“Follow your passion — and if you don’t know what it is, realize that one reason for your existence on earth is to find it.” —Oprah Winfrey
Creative women whether they be artists, authors, foodies or female entrepreneurs have always served as the ultimate inspiration both here on The Avid Pen and in my personal life as well. Being surrounded by strong creative women never fails to inspire me, and seeing how they’ve started with an idea and turned it into a business and a way of life keeps me reaching for the goals I’ve set for myself. By sharing the stories of these amazing women I hope that I’ve had the opportunity to reach those of you who have just started to dream of what your future could look like and perhaps given you a little push in the right direction.
I often ask female entrepreneurs their advice for women who want to found their own brands, and I love the quote from Ajiri Aki of Madame de la Maison, “Remember that perfection is the enemy of progress.”
While the pandemic that has changed things for everyone across the world this year, I hope that through sharing the stories of the women I’ve had the opportunity to ‘meet’ during the course of the year, including the 26 women in this post, have provided you with a source of inspiration and a glimmer of hope as you continue to live your best life.
The Second Home is set in Wellfleet Cape Cod where your family has had a home since the 1890’s and Milwaukee. What are some of your favorite memories of the time you spent in in Wellfleet each summer?
Our first stop was the Wellfleet Library. When I was a kid, the library was in the upstairs of what is currently the Town Hall. I loved the smell of the books and the card catalogues and the sound of the date stamp when we checked out our books. My sisters and I would have reading competitions, and we’d just plow through our stacks. We also loved the backshore and especially the ponds, and would make it a challenge to swim across each one. My grandparent’s house, like the Gordon’s, is on the cove, and I loved finding horseshoe and fiddler crabs at low tide. We also played lots of games — Stratego, Bingo, Parcheesi, Pollyanna, and we built houses out of playing cards until my grandparent’s dogs knocked them down.
When did you come up with the idea for your skincare brand Seven Seven Cosmetics?
I think I always knew I would do something like this. I’m very much a “do it yourself-er” and have always been entrepreneurial. I kept running into the issue of wanting to combine products. As a makeup artist, I understand why there are so many products and so many steps to get that red carpet/flawless look, but as an average everyday consumer I wanted to fid a way to condense the steps with the same flawless result. I just truly believed it didn’t need to be that complicated, and there was a way to make it easier for the every day individual.
When did you first decided to found your brand Ashley D Studio?
When my husband proposed, I decided to do my own invitations. It made me realize that I missed working small on stationary and having the chance to combine watercolor with typography. I missed the conceptual aspect. So, after my wedding I went part time with Lily Pulitzer and then my husband and I moved to Colorado and I went with my brand full time.
The beginning of wanting to go out on my own really got its start when I lived in San Francisco for awhile, that pushed me to do my own thing. It’s the land of entrepreneurs and everyone is working towards building their own lines. I wanted to be a part of that. I want to have my name on something.
What was the hardest (or) favorite scene to write?
Both the hardest and probably one of my favorites was the first chapter of Zara’s story. I had all these images in my mind, all these feelings and emotions, and I wanted to make sure I do both Zara and Leon justice when I first introduce them and their love story to readers. I felt the magic, but would everyone else feel it too? I was so happy when reviews started coming in…and it was apparent readers felt the magic as well, and the story touched them and had an impact on them. It’s the best feeling for an author. You love your characters and your story and hope the world will love them too. I am thrilled Someday in Paris is being read and loved. Seeing it being called ‘the most memorable love story’ someone has ever read, or their favorite of all time, or magical and beautiful is a dream come true!
For someone who is new to working with oils, what are you words of advice for working with this particular medium?
Ah I love this question. I tell people that have never painted in oils… that my comparison of acrylic painting to oil painting is like driving on a gravel road to driving on an icy road. It’s scary at first… very slick and all over the place, but you soon learn to love to drive on the ice!
I also tell others to be patient with yourself. Frustration is a good thing. It means you want to do better, to become better. I still get frustrated all the time. But now I’ve learned to embrace the frustration. I know (most of the time) when to take a break from what I’m working on and come back with fresh eyes to work out my painting. They don’t always work out but I learn from them all.
When did you come up with the name of your blog, Elle Fait (which translates to “She makes”)?
Elle Fait means “She makes” in French. And well, making is the best of who I am. I try to take everything life hands me and make the most of it, and my blog tells the story of that process, so it seemed fitting. I believe that even though we don’t have control over our circumstances we do have control over what we make of them, and I’m working on embracing that. I also have a deep love of the French language and have been trying to learn it, so this was an ode to that.
