I’ve been a fan of Allison Nowlin Ward’s jewelry for awhile now, so when she agreed to answer a few questions for this blog, I was thrilled. Read on to find out where the Memphis, Tennessee native, who designs under the name of Madame Fortuna, finds inspiration–and good sushi–in the City.
You went from working at the Wall Street Journal to launching a jewelry business? How did that happen?
I worked at the Wall Street Journal before, during and after 9/11. We were in the World Financial Center but were relocated to Princeton, NJ to their corporate headquarters. I had had a great job (Photo Editor) in an exciting area, and then it all flipped on a dime—not to mention the emotional reaction to September 11th. I really liked the job, but it all changed and decisions had to be made. While all this was going on I decided that I really wanted to have a vintage clothing store, so my husband (boyfriend at the time) and I (and many others) renovated an old delicatessen on Metropolitan Avenue in Williamsburg before it was so developed! While I had the store, which was called Fortuna, I started making jewelry and [the Madame Fortuna collection] all happened naturally.
What was the inspiration behind Madame Fortuna?
Madame Fortuna is inspired by so many things. I missed New Orleans, where I lived for a time, so I made a necklace of charms to remind myself of the important things. It was a sort of personal rosary. Then I started making things for others, and the response to such personal jewelry was really awe-inspiring. Later I branched out into other designs based on unique and intriguing pieces I found, as well as original designs based on antique themes (Memorial jewelry, Victorