Studio Visit: Lizzie Fortunato Jewelry

The Fortunato sisters have only been in their Lower East Side studio for a year, but it’s already feeling tight. Here, a glimpse inside the space where their vibrant, sophisticated, and eclectic jewelry designs take shape.

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The Fortunato sisters have only been in this studio for about a year, but in their sixth season in business, it’s already feeling tight. They’ve grown their business steadily since they began making jewelry for sorority girls “starved for fashion” at their alma mater, Duke University. Kathryn says some of those former sorority girls are still their best customers.
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At Lizzie Fortunato Jewelry’s studio Lizzie (seated, right) does design and production while her twin sister Kathryn (standing at her desk, center) looks after the business end of things. Lizzie’s jewelry is known for its juxtaposition of colorful, travel-inspired materials with sophisticated shapes and designs.
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To arrive at the Essex Street storefront studio, one passes by the pickle guys, bialy bakers, and dumpling shops of the Lower East Side.
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Here are sketches for Lizzie’s Spring/Summer 2011 collection, largely inspired by trips to Costa Rica and Guatemala. Keep an eye out for these pieces, rendered in colorful stones, metals, and fabrics throughout this gallery.
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The sisters share their office with shoe company Dieppa Restrepo – a good match, since the sweet, sophisticated oxfords are a favorite among many Fortunato fans.
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At a table in the back of the studio, Lizzie makes samples of her jewelry with materials from all over: travels abroad, garment district suppliers, even the hardware store around the corner.
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Lizzie uses conventional jewelry materials in unconventional ways. For example, she cuts and solders chains of rhinestones (like those on the spool here), and plates them to create custom, antique-finished pieces that give weight to chunky necklaces.
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Here, one of the aforementioned necklaces, along with a handbag and belt from the Spring/Summer 2011 collection. The sisters hadn’t planned on handbags, but they decided this custom fair-trade embroidery from India ought to be showcased beyond the bows tied onto their necklaces.
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Lizzie often finds inspiration abroad, but she originally sourced the brass tubes that appear in this necklace at a hardware store on East Broadway.
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When Lizzie can’t find the materials she needs, she makes them herself. Here, a custom-made rubber mold for casting coral branches like the ones pictured here.
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Another custom-cast piece, Lizzie found this shell on a family surf trip to Costa Rica, and then had it cast in various sizes to appear throughout the collection, like on the suede bracelet pictured above.
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Lizzie not only designs her own collection, she also collaborates with apparel designers to create custom-made accessories. These bangles, made with traditional Kenyan kanga fabric, were part of the sensation at Suno’s Spring 2011 fashion show.
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In another twist on materials, Lizzie integrated lingerie hooks into chunky bangles for Victoria Bartlett’s sultry VPL line.
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These friendship bracelets featured the handiwork of Guatemalan artisans. “By definition, you get a lot of pieces that are one-of-a-kind,” says Kathryn.
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When these cross-stitched necklaces were an unexpected hit, the girls integrated the work of another artisan – their grandmother. Kathryn says her grandma had her own ideas about the colors, but they asked her to stick to the palette that stores ordered.
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There’s always something to wear in an office such as this. Atop this mannequin is a bird-laden crown the designer fashioned for her Halloween costume – a Dia de los Muertos-inspired outfit.
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