Summer Darlings is your first novel. When did you first come up with the idea for the book?
I was visiting the island in the summer of 2016 when I learned about three beautiful houses that captured my interest. They sit side-by-side on a narrow spit of land that juts out into Vineyard Sound. In the 1950s, a granddaughter to the Standard Oil fortune lived in one of the mansions, a famous Broadway stage actress in another, and in between, there was a ramshackle fishing cottage housing a bachelor. Those were small details, but they took off in my imagination. I immediately imagined the waspy Jean-Rose living in a grand Victorian house with her “perfect” family, a voluptuous movie star Gigi McCabe in the other, and an eligible bachelor in the fishing cottage in between. The story took off from there when I realized it would center around Heddy, a young scholarship student coming to work as a nanny on the island. I heard the characters talking to each other. I saw them strolling the beach and ducking into shopfronts in Edgartown. By the way, you can still rent that ramshackle “cottage” — for $14,500 a week.
Your primary medium is watercolor. What drew you to this particular medium?
I am a real purist when it comes to watercolour and I work primarily in transparent pigments, wherever possible at least. What drew me to it initially was economics. I was young, poor, had no workspace and watercolour was simple, affordable and didn’t need much room or planning. I also had small children and constant interruptions, so the medium was ideal for coming and going without waste. Health was also a very real concern, watercolour being relatively less toxic than working in the alternatives at the time. So it was a reverse love affair in fact, wanting to work in oils but not having the resources. I started where I could and soon enough it became a very real and deep love affair of its own. It is a diverse and romantic medium that has such a voice and beauty of its own. Since then, there has been very little I couldn’t achieve in the medium, learning to bend the boundaries far and wide to achieve rich, dynamic, dramatic and tender works of art.
What do you enjoy the most about sharing your love of art with your children?
Oh, I love absolutely everything about it. I love seeing them get in the “zone” of painting. Their world quiets for just a moment and they are just consumed by creating something, anything, and I love watching it. I love seeing how each of my children have such different styles and approaches to art too.
My daughter puts on her paint apron, picks out as many pinks as she can fit on her palette, and just paints with a fury. She will mix all of her colors and paint faster and with more confidence than I’ve ever seen anyone paint before. And when she’s done, she’s done. She walks away without a second guess, and I envy that.
My oldest son is much more of a planner and needs to think about what he’s going to paint. If he’s painting the sky, it’s blue, and the grass is green. He doesn’t get too abstract. He paints with precision and thoughtfulness and I see a lot of myself in him when he paints.
For my foster daughter, art is therapy. She came to us almost three years ago and didn’t speak any English, and I didn’t speak Spanish. I immediately introduced her to painting and that was a big way that we bonded. We painted together, laughed together, and made messes together, long before we could ever communicate in words together. Even now, if I’m in my studio she’s the one who most often tries to come sneak in to paint with me.
I love not only sharing my passion with my children, but I love seeing them open their creative minds and speak in a language they wouldn’t be able to otherwise.
When did you first come up with the storyline for The Lost Diary of Venice?
The novel is inspired by a treatise from the Renaissance that I stumbled upon during grad school. The document was all about art, and included fascinating sketches—I just had to know more. When I researched the author, I learned he was an Italian painter who had lost his sight the same year Italy went to war against the Ottoman Empire. It was too fantastic a premise not to keep researching, and gradually the idea for a book began to blossom. Once I arrived at the historical plotline—where an artist falls in love with the courtesan he’s commissioned to paint—I developed the modern-day narrative, which focuses on an introverted book restorer grappling with her own identity and love-life.
When did you first come up with the idea to found Brightland?
After discovering that the majority of olive oil Americans consume is rotten, rancid or adulterated, I felt this strong need to do something about it. While I don’t have a background in the culinary space, I couldn’t ignore the feeling. The urgency only deepened after I relocated from New York to Los Angeles four years ago. I founded Brightland in 2018 with the intention of championing transparency in the consumer goods space with an American-made olive oil (ours is produced in California) that also shines a light on the importance of knowing where your olive oil is coming from, how it’s produced and vital information such as the harvest date. The bottle design was also crafted for functionality and aesthetics – the opaque bottle keeps the oil fresher and the label was envisioned to celebrate the spirit of California. It’s become a cornerstone of the brand and I love seeing fans displaying their bottles on their countertops and tables.
