendors that Margaret’s worked with that we
continue to work with. And to have a successful business you really have to have more than just
great inspiration and pretty pieces. You have to be able to know who your customer is, what
they like, how they shop, and just who they are. So I do a spring and fall as I call it Southern
trunk show tour. I travel to a lot of the boutiques that sell our pieces. And I get to work directly
with the customers at the stores as well as in my studio and I find that is the best way to
really get to know your market and who your buyer is. Because you’re not just, I don’t design
for myself because I’m not my target client. My market is more women 40 and above. Partly
just because our goal is to create timeless and contemporary heirloom quality jewelry that
we want the customers to wear for years to come. It’s an investment, it’s not just a pop in
the pan, what is that silly…There we go. Flash in the pan jewelry, it’s not going to be
gone tomorrow. And so I depend on the experience of my production team to bring my
either sketches or my attemped verbal communication to life. That’s always an
interesting process. I really allow myself to get inspired, kind of like Amanda, just with things
that are around you, that you see every day in life. Whether that is my art history books,
whether that is current trends of perforated skirts or if that is my own sandals, which created last
fall’s edgy pearl collection that we did. Jack Rasmussen, he’s the director and curator
of the American University Museum, he once said, if you come up close you can even look
into the artist’s brain, you can see the kinds of issues that the artists have to balance. So I
jokingly say, what does this electron cuff say about me? Because it sounds like my brain is
exploding or something. But it’s hard to believe that it’s been two and a half years that I’ve taken
over and launched this new company. It’s gone really fast. I had the advantage of having those
existing customers but I was extremely nervous how they would receive it as not only is my
personal style very different from Margaret, I was 26 years old and she was 70. I’d been working
for her and designing for her those three years prior, but a lot of people were buying because
they had the relationship with her. So how would that translate with me? But thankfully it was a
really smooth transition which was all I could hope for. We’ve continued to grow and I’ve
learned to really trust my instincts and not compare myself with others, at least I try to
remind myself of that. I’m thankful every day for my supportive team and then those customers
and Margaret who encourage me daily to carry on because running a business is not easy. I
can say that it takes a lot of hard work. You have to be very flexible, you’ve got to learn
to trust people around you and treat people with respect because you’re not doing it alone. You
have a lot of people who it takes to make something work. As I said, this would be very
different. But I’ve come to realize even more how relationships are everything. Being transparent
with what you like, what looks good on somebody, as well as just taking any pressure
off to buy, is actually really appreciated and welcomed for my customers. I think sometimes
you can go into a resale store and people are so driven by sales commissions that you feel
pressured to buy something or at least give them the inclination that you might come home
with something from their store. I want people to buy because they really love it not just because
they feel like they have to have something when they walk in. I don’t want them to have buyer’s
remorse or regret the puchase at all. As I said, my pieces are investments, they’ve got to stand
the test of time. We actually end up repairing any pieces that break, whether that’s because a
string broke, to a post fell off. It’s just part of our way we show customer service and show
customers we appreciate their loyalty. We have a timeless approach to design with an
occasional nod to a current trend and that really sets us apart, as our products are handmade,
one of a kind. The customer has a say not only in the finish of the pieces, but the size and even
what stones get used. So it’s a very personal purchase and so it’s really important for me to
take the time and to listen and not just willy-nilly make something that, oh I think this looks cool
or this might be well. It’s a thought process. Yes, we might make something that might never
get made again once, but as long as we can sell it once, then someone has bought something
that they truly love and it wasn’t just a willy-nilly idea that it first started as. But I’m only as good
as the people that I surround myself with as I mentioned. I seriously don’t know what I would
do without these two, Angie and Edward. Actually as well as my mother, who assists me
in my marketing and business side of things. Balancing everything that it takes to run a
business is very time consuming. You have sales to social media. It doesn’t really leave me
much time to make anymore. But anytime we are stressed and strapped and waiting until the
last minute, you can find me working away, trying to make it before the UPS guy shows up.
