In Conversation with Lauren Harwell Godfrey
I first met my friend Lauren Harwell Godfrey at the 2016 In Good Company conference and was immediately taken by her kindness, warmth and, if I’m being honest, her amazing style. Ever since, I have been trying to figure out how in the world we were going to work together. Her fine jewelry line, Harwell Godfrey, has added a distinct voice to the accessories world with colorful, intricate and unmistakably bold creations. I can say from experience that her pieces are like beautiful talismans for the wearer, imbued with a kind of healing energy that makes them staples you never want to take off. But it’s her magnetic spirit and incredible style that have made her a woman I often look to for inspiration and, lucky for me, she’s a fellow San Franciscan. As you’ll see from our conversation, her journey has not been simple or straightforward, but she always leads with passion, true to herself and her creative voice, unafraid to pivot and carve a new path when needed.
I am deeply grateful to Lauren for applying her incredible design gifts to this year’s stunning Limited Edition Active Botanical Serum. With a pattern inspired by my family’s Napa Valley vineyard, as seen through the design lens of someone I hold so dear, it is a cherished gift I am so pleased to share with all of you. A special way, at a special time of year, to say thank you for being here with us.
My design was inspired by California’s wine country, where Vintner’s Daughter was born. After visits to April’s family’s vineyard — perched on a hill represented in the peak above the label — I added the “x’s” and “+’s” to represent the stars and positive energy that surround us there. The rows of geometric lines represent the vineyards themselves, as do the Y-shaped branches holding up the bottom of the label. Lastly, the heart, eye and peace symbol are often found in my work and are a nod to the love, vision and balance of Vintner’s Daughter.
– Lauren Harwell Godfrey
So you and I have been friends for many years and I was trying to remember the first time we met. I think it was at In Good Company and I stalked you because you had an incredible outfit on.
Yes, I think it was at In Good Company. That was such a good time.
At that point, your fine jewelry business, Harwell Godfrey, was just in its beginning stages.
Yes, it was still just in its infancy.
I remember you had those original necklaces. I was so excited to get one and I still wear it proudly. Take us on your journey from those original necklaces to your success today.
I started out making leather and crystal necklaces, which are the originals you're talking about, just for myself. At the time I actually was trying to forge my way into the food community and find a career path there because I’d just gone to culinary school. I was an art director and creative director in advertising for 15 years and then I went to culinary school, and I said to myself, "I'm going to be a food stylist and a recipe writer." I was trying to figure it out.
This actually makes me feel better because sometimes I look at the food that you prepare on Instagram, and I am like, "I am not worthy." Okay. That makes sense.
Ha! No, there's professional training behind that. I just love the food world. I love food. I just decided that was going to be my space. But I couldn’t find the thing that I could bring to that world that was original or interesting. When I don't have anything to say that's new, I know I’ve got to move on. I don't want to just keep doing stuff that other people are already doing.
I started making these necklaces because I wanted to touch something besides food for a little bit. I was feeling a little discouraged, and I was really just making them for myself. I actually found the original one I made. It has labradorite in it. I made it using this very weird process where I was using stones and setting them in clay bezels then wrapping leather around the clay.
Did you ever take a leather-working class?
No. I did look a little bit on YouTube, but I really just went to this leather store, Tandy Leather, down by the airport, and told them, "Hey, I actually wanted to make a belt too." I asked, "How do I poke holes in leather? What do I do?" They showed me some stuff, I took it home, and I just started making things.
I’ve always thought those necklaces felt almost like ancient things that you uncovered in nature. They're just that beautiful.
It's funny you would say that. I always had this impulse that I wanted to make things that felt like they were of the earth, and of a place. That was in the back of my head always. I used to go to Kauai a lot at the time and was thinking about how to capture that feeling of finding something at a local store that feels special to that place. I don't think my work necessarily does that as much anymore, but I love that idea.
You know Kauai is my special place.
I didn't know that. I'm obsessed.
Did you ever go to Hunter Gatherer in Kilauea?
Yes, and I was really inspired by that place. I loved how everything felt crafted and beautiful.
So how did things evolve from there?
Really it was just people getting excited about those early pieces when I was wearing them. I started making them for other people, and it just kind of snowballed. Then it was the question of how to scale it up and find someone to help me, because I was making everything myself. I tried to train somebody to do it, and they just said, "This is super weird. I cannot figure out what you're doing." So I went to a friend of mine, Randi Molofsky, who is the cofounder of For Future Reference, and said, "Hey, how do I scale this up and find someone to help me make these things?" She offered to start selling my pieces and got them into some stories, but eventually she said, "We're better at fine jewelry. This is a little out of our wheelhouse." My response was, "Well, I like fine jewelry a lot, and I like making jewelry a lot. This is really working for me. I wonder if a better way to scale would be if I somehow worked more on being the designer and less on physically making the product." I made a presentation deck and pitched them on my vision for fine jewelry, and they took me on as a client. It took us about a year from that point to get the first pieces out because it was drawing and development. Randi and Meaghan [Flynn Petropoulos], her cofounder, really helped me hone my vision, figure out how to manufacture, introduced me to the manufacturers, and then once that all started getting up and going, we started doing sales. Now they've just been killing it and Randi does all the PR, which has been so amazing.
Is it typical in jewelry to have that kind of relationship with an agency/showroom?
I would say no, it's not typical, but they are so amazing. They take on clients at so many different stages of brand development. I was just starting, whereas they have some clients that come to them that have been doing this for 35 years and just want to freshen things up. I think the roster is still all-female, all independent designers. I got lucky. It's a really nice sisterhood.
It sounds amazing. When I see your work and I see the breadth of the designs, it definitely feels clearly directed to me.
It is. In the beginning, I was getting my footing, asking, "How do I even make a collection that feels cohesive?" I kept developing things, and we would really talk through them. Now that the brand has such a direction, I do credit myself with the vision and the look of the brand and why it exists. What I'm trying to do and my influences are all coming from me. But they really helped me to put on a jewelry hat and a business hat that I didn't have yet. It's only been a few years, and I already feel so much more confident. My next collection that's coming out is big gemstones and big things. I'm definitely getting a little more…
Yes. The scale of the work has definitely changed. There are a lot of big things coming.
I can't wait! I've never seen any other jewelry that looks like yours. Do you feel the way that you've approached design has always been accepted?
I think at first people kind of didn't get it. I remember my first big, fine jewelry trade show that happens every late May, early June in Las Vegas. I’d gone once before just to walk around and see the show, which was really interesting. But my first year exhibiting was hard and I had a lot of people and retailers walk through, and kind of just take a look, and walk right on by. They didn't get it. But I did get orders from an amazing store, Twist, which has stores in Portland and Seattle. They really saw something in me. I'm so appreciative of that store. When they carry someone, I think people pay attention, so that was a big moment.
That happened to me too! An independent retailer in Portland was the first store to carry our product. That was the first time Vogue ever mentioned us, because of that store.
It takes that thing. There's something special about that.
Did you feel like from then on you were saying, "Okay. I've got something here"?
Yeah. Twist was a really big turning point for me. Then I got into Barneys, which was my goal of all goals. I was in there for two weeks, and then it was just gone.
You'll always remember those first accounts that really saw the beauty of your vision before everybody else did. On that note, in life, the world, jewelry, or however it shows up, what does beauty mean to you?
Beauty is a sign of inner wellness to me. I honestly think when you feel good and you're treating yourself well, you can see it. That's beautiful to me. I need to keep working on that right now because of COVID.
I think we are all working on that.
I just started going on some hikes. When I move and when I sleep and when I eat well, all those things that are good for me, I know I look and feel more beautiful. There’s a radiance that you get when you're taking care of yourself that you can't get any other way.
Almost a kind of true confidence, not ego-driven confidence. Just feeling really good in your skin. Has that definition of beauty changed over time?
Yeah, for sure. Growing up as a mixed girl who's half black and half white, I was always striving for white beauty because that's what I saw, and that's what was being held up. Then Halle Berry came on the scene. Now there are just so many women that I'm inspired by. I see black beauty as a thing to achieve and to aspire to. That's kind of where my head's at now. It's funny because you were mentioning my hair. My hair was straight pretty recently. I was like, "No, I want my curls back." That's kind of what feels beautiful to me right now. My true, authentic, curly hair.
Do you have any beauty rituals that you swear by?
I have been using Active Treatment Essence and Active Botanical Serum not only on my face but on my décolletage lately. I'm paying extra special attention to that area, and that's been a new routine for me that I'm really happy with. I actually have also been very careful to put it in a place on my hands where I can kind of rub it into the top of my hands afterwards. I take a lot of ring shots so these hands have to stay looking nice.
That’s wonderful. Generally, what is your current AM/PM skincare routine?
In the morning, if I'm doing what I should be doing, I just use water on my face. I don't cleanse it because I'll have cleansed it right before I went to bed. Then I do a probiotic spray, and apply Active Treatment Essence and pat that in. Then I use Active Botanical Serum before I apply an SPF 15 tinted moisturizer over the top. That’s it. At night, I cleanse then I typically sleep in a moisturizing mask.
Just so you know, Active Treatment Essence has serious probiotics in it. You don't even need both.
Well, that's good to know! Then I don't need to be spending all this extra money.
One more tip: At night, you could also cleanse, use Essence, Serum, then use the moisture mask. Overnight is when you're going to have the highest levels of cellular regeneration, so you’ll get even more benefits.
Amazing. I've only been using Essence and Serum in the morning because I wasn’t sure how to work them in more. I’m so glad we’re talking about this.
Me too! Okay. We've reached the fast questions bit. What's something that people would be surprised to learn about you?
That I was an equestrian in high school.
What is your dream holiday destination today?
Kauai. I want to go to Kauai again. I miss it. That or Morocco. I love it there too.
What's your favorite charity or nonprofit organization?
Futures Without Violence, which I serve on the board of. They do a lot of work to get at the root of violence and have programs nationwide. It’s the kind of work we really need to be doing right now. They’re also building the Courage Museum, which is going to be a first of its kind and a place that will go out of its way to teach children and their parents about violence, how it originates, how to stop it, action items to move forward, and all the values that I think we're not currently seeing in our leaders. I think that'll be a place where people can go and heal and learn how to hopefully create a better world. I also really believe in and support the NAACP and designed a piece for them because I was very called to do something after what happened to George Floyd.
Futures Without Violence is also one of the beloved nonprofits that Vintner's Daughter donates to. A percentage of the sales of the Limited Edition Active Botanical Serum that we worked on together is going towards Futures Without Violence, which is really exciting. I love that they work at a national, government level but also have local, grassroots programs.
Agreed. They do so much that I've been on the board for a year, and I'm still learning about new programs.
Okay, last one. This might be my favorite one. If you could have anyone's singing voice, who would it be?
I would say Aretha. Who wouldn't want a singing voice like Aretha’s?
Don't miss this year's extraordinary 2020 Limited Edition Active Botanical Serum, featuring a custom design by Lauren Harwell Godfrey.