Since moving to Paris you’ve written for well known publications such as The New York Times, Conde Nast Travel and Bon Appétit just to name a few. Did you always know that you wanted to write for a living, and what was it like when you saw your first piece in print?
I didn’t! I don’t want to say that I fell into it because it was much more deliberate than that but I had always assumed it wasn’t a viable career path, given that I had never been part of a newsroom or editorial team in-house at a publication. What I discovered was that storytelling and a unique point of view were, first and foremost, key to breaking in sheer perseverance! I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment the first time I saw my byline in a print edition of The New York Times and then, more recently, hearing my name on NPR. Nothing is guaranteed so I try to savor the little successes.
What was it like going between telling Claire’s story in the present to sharing Eva’s backstory and everything that happened leading up to her trading places with Claire in the airport?
It was incredibly hard to draft two completely different POVs, but a little easier in that Eva was in the past. I didn’t need to worry about facts on the page colliding in real time. I spent a lot of time with each character on her own, making sure her backstory was fully developed, and making sure her narrative arc was complete. Then I had to weave the two together!
When did you first come up with the idea for Madame de la Maison?
Long story short: I was having some wine in the countryside at a home of a dear friend and we were discussing turning passions into purpose. She is one of those friends every girl needs who loves having these kinds of conversations to encourage her girls. I wasn’t sure what my next move in work was. She has actually always pushed me to do something around entertaining and gatherings since I am always hosting. We talked it out, I did some research, got quiet, listened et voila: Madame de la Maison was born shortly after.
At what part during your early stages of planning out the novel, did you decide that Duncan Carpenter from your previous novel (Happiness for Beginners) would make his reappearance as one of the novels main characters?
It occurred to me pretty early on! I started the story with the main character, Sam, and the idea that she would be forced to work with a guy who’s idea of what mattered at her school would be diametrically opposed to hers. And not long after I started turning that idea around in my head, I suddenly wondered if Duncan could be that guy. I’ve wanted to give Duncan his own book ever since he first totally stole the show for me in Happiness for Beginners. I tried thinking of him as Sam’s terrible boss—just tried it, like “Could this work? Does this work?” And I knew pretty fast: Yes. It worked. Because I loved Duncan so much from before. And it instantly raised that question for me: “How could sweet, goofy Duncan turn into this guy?” And anytime the elements of a story start raising questions for you that you feel really curious about, that’s a good sign.
Over the years what have been some of your go-to styles/colors for your own hair?
I once upon a time took my hair really dark. And that was a mistake, considering I am naturally blonde. It wasn’t a good look. LOL. Once I got myself back to blonde, I vowed not to veer too far from that, and I’ve held to that vow! The tone of my blonde however, has been everything from warm honey all the way to icy and white!
For my makeup, back in the day, before I ever went to school for beauty (so don’t judge!) I’d rock matte, heavy foundation, no blush, and vibrant red lipstick everywhere I went! From there, my makeup artistry has evolved as the years went by. Nowadays, less is more for me and I typically only wear a little foundation, highlighter, and blush! I do have lash extensions so I don’t feel the need for any eye makeup, and I tint my brows so I don’t do anything with them but brush them. Less is more for me these days.
Out of all of the pieces that you’ve created, do you have a personal favorite?
I don’t think I can pick one favorite, but I do always have a few favorite in every collection. I loved a pair of hummingbirds I sent to Shain Gallery last month. They also have a butterfly piece that I love.
When I first started painting, I would paint what I thought others would want to buy. Then when they wouldn’t sell, I’d be stuck with paintings that really weren’t my taste. Now I really try to paint with myself in mind and what I like, not what I think others will like. Since art is so personal and we all have different taste, there is always going to be critics of my art. So I really love everything I create now. Art is such a personal thing, my favorites are not always the first to go. I am always interested to see which paintings of mine others are drawn to.
How do you feel your home base of the Bahamas is celebrated throughout your namesake brand?
Hope Hill is really at the core of the DNA of the brand…Our essence is really about an old-fashioned return to the table in a mannerly but barefoot way…or maybe sandal-clad way!
You worked for over 10 years at Balmain in Paris, and your husband Philipp is a filmmaker from South Tyrol, Italy. What was the best part about working for Balmain and how did your experience in design influence the decor you chose for the Chateau?
