At any given time, we are all at crossroads.
Every day, trying to make decisions based upon what we think we see coming and going and what lies just beyond the bend, invisible for the moment, yet emerging as we move towards it.
Some people seem to have an aerial view of the crossroads and Kathy Grenier, the marketing director at the Cultured Pearl Association of America, is one such person. From this position she can take the long view down one road leading to suppliers from all over the world. In another direction she sees the retailer's landscape. And yet from another view she clearly sees the road that is populated with designers who are inspired by pearls and use them in their designs to point to the future of this beautiful category. She hovers just high enough to hear all the different conversations taking place and to listen deeply.
That ability to listen, both to what is spoken and unspoken, has been honed over a 28 year career in jewelry and luxury goods. Grenier has been a buyer, manager and executive on both the retail and wholesale side. And these experiences have prepared her for her current roles at both the CPAA and Imperial Pearl. Because she can listen, she can discover what’s not on everyone’s radar and share this with retailers to create compelling pearl stories.
We caught up with each other last week and I knew we would have a good time, but had no idea just how rich the conversation would be. So whether you're the avid collector, that retailer who brings amazing jewels to the pearl lovers in your community, a dealer or a designer, I invite you to eavesdrop.
lwM: With Vegas in the rear view mirror, what's on the horizon now for the CPAA?
KG: We want to build on the momentum of the amazing design work that is being done! This year at JCK our exhibit brought to life the annual PEARL magazine supplement. It was a natural extension of the beautiful imagery in the magazine and it coincided with our advertising. Previously we have focused on the vast variety of pearls available and where they come from, so this was a departure that showed the variety of design available instead.
The CPAA exhibit at the JCK show in Las Vegas this past summer.
lwM: I like that natural progression from material to execution. And the annual International Pearl Competition gives you a unique perspective on the design world. What distinct trends do you see emerging from different parts of the world?
KG: We recognize that there's not one type of pearl person and so we seek to create an inclusive environment. Our intention is to cast a wide net, to connect and to encourage.
We want designers to simply enter designs that they love. . . work they are proud of.
European entries do tend to be more avant garde. The work coming out of Asia tends to be more complex and have a higher degree of intricacy. Long earrings and long layered pieces are still strong. More and more, we are seeing an absence of color: People are being drawn to white.
Judges poring over 175 entries at the International Pearl Design Competition (From L-R: Jean Francois Bibet, High Jewelry Production and Technical Manager-Cartier; Claudia Mata, Accessories and Jewelry Director-W Magazine; Amanda Gizzi, Director, Public Relations and Special Events-Jewelers of America; Cheryl Kremkow, Director-Citrine Media; Jennifer Heebner, Senior Editor-JCK Magazine
lwM: How do you stay on top of your game? What cleanses your visual palette?
KG: I crave alone time, the ocean, nothingness. I need to close the door and create physical and mental spaces. Disconnecting is as important as connecting.
I seek inspiration from sources other than jewelry: travel, health & wellness, home & nest, cosmetics. I seek new approaches from lots of different areas. I hate redundancy.
lwM: So true. I love the business culture you’ve developed: the negative space flies in the face of “fear of missing out.” I take it you choose your jewelry connections very carefully. Favorite blogs?
KG: I love the profiles and stories of "The Stone Set." To gain more understanding of what's around the corner there's "The Jewellery Editor." Jen Heebner's blog "Style360" is a wonderful connection for retailers. She's like having a well informed buyer on staff. Lorraine DePasque for InDesign.Jewelry is a thoughtful, creative writer who pours her heart and soul into taking you on a journey. and Rachel Garrahan's work for the New York Times is a great take on the consumer side.
lwM: So did you choose pearls, or did pearls choose you?
KG: Oh pearls chose me. We were meant for each other! From a very young age I was mesmerized by my mother’s pearls and the red velvet box that contained a:necklace, earrings, ring. . . Mikimoto pearls from when my parents were in Hong Kong. She seldom wore the entire suite at one time. I knew from a very early age that she was going to give these to my older sister and I was good with that. But I was delighted when my sister in turn gave them to me! It'a also fascinating to me that the design is as au courant now as they were in the fifties. The earrings resemble the ear climbers that are so popular now!
Kathy dons white gloves and a mink stole at the company Halloween party
while wearing her mother's Mikimoto pearls!
Who knew just how prescient those earrings would turn out to be?
lwM: As a designer, I found the recent JCK article by Jen Heebner on designers bypassing the traditional retail relationships significant in that it was being published by a main line trade journal. What's your take on the situation?
KG: We're long overdue for a market correction! It's really simple: everyone needs to seek balance, equity and true partnerships. Designers need to have their own voice and build partnerships with retailers. There is currently an imbalance. . . an illusion of power. I feel like we are making progress but it's going to require commitment on both sides.
lwM: Agreed. What practical steps do you think can be taken by retailers and designers to restore the relationships between them?
KG: Each party needs to know what they need and not be afraid to ask for it. Surprisingly, you usually get it. Feeling like you don’t have any power is in high contrast to stating your expectations and needs. Be sure you know what you want the end to be and not leave things open ended. You also need to be willing to walk away when things don’t feel equitable.
lwM: What retailers come to mind who really "get" pearls? How do you help them share the love?
KG: There are those who totally get it and are doing great things! A few come immediately to mind and they represent pearls so well to so many different people.
There’s Sidney Garber in Chicago and New York, a fine jewelry retailer who takes pearls seriously and is invested in pearls. Many significant and beautifully subtle pearl creations from around the world can be found there. Designers covet a spot at Sidney Garber.
Elizabeth Blair Fine Pearls in Harbor Springs Michigan is the showcase for Elizabeth’s talent as a designer. Affectionately known as Dilly, she transforms pearls into wearable objects of art.
For a truly Florida feel there’s Wendy Mignot who established the Bohemian “leather and pearls” look over 25 years ago. The moment I met her, I was in awe of her energy, beauty and style.
Finally, Henry C. Reid & Son in Fairfield Connecticut adores pearls and proves it. The showcases are filled with every variety of pearl and pearl jewelry designs giving his customers a panorama of categories and qualities of pearls. He’s also invested in training his sales associates so they’re very knowledgable about pearls and they hosts pearl events throughout the year.
lwM: Let's call it the end of a very good day. What makes it a good day for you?
KG: I've talked to a retailer and opened their eyes to the potential of pearls! When they truly understand the possibilities and decide to take pearls seriously. . . That's exciting. And that makes a great day.
lwM: And may you have many more. I look forward to our next conversation.