Emily Satloff of Larkspur & Hawk
Larkspur & Hawk is a modern jewelry brand devoted to classic Georgian techniques and traditions, bringing antique fashions to contemporary women through imaginative designs. It has won acclaim and admiration from magazines like Town and Country, Vogue, and Harpers Bazaar, and is a favorite of celebrities such as Meryl Streep, Oprah Winfrey, Helena Bonham Carter, Karlie Kloss, and Sarah Jessica Parker, just to name a few.
Emily Satloff, the founder and designer behind Larkspur & Hawk, draws inspiration for her designs from her background in decorative arts at Sotheby's and Cooper Hewitt, as well as her time spent as curator at the New York Historical Society and as a curatorial consultant for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Although she references historical sources, her colorful, nostalgic, and romantic designs never feel dated. Rather, Larkspur & Hawk manages to balance the old with the new, resulting in a dynamic and inimitable brand with a distinct identity and appeal.
I sat down with Emily recently to discuss how she has formed her brand and vision as a designer.
Alain: When you set out to start Larkspur & Hawk, did you have a clear image of what you thought your brand voice would sound like or where things were headed for you visually?
Emily: The heart of my aesthetic was, and still is, bringing something old world into modern times. I love that juxtaposition. It's about craftsmanship and jewelry that is 200 years old, but still feels relevant to a modern woman. Instead of dressing her in a Marie Antoinette gown, it's about applying that aesthetic and sensibility to the lifestyle of contemporary women.
Along with that, the importance of branding has always been first and foremost for me. Everything from the packaging to marketing materials receives a great deal of my time and resources. Any Larkspur & Hawk design has to convey the brand's tone and has to contribute to the overall brand narrative.
All of this harks back to my earlier career as a museum curator. Everything that is presented to the public should have a clear narrative that includes didactic storytelling as well as clean visual presentation.
Alain: Can you give an example of how branding has helped you grow your business?
Emily: Packaging. Once a piece of Larkspur & Hawk jewelry leaves our studio, I want to ensure that it continues to represent the brand as well as be well-cared for. There is no better way to accomplish this than through signature packaging. People now expect our periwinkle boxes and red suede pouches and even ask us for them if one of our retailers doesn’t have them in stock.
While I was working in the antique jewelry business, one of my greatest pet peeves, was the lack of care given to packaging—more often than not, plastic bags were the industry standard. I learned early on that a customer is more likely to make a purchase if an object is well-presented, and less likely to make a return when an object is beautifully packaged. So, branding has always been a major consideration, even when I was starting out ten years ago.
Alain: I’ve noted the great care you take about not only the design decisions you make but every visual we've produced together. It's a gift for someone in my position because I get the sense that I am working with someone who has absolute clarity about who they are and how their voice ought to be projected into the world. Did you always have that clarity?
Emily: I've always had a great visual memory and tend to think visually as a result. When I design a new collection, I usually have a design reference in mind, so, when it comes time to capture the collection photographically, I often have a pre-conceived theme in mind for the image style and props. Collection photographs, whether they be still-life or on model, become the visual text for the mood I want to convey to the public. For me, it is the culmination of the design process, it is almost like the photographs make the collection final. In much the same way it can be hard to see oneself in a mirror or hear your recorded voice, it can be hard to see your work in photographs. I put so much hard work into designing new collections and as such, I am very critical of the way a collection is visually presented. Working with a great photographer is really a partnership because together we need to figure out how to bring a feeling to life.
Alain: Larkspur & Hawk feels to me very much like its own creature now, but were you ever inspired by other designers?
Emily: Yes. I am inspired by a variety of designers, and not only jewelry designers. Sometimes it is a designer’s collection that inspires me and other time it is a designer’s storytelling that catches my eye—a great display, ad campaign, or packaging. Having been a designer for ten years, I know that nothing happens magically, and it takes great vision to come up with a new collection as well as supporting materials. This is why my eyes are always open to seeing how a variety of creative people embark on their brand storytelling. To me, these discoveries can be very inspiring!
Alain: Do you think that the time and resources you’ve spent on branding, packaging and photography have been essential to your company’s success?
Emily: Harmoniously weaving together new collections, photographs, packaging and written materials are all necessary components in creating a recognizable brand. Being a talented jewelry designer is not the only skill needed to run a successful jewelry business and in order to have your brand’s voice heard in a world that is full of great design, you must be good at doing so many more things. I often remind myself that the time and resources we spend on branding and storytelling is how we are able to build a trusting and engaged clientele who will ultimately feel confident investing in our collections.
