Lizzie Fortunato (Est. 2007-08) is a brand founded by twin sisters Lizzie and Kathryn Fortunato. The women entered the market with the intention of creating unique accessories that use unexpected materials including handicrafts sourced and derived from many places and cultures.
Lizzie designs the line, while Kathryn, who first worked on Wall Street, oversees sales and operations. Lizzie studied Art History and English at Duke University (where Kathryn majored in Economics.) Lizzie’s philosophy of “dressing to tell a story” is reflected in the pieces she creates. She constructs a distinct narrative with each collection, naming each style, and often drawing on historical, artistic, and architectural references in her work.
Fortunato’s designs combine found, reclaimed and precious materials in fashion-forward creations. The sisters’ brand has become synonymous with unique accessories influenced by fine art, travel, and artisanal craftwork.
The Lizzie Fortunato collection is produced in New York by a team of skilled metalsmiths and seamstresses. After first creating jewelry, the Lizzie Fortunato brand launched leather goods in 2011. Adorned with exquisite hand-loomed embroidery and beading that Lizzie designs, the clutches, shoulder bags, and small leather goods are an extension of the line’s mixed-medium statement jewelry.
The Lizzie Fortunato jewelry collections contain necklaces, earrings, mood hoops, fine mood hoops, bracelets, rings, bags, accessories. Décor includes art, apothecary, baskets, bedding, stationery, table top, textiles, and rugs. Wearable accessories (known as Fortune Finds) is, according to the brand’s official website, “A collection of one-of-a-kind artisan homewares collected and inspired by the twins’ affinity for exploration and world travel. From Swedish brassware to Moroccan textiles, Fortune Finds will … transport your space.”
The sisters first realized the power of their combined skills during their shared time at Duke when they turned Lizzie’s handmade jewelry hobby into a profitable business. They officially launched the brand in 2007, after graduation, and the brand took off. In the time since, it has gained a global following. The statement necklaces and bold earrings paved the way for the label’s expansion into leather goods.
The sisters grew up in Wilmington, Del., and, at University, started making jewelry as a hobby, to wear to parties and formals. By sophomore year, other students took notice and asked if they could buy the pieces. The sisters staged their first trunk show in the back of the Durham, N.C. restaurant where Kathryn was a hostess. They sold out of their seed bead necklaces with tiny charms in the first half-hour and continued making jewelry throughout college to fund spring break trips.
After graduation in 2006, they moved to New York City and obtained jobs in their fields of study. Elizabeth (Lizzie) joined fashion PR firm Paul Wilmot, and Kathryn was hired as an associate in investment banking at Goldman Sachs.
Jewelry remained a dream. Lizzie made pieces in her spare time and sent them to editor friends at magazines to try to slip into fashion shoots. After a year in PR, she recognized that jewelry was her true calling. She started Lizzie Fortunato from her apartment’s sofa on the Lower East Side in 2007. The first store that picked up the collection was Albertine General, an influential boutique on Christopher Street. Bergdorf Goodman followed, and Lizzie Fortunato officially became a business.
Kathryn joined the brand in 2010 to run sales and finance. In 2012, they expanded into handbags that incorporate the same unique look as their jewelry by often using natural wood and raffia materials. By 2015, the bags represented twenty-five percent of the business. By that year, Lizzie Fortunato was sold in more than 70 retailers worldwide including Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and in specialty stores such as Ten Over Six in Los Angeles, as well as on the brand’s website LizzieFortunato.com. Prices ranged from $105 for Evil Eye brass and turquoise eye-shaped stud earrings to $795 for a T-flap leather purse with an onyx bead-decorated bar closure.
As of May 2019, total sales generated by the company’s website and Instagram feed has grown from 15 percent to almost 25 percent. In addition, a network of small boutiques, many of them in the Southeastern United States, where women crave colorful accessories and value the appeal of a statement necklace with a plaid silk taffeta tieback sell the brand’s creations.
The current slate of about 80 retailers now includes Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, online retailer Shopbop, as well as Hampden Clothing in Charleston, S.C.; Poole Shop in Charlotte, N.C.; and Barbara/Jean in Little Rock, Ark. As the Lizzie Fortunato customer grows older, demand is growing for a fine jewelry alternative—and the sisters have taken a step in that direction by offering 14k gold hoops ($265 versus $95 for chunkier plated brass) that can be adorned with gemstone charms (about $200 each).
“We function like a contemporary ready-to-wear line that has new offerings each season,” Lizzie says of presenting three collections a year, most recently during 2019’s New York Fashion Week, [with these] inspired by her travels in India. “Once a collection is sold, we don’t put much back into production.”
In addition to their retail and wholesale channels, Lizzie and Kathryn have collaborated with a number of fashion designers to create unique pieces for the runway. Some of Lizzie’s favorite collaborations have been with Victoria Bartlett, the former designer at VPL
As the business has grown, it has been important to Lizzie and Kathryn that they stay true to their values and build a sustainable, ethical business. To that end, they’ve resisted the temptation to move their production abroad and, instead, found ways to build a strong team in New York City. “We employ a lot of women, many of them single moms, who work from our office and their homes. They come in twice a week, learn projects, and then take materials home [to construct the pieces].”
Lizzie Fortunato has twice been recognized by Harper’s Bazaar Magazine as ‘one of the World’s most promising accessory lines, and has been tapped by VPL, SUNO, Matthew Williamson, and Jenni Kayne for runway collaborations. The label has been featured on the covers of Women’s Wear Daily, W Korea and Vogue China and also on the pages of Vogue, British Vogue, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar and The New York Times.