So I sign every piece that leaves the studio in order to try to, not to show that we approve of
the quality and the craftmanship, but it’s an actually wearable piece of art. Just like any
artist is going to sign their painting or sculpture, we’re going to sign our pieces. Not only is that
important to establish our brand, but just having consistency. Margaret was known for
photographing her customers wearing our jewelry, but I’ve taken a more editorial approach
and I use local AMAX models as well as local photographer Brett Warren to shoot our pieces
and market my brand. Currently I take all of the product shots, that I shoot in the studio. But I
look forward to passing that off because it’s very time consuming to shoot anything on a
seamless white background and then clean it up to make it actually look like it blends in. We
didn’t launch our website until last fall, but thankfully it’s become a very strong revenue
stream and we use Squarespace so I could keep it updated myself and not have to rely on a
third party to go back and say, can you change this? I need to add this text. That and social
media, and all of that, they’re maintaining full time jobs in itself. It’s just one of the many extra
things you have to do in order to run a small business. So the effort of the slideshow and our
consistent work thankfully has led to an invitation to show our pieces at something called
Draft Space. It’s a curated accessories art show in New York. We’ve participated twice with them.
They’re now carrying some of our pieces online after gaining attention of national and
international fashion press. But I’m really committed and proud of our local Nashville
fashion community. I’ve actively been involved with Nashville Fashion Week since its inception.
I do all the graphics and promotional materials for them. As well as used to work registration,
turned that over this past year. As well as I’m a supporter of our new founded Nashville Fashion
Alliance. As Amanda mentioned, we had our collaboration in the fall with her Project Runway
show. And I’m currently working on some upcoming new collaborations as well for this fall.
But I truly believe we’re kind of better together. As I said, build people around that you trust and
respect because they’re going to in the end make everyone look better and be better. So
when I said I wanted to be a “paintist,” I was told that I was confused and either meant a painter
or an artist. But even then I didn’t really fit the usual mold, I wanted to do things my own way.
And everyone has their unique way of doing things. I’m a creative person with a mind for
business. Jewelry design just happens to be what I do. But my advice is to figure out who you
are, what you want to be, and just be you because everyone else is taken. [Applause] [silence] Megan Robertson: Okay. So now for the
interactive part of tonight’s program. If I could have Mclaine and Amanda join me up here. We
thought we would keep it very conversational. So if you all have a question, I’m going to take
your question and just repeat it back to the audience so everybody can hear it and pass off
the microphone to whomever your question was directed at. So does anybody have anything
they’d like to ask this evening? No need to be shy. Yes ma’am? [inaudible] MR: So the question was have either of the
ladies designed for a film? And I’ll expand that and say maybe if you haven’t, is there one you’d
really like to? Amanda Valentine: I’ve actually never done film
specifically. I have a really, really short attention span so I work much better on music videos,
where I get to create little moments and only have to work on it for like a week instead of
months and months. I really thought about that like as a stylist, what it would be like to work on
a movie and I swear to you my answer is I would get bored working on the same thing for that
long. That’s really it. So that’s why I like music videos. MR: Mclaine, anything to add? Mclaine Richardson: Well I have personally not
designed for a movie set by any means, Margaret’s jewelry has been used in Devil Wears
Prada as well as the show Sex in the City with Miranda’s character. So we’ve had pieces
shown but we didn’t design them specifically for. MR: Any other questions? Yes ma’am? [inaudible] MR: The question was regarding any affiliations
with the television show Nashville. Any takers? AV: I actually was totally on that show. It was
kind of awesome. I think it was episode three. I’m in like the first minute so you can totally just
watch my minute, it’s really good. I played, I can’t believe they asked me to do this
because I’m the worst actress ever, but I played Juliette’s stylist. And so I of course wore one of
my t-shirts. Yeah, I never thought I would do something like that. But the cool thing about
that show is they really are trying to be authentic. And they really not only are
influenced by real places or going to real places, but they’re trying to use actual artists and
musicians around town. So thank you Nashville! MR: Any questions about process or anything
like that? Or inspiration? Yes ma’am? [inaudible] MR: So the question was what advice would
they give to an aspiring young fashion or accessories designer? Mclaine: I would say just get involved with what’s
going on in town. We’ve got a lot of new developments with NFA. Come join. You’ll get to
meet and network with a lot of locals who are doing the same thing, or striving to do the same
thing. As I said, we’re better together, just to build off that cheesy line, but it’s true. And then
just keep trying. You know what you love. Keep doing it. And eventually it’s going to work
the way it’s supposed to work. Like I said, I never would have planned to be a jewelry
designer. It was laid in front of me and I ended up falling in love with it. Amanda knew what she
wanted to do at a young age and she kept working towards it. So even if it’s on a side
project, just keep doing what you love. My best advice. AV: Well, I was very inspired by Mclaine’s