I had an amazing 10 years working for Balmain and I was lucky that I was able to be very creative. Both of us have always been very inspired by design, architecture and renovation so buying the chateau was a dream project. It was important for us to keep the integrity of the 18th/19th details but figure out how to make the rooms function for our guest house, so we spoke with our friend Anna from AMV Studio who helped us figure out the layouts for the rooms so that we could make all the rooms en-suite.
We renovated the chateau on a small budget which meant we had to learn to do a lot ourselves and become very creative. I’ve always used a lot with color and print in my work so this was something we wanted to bring into the interiors and I had the idea to create bespoke wallpaper using linoprint. For the decor we love to mix modern pieces, pieces we re-upholster with antique finds to create a unique feel.
When did you first come up with the storyline for Paris Never Leaves You?
I’m not quite sure when I started to think about the storyline, but I do know how I began to think about it. The inspiration for the book came from Charlotte, and the inspiration for Charlotte came from women who were nothing like her. As I read memoirs, biographies, and accounts of WWII, both for pleasure and for research, I came across many women who spied for the Allies or fought for the Resistance or risked their lives as war correspondents. And the more I read, the more I began to wonder about women who were not blessed, or cursed, with their courage, women, I admit it, like me. How would they manage to eke out a normal life under horrendously abnormal conditions? How would they navigate a world stalked by danger and threatened by shortages of food, medicine, other basic necessities? How far would they go to survive? What compromises would they make? What moral corners would they cut? And as I thought about these questions, an even more dire one occurred to me. What would that woman do to save her child?
I love how fun your artwork is. I’m obsessed with one of your latest pieces, The Secretary and I adore the work on paper featuring the swan on a pink cotton candy cloud. How do you come up with the ideas for your whimsical pieces?
Honestly, I just have to see something and a complete image of what I want to create pops into my mind. Then it’s a constant struggle to put that mental image on a canvas. I’m almost never satisfied. The Secretary was a crazy image that I ran with immediately after it came to me. I remember blocking out my canvas and then looking at it that evening thinking, “Did I just paint a three foot canvas with a giant secretary bird?” But I love her so much. One of my long time collectors scooped her up….we are kindred spirits so I’m not surprised she fell in love too.
Tell me about the process you go through when working on a collaboration, from the initial design process to the finished collection.
I love to travel to various regions of Provence for inspiration, from the the seaside of Cassis to the Luberon. I am inspired by the natural landscapes, beauty and the rich artist history of the chic cities, such as St Remy, Arles and Aix-en-Provence. I like to people watch in these cities to see what type of outfits people gravitate towards and also pull in color inspiration from the city streets. Aix, for instance has a very golden palette, while Arles has so many striking blue/greys and reds. I then sit down each season and sketch collections that fit into three categories: Luberon, romantic pieces, city chic and Mediterranean inspired.
From the raw sketches, I work with three amazing couturiere here in Provence to bring the designs to life. All of my collections are proudly produced here in Provence and I work very hard to source sustainable and natural materials. My collections are known for their very high quality linens. To keep to my sustainable values, most dresses are sold on a pre-sale basis so that we can plan stock accordingly and never have waste. I also photograph all of my collections myself so I can bring the vision to life in the beautiful landscapes of Provence, which is a dream job come true for me.
Your artwork predominantly features contemporary abstracts, animals, and watercolor portraits. What drew you to these particular genres?
My love for children drew me to portraits, my love of interior design and bold color shapes drew me to contemporary abstracts, and my amazing customers drew me to animals! I do not like to limit myself to one particular genre and this is what makes art exciting and fun for me!
You are a London based artist with a love for birds, flowers and chinoiserie. When did you first fall in love with the artistic world?
I have been artistic since I was conscious, so it was all so natural for me. I became very interested in wallpaper design during my university years, during my course I made a connecti
on with a Chinoiserie wallpaper company who became my first and only job. This was where I really fell in love with the Chinoiserie style, the delicate nature of the painting really captivated me.
When did you first fall in love with all things vintage?
I think it happened in high school when I was 15 or 16. I discovered the old Hollywood movies for the first time and just couldn’t take my eyes off these silver screen sirens lounging around in their elegant outfits, perfectly coiffured and with perfect make up on. I fell instantly in love with vintage aesthetics, watching and re-watching the movies with Grace Kelly, Ava Gardner, Vivien Leigh, Rita Hayworth, Veronica Lake, Elizabeth Taylor and Hedy Lamarr. My love has only grown stronger ever since and expanded further to other decades of the 20th century.
Tell me about the inspiration behind the Primavera collection.
That collection was inspired by Italy, by Capri actually. It was designed around the idea of going on vacation to Capri and what would she wear if she was there. I always design around this fantasy figure of a woman. If she was on a movie set, what would she be wearing. Movies are my biggest inspiration. Where would she go to dinner? What sites would she visit? She would have to casual pieces and elevated pieces. Every season I like to see where she would be holidaying at.
When did you first come up with the idea to found your namesake jewelry brand?
I began designing in 2001. At the time I was dancing for the New York City Ballet. Like athletic seasons, between performing periods we had weeks at a time without work. That time off became an opportunity for me to explore my creative ability in design. The more I learned, the more engaged I became with the process — the design component and the business component. After five years of designing during my time off, before, after, and between rehearsals, I decided to pursue my business wholeheartedly and leave New York CIty Ballet.
Photo credit — Lindsey Shorter
When did you first come up with the idea for the Goldbug Collection?
I graduated from Clemson University in 2013 and moved to New York for the summer for an internship and was terribly homesick. So I asked my mom if I could move back to Charleston and work at our family jewelry store, Croghan’s Jewel Box. She said I could only work there if I promised to use my creativity and come up with a costume jewelry line that could be a tribute to Charleston and could be something that both locals and visitors enjoyed. So I moved home, hoping she would forget about the challenge she charged me with, which of course she didn’t. I was totally stumped, because everything “Charlestony” had already been done, the oyster, the crab, palmetto tree etc.
We live in an old Charleston house, that has its fair share of “unwelcome guests” aka cockroaches, and one night it came to me… Let’s do golden Cockroaches! (Or their much more polite name, Palmetto Bugs)
When did you first come up with the idea for your latest novel, Honeysuckle Season?
I start each novel with the main character, so Honeysuckle Season began with Libby. I liked the idea that she was woman at a crossroads, where life sometimes puts us all. I had the entire book plotted out, my editor gave me the thumbs up on the synopsis and I started writing. But as I was writing the first two hundred pages, a character, I had not really expected to walk on the page, appeared. It was Olivia. I could not stop thinking about her and her friendship with Sadie. Finally, I tossed out those first two hundred pages and started over. And once I let Sadie and Olivia tell their story, Libby’s came to me more fully and the book began to write itself.
Tell me about the story behind the name, Edith Hour.
Edith is my Mimi’s middle name – she was someone who was all about always looking your best. Which inspired the idea of creating a brand that helps women feel and look good no matter if they are on the couch all day!
You have several subjects you focus on in your work from charming candids of children to florals, figures, abstracts and landscapes. What drew you to these subjects in particular?
I’ve spent most of my summers on the South Carolina coast and I still spend as much time down there as I can. So when I had my first child, she became my muse. She was the perfect model. I would spend a month or two at the beach each summer, and then when my son was born I started painting more children’s portraits. So my children are the reason I started painting portraits.
The florals happened because I needed a break from painting portraits, I wanted to do something different. I got stuck on florals for awhile, and then marshes… I love anything with reflections in the water.
Abstracts came last because of my love of color. I love color and I love to teach color and experiment with it. With abstracts it’s just a lot of fun to focus on the texture and the color and not so much on the subject matter. I don’t have a lot of time to work on my abstracts, but I’m hoping to start carving out more time work on them. The good abstracts are actually quite hard, you have to think about design and composition and it can be a little challenging.
What is the best part of working together as a mother/daughter team?
BJ: Working together adds an extra dimension to our relationship. I get to spend every day with her and am in awe of the work ethic and creativity that Cooper brings to Hat Attack. There is so much work to do, but we do have some laughs throughout the day. Hopefully we will be traveling for inspiration together again at some point. We miss those trips together!
Which hats from both past and present collections do you find yourselves reaching for the most?
Cooper: The classic hats are always a favorite, a Panama style with ribbon or a braided sunhat with a special timeless trim. I know my mom always reaches for the Washed Cotton Crusher. It’s so comfy and a staple item that has been in the collection for over 30 years!
All of the luxury silk ribbons, textiles and velvet from Honey Silks & Co are hand dyed in your studio here in North Carolina. When did you first learn about hand dying ribbons & textiles?
I actually started out as a photo prop vendor that has dabbled into dyeing for my props. I loved it so much I decided to take on larger textiles and shortly after, Honey Silks was born.
“In whatever you do, you’re not going to stand out unless you think big and have ideas that are truly original. That comes from tapping into your own creativity, not obsessing over what everyone else is doing.” —Sophia Amoruso, founder of Nasty Gal