For twin sisters Lizzie and Kathryn Fortunato, creativity and connection is is the key to success. Lizzie’s eponymous line was founded in 2008 “with the intent of creating unique accessories that use unexpected materials and champion handicrafts from a breadth of places and cultures,” and many of her pieces have since been the “must-have” item for fashion-forward women across the globe. The self-starter and her sister were constantly meeting other female creatives, sharing advice and building friendships, and realizing this connection was what would continue to drive the business forward. They began hosting Creative Womens Dinners in hopes of bringing more entrepreneurs together, first at Lizzie’s Brooklyn home and later expanding to bigger venues. This summer, they brought the event to the West Coast — hosting in the backyard of an old friend, Kate Berg. The guest list included talent like Hopie Stockman of Blockshop Textiles, swimwear designer Marisa Reeves, ceramicist Lucy Michel, stylist and blogger Kate Moore, and Amanda Chantal Bacon of Moon Juice fame. This is obviously much more than just a pretty party!! We love the concept and wanted to talk to the Fortunato girls to learn more:
What is the Creative Womens’ Dinner? How did it get started?
Lizzie: Having been young entrepreneurs for the better part of our time in NYC — I launched my namesake line in 2008 just two years after graduating from Duke University and Kathryn joined me full-time in 2010 after a stint on Wall Street — we continually found ourselves meeting other incredible, self-starting female creatives. We always found ourselves wanting to introduce the women we met and saying “oh you should really know this person” but we never wanted to set people up over expensive restaurant dinners and at the time we lived in a tiny SoHo apartment that made entertaining difficult. When we moved to Brooklyn in the summer of 2012, we finally had spacious apartments and dining tables to gather people around. We started thinking, “There are so many women who have just a few degrees of separation anyhow that we really want to connect… Lets just cook for them and bring people together.” The first one was literally a handful of our friends who we wanted to introduce to one another (including stylist Kate Young; retailer and designer Maryam Nassir Zadeh; designers Yara Flynn and Maud Heline; OfaKind.com founders Claire Mazur & Erica Cerulo) around my dining room table eating a lasagna that we rushed home from work to make. The dinners have evolved a lot; we now work with friends who are chefs (including Anastasia Koutsioukis of Mandolin Miami, who cooked for a Creative Womens Dinner in a really cool Brooklyn bar called Ode to Babel last fall) and have expanded the sizes of the dinners. Our most recent one included 30 women.
What was it like bringing the event to Los Angeles?
Kathryn: We’d been wanting to try this out in a different city for a while. Because we sell our accessories at boutiques across the country, Lizzie and I end up traveling a lot to meet with retailers & interact with customers, and LA is one of the places we visit most. As a result we have a pretty good network there. Plus our co-host, Kate Berg, who’s a dear friend since college is from LA and knows so many awesome women who we were eager to meet. Kate opened up her beautiful home to us, and she invited about half the guest list, and Lizzie and I put together the other half. Thus, there were attendees who we’d never even met before, but at the end of the night we left with so many new friends. It felt like such a success to know that we could put together a vibrant dinner in a venue that’s across the country from our homebease, and we’re really excited to continue the tradition in new regions.
Tell us about the location. The backyard is so idyllic!
Lizzie: Kate’s house is perfect! It’s a little bungalow in Mar Vista just outside of Venice and while it’s only a few blocks off Venice Boulevard it’s surrounded by trees that make it feel like an isolated sanctuary. When we first started talking to her about collaborating on the dinner she insisted we do it in her backyard, and the location couldn’t have been better — string lights and candles gave off an intimate evening vibe and we were able to make the tables really personal with our own napkins, tableware, and flowers by our friend Hope Sword of Pigsty (an LA based floral company). We set up three tables that were all really closet together and by dessert people were switching seats, trading phone numbers, and hugging people they’d met just hours earlier. I think it’s really important to do these types of dinners in small intimate settings — after all, they started in my kitchen and we want to preserve the casual feel of “having your friends over for dinner”.
Tell us about the napkins and table decor — they’re available to buy?
Lizzie: We wanted the table to feel really personal, and not to fancy or perfect, so we used mix-matched linens, glasses, and napkins. Some of these were our own — I collect textiles from my travels so we used runners that I’ve brought back from different locales — and some are pieces from Fortune Finds, which are homewares and lifestyle items that we stock on the Lizzie Fortunato website. With all our work travel (for inspiration, production, and sales) to destinations like Morocco, India, and South America, I found myself constantly bringing back fabrics and artisanal crafts to my already over-flowering apartment! So many people would compliment me on these items that — and ask to buy them off of me! — that we decided to introduce these found products along with curated third-party art objects to the site. So yes, you can purchase napkins similar to the ones we featured on our dinner table (by Auntie Oti and block-printer Caroline Z. Hurley) via our site. We also sell serving bowls by ceramicist Matthew Asbill, wooden African and bone utensils, bronze and copper trays, and pitchers by one of my favorite ceramics lines, Object & Totem.
What was your favorite moment or conversation of the evening?
Kathryn: At one point, the conversation at my end of the table (which included Clare Vivier, Booth Moore, and Sarah Sophie Flicker) shifted to how we as entrepreneurial women interact in a business setting with female colleagues versus male colleagues (including investors where we might need to take on a more guarded or aggressive role). It was as if all of the conversation participants took a mutual pause and articulated their appreciation to have fellow female professionals / creatives to share these thoughts with. It’s not often that you get to openly discuss the trials and tribulations of being a female creative / entrepreneur in such an honest and humble setting and I think we all genuinley appreciated that at the same moment.