speech. Learn about business because I ignore business and whew, I could talk about that for a
whole other 20 minutes. But I think the big message I love getting across that I wasn’t able
to articulate until very recently, is that you just have to remember that no one has your brain, no
one else has lived your life. And so nobody else is going to create what you create. And really
really focus on what you have to say that sets yourself apart from everybody else. You know,
it’s okay, especially in fashion, you’re influenced by trends. I read a fashion magazine. But I think
you really have to pay attention to that weird mixture of ideas that you grew up with. With me,
it was a travelling father and a quilting mother and all those things. Really, really dig into what
your special little things are and keep digging. It gets interesting. MR: Any questions? Yes? [inaudible] MR: So the question was, where are the
materials used to make their designs sourced? And so I think the question went specifically to
Amanda about where she sources her fabrics. AV: So that is a big issue, especially being in a
place like Nashville that is not necessarily a fashion capital of the world, yet! So I am
constantly pivoting and shifting how I get things. I used to just go to this one place in LA and then
I would just go to New York and then I would just call this one guy in Chicago. I’m not alone in
that, there are a lot of us local designers that have just been piecing it together the best we
can. Oh, pun intended! That’s kind of cute. So, that is where the Nashville Fashion Alliance
comes in, which is an organization that basically we’re banding together to become a
giant strong entity that can have a little bit more pull and can bring people to us. Really it’s
education, getting more resources, getting a skilled workforce, which we don’t have anymore.
I know Mclaine feels the same way. We want to keep making our pieces in the United States
but we need a lot of infrastructure. So if you guys don’t know about the Nashville Fashion
Alliance, go to their website, sign up for the mailing list, because that’s really going to be
crucial for keeping artists in Nashville. And getting us fabric. MR: Anymore questions? Yes ma’am? [inaudible] MR: So the question was, how does one move
from being independent and a little edgy and on the fringe to being commercially successful?
That question was for Amanda. AV: Well, I think the older you get and the more
bills you have to pay, you’re not so afraid of being commercial. I also, I think, yeah I guess
I’m too old to worry about selling out or anything like that. I think that what I always remember is
my customer. And my customer is kind of like a punk rock girl who just wants cool, edgy stuff.
So I would be doing a disservice if I didn’t spread the word. You know what I mean? That’s what’s
exciting about fashion, is that it’s an art form that has to be consumed. And I think that’s kind
of fun. I think people choosing to adorn themselves with what we make is really
exciting. I love being commercial, I love it! MR: Other questions? Yes ma’am? [inaudible] MR: So we have our first Project Runway show
question. And it’s about how much of the show is scripted vs. non-scripted. And while a couple
of Project Runway show questions are great, let’s also ask more questions about design too.
But by all means, please. We all want to know. AV: Totally not scripted. We’re just really
stressed out so we yell at each other. [Laughter] They just essentially put us in a pressure
cooker, which like I said is actually kind of an interesting experience to go through, to see how
you react under that kind of pressure. The time frames are really short, even shorter
that I think they appear. So I think that what might look like scripted conflict, is really
just people freaking out. [Laughter] So nobody ever told me what to say or how to, I
think sometimes they might ask questions to guide you, but I’m too smart for that, you
know. You could kind of look out for it but it’s completely not scripted. It’s real! MR: Yes sir? [inaudible] MR: Mclaine, you want to take this one first?
The question was, what’s next? These ladies are so like bursting out on the scene, that I’m
curious too! What’s next? Mclaine: You know, it’s always just, it’s
expanding, it’s seeing where else you can take it, who else is going to be interested. We’re a
very Southern brand, we’re very locally, regionally in the South, where we do
successfully but yet we’re just as successful at some of my stores that are scattered
throughout the West and the Northeast. So it’s just figuring out ways to get new customers, a
new reach. It’s building upon all of that. Because even if you get a little publicity you still have to
manage it and you still have to be able to grow. Because if you do get that success, you have to
figure out a way to pull that out. You have to hire new people, you have to train new people to be
able to make…I can’t just go out tomorrow at any school in town and find someone who
can produce one of our pieces. We have to train them. Yes, anyone might be able to learn how to
solder but it’s a certain technique we have to pick up and you have to learn so you have to be
expandable but you have to first build the customers before you can ever go there. So
what’s next is just continuing to grow and get out there before you can do the rest. And I went
on a tangent, sorry. MR: That was great, we learn things from
tangents. Amanda, how about you, what’s next? AV: Well, I agree, expansion. Really, I like to be
really transparent about it. I am classic creative person, I am horrible at business. And so it’s
really time for me to tighten it up a little. So I just kind of need to learn how to expand,
how to grow safely and organically. And what’s exciting about fashion is every
season you’re kind of given a chance to do it right. Every time I make a collection I hate it.
When I’m done, I’m like, next season is going to be good. It’s this kind of rebirth every season I
think. “Okay, this one’s going to be super commerical and this one…” So really it’s just
next season, that’s what next. Next season and the season after that. MR: The fashion cycle is vicious. Let’s take just
a couple more questions. How about somebody back there in the back, I see a hand up. Yes
you ma’am. [inaudible] MR: Is that a question for both designers? Okay,
so the question was, it was a very well-worded question, I’m going to ruin it. How to determine
which is the golden idea? Which idea you should stick with and persue vs. the ideas you
have jettison along the way. Mclaine you want to take this one first? Mclaine: You know, sometimes I still persue that
bad idea and somehow it becomes the best selling piece. Even if it’s not something I
personally like. Sometimes we make it, “oh I cannot stand that.” And so I just let it sit on my
employee’s desk and it never gets polished once it’s made. So you might have that initial
idea or I’ve sketched something, I keep sketching, that idea evolves, but then I go back
and like that initial idea better than where I ended up. It varies, I don’t think there’s a
method, it’s more of a gut instinct of I really like this, I really hate this, well maybe this might do
okay. I have a little more flexibility because we’re producing it in the studio, by hand. I’m not
having to outsource. Yeah, I’m spending a little extra time, but in the end that doesn’t…so long
as I sell it once it works for me. We have a lovely thing called the sample sale for those
ideas that don’t do well. MR: Amanda, how about you? AV: I actually pursue those ideas for a while. For
me, when making a sample, it has to get almost done. But there always, always, always comes
a point where I know if it’s dead or alive. And it’s very, very clear. It’s like falling in love.
You can’t really describe when it happens, but you know when it happens. And there’s always a
point where it’s very, very clear which way it’s going to go. So you just unfortunately, I don’t
want to say waste your time because it’s useful but you kind of have to work through it until you
get there. MR: I think we can do one more question. You
sir, in the back. [inaudible] MR: The question was, how do you know when
something is done? So Amanda, do you want to take this one first? AV: I had a gut reaction to that. So I have a
really hard time finishing things. I just want to start everything, get it about 80%, then walk
away from it. So I actually don’t know. I don’t know when something’s done because I could
look at a completed collection and probably put in another 70 hours of work to change it. At
some point, you just have to stop. That’s a horrible answer but like I said, being forced to
have deadlines is really tough for me but I finally realized that’s how it has to be. I would work on
a dress until the end of time if I could. MR: Mclaine, how about you? Mclaine: So I do work with deadlines all the time
because we go to market, we have New York, we have obligations to our clients. So I have an
imposed deadline, so whether I like it or not, pieces are done when that happens. One of
those pieces that we were contemplating or I might not love and it’s maybe half way
completed, it might just end up sitting on my metalsmith’s tray and never make it to the show.
In that way, it’s done of they’ve started it, probably 80 or 100% done minus the polishing.
And I look at it and I’m like, no one’s going to wear that with a brain because I would never, I
wouldn’t even give that as a gift. There’s some of those moments of, what was I thinking when I
thought of that idea? And so that for me is sometimes when something is done on the
table. And it just stops. Sometimes that gets thrown in the scrap bucket and gets recycled.
And then sometimes, like I said, you finish a piece and you’re not loving it but it’s something
to take and you go with it and it ends up being sometimes the best selling piece at the show.
So done can be defined in various sense of the word. AV: [inaudible] [laughter] MR: Well thank you Amanda and thank you
Mclaine, so much, for coming here to the Frist Center to tell us about your work. It’s wonderful
to hear about young designers working here in Nashville and definitely gets us all excited.
Thank you ladies and gentlemen for joining us and for participating in this wonderful discussion
afterward. Our galleries are open until 9 p.m. tonight so you have plenty of time to see the
exhibition Italian Style: Fashion since 1945 and I also would really encourage you to go
upstairs and see Postcards of the Wiener Werkstätte. For people who enjoy design it’s
really, it’s a treat. So again, thank you all and good night. [applause]

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