Alain: Whenever I embark on anything creative with anyone, I try to impart the importance of having a solid sense of self first and foremost, and then having a firm idea about who they want to be or who they want their customer to be. Regarding marketing, do you ever think about the woman you are trying to speak to? Does she wear certain designers, does she live in a particular environment, etc..?
Emily: Those questions are essential, and it is important to think about your clientele, but in general, it's not that streamlined. We have so many types of women who purchase and wear Larkspur & Hawk and while I know our general demographic, I always try not to design a collection for a particular woman. The few times that I designed something based on my perception of what a particular store or client might like, it ended up less successfully than when I design what I feel passionate about. The passionate designs flow out of me in a way that forced ideas just don’t and ultimately, they fit the brand best.
Alain: Your designs are known very much for the foiled technique you utilize in your collections. It's something other designers are not doing, and yet you don't compete with antiques either because your pieces look entirely different. Do you think that the niche you have carved out for yourself has been part of the reason for your success?
Emily: Foiled jewelry is so little-known today and as such, reviving this virtually unused art has been a big part of our DNA. I love that people are able to recognize our jewelry because of the foil, but I also know that our designs and use of color also set us apart. Being a student and collector of antique jewelry, I adore being able to revive a 200-year-old technique in a modern way that can still be worn with 18th century examples!
Alain: I tend to say to people that a great photograph, or any work of art or design really, points to something outside of itself. What I love about working with you is that you always seem to draw on source material that is, to most people I think, unexpected for commercial photography, especially in the realm of jewelry.
Emily: I think this gets back to photography being the culmination of my design process. By the time a new collection is ready to be photographed, I have spent months sketching, tweaking, writing and dreaming of the capsule and its inspiration, so I come into this creative phase with a vision in mind. For example, our newest Sadie collection drew inspiration from both Georgian era cluster rivières as well as Dutch old master still-life paintings. I knew I wanted to create still-life photos that would reflect this history, but bringing my vision to life compositionally, technically and aesthetically is what you are so great at doing.
Alain: Do you find that customers appreciate the jewelry much more because you have such a clear plot in mind for each collection?
Emily: Absolutely. It’s really tough for brick and mortar stores to engage with the public and it makes buying jewelry more compelling for the customer when a sales associate has a story to tell. If we supply retailers with information, a story and beautiful imagery, we are effectively giving them a stronger sales pitch and helping them sell our jewelry. Some designers don’t have these materials and stories which can make it harder for them to engage with retailers and ultimately harder for shops to market and sell their collections.
When we have the opportunity to meet with a store and its sales team, we see a real increase in our sales. I try to limit our main storytelling to three main points that we want conveyed to a potential customer. It’s important to not overwhelm people with too much information, so we strive to keep our narrative tight and concise.
Alain: It’s great to hear all of this coming from you, because this is exactly the kind of conversation I have with my clients on a fairly regular basis. I try to stress the importance of investing in storytelling precisely because it helps with making the sale.
Emily: I understand why it’s scary for emerging designers to invest a lot of their resources in visuals and marketing materials. Understandably, many companies want to see a direct correlation between money invested on a photoshoot and sales which is not something that can be accurately tracked on a spreadsheet. The metric we look for is general growth and positive feedback from both retailers and clients with an understanding that sales can come from unexpected places. For example, we don’t always know if an Instagram post resulted in a sale for one of our retailers. Designers need to invest time and money into these kinds of marketing campaigns with a leap of faith and a tremendous amount of patience because it takes time to determine what is working.
Alain: I certainly believe that it’s important to think about the big picture and about the long term. I don’t see too many independent jewelers investing resources in features like the ones on the Larkspur & Hawk website. Everything from Portrait of a Lady, Emily Loves, and Wanderlust all work to paint a picture about the brand and the person behind it.
Emily: There is no Larkspur & Hawk store, so the website is how I communicate our aesthetic and our taste to our clients and followers. The features you mentioned are all an integral part of demonstrating this and we have seen an increase in our customer engagement via social media and the website as a result.
Alain: It also establishes a sense of trust because you are, after all, asking people to buy jewelry online. I think it communicates to a potential customer that the people who are designing the jewelry are thoughtful and that there is a whole vision and operation behind the brand.
Emily: That is absolutely correct. We all learn from the major companies who do this well and they wouldn’t allocate resources into editorial stories if they weren’t contributing to their sales as well.
There is a person behind the brand, so it’s important to show who that person is. What is her taste, why does she design the way she does, why should I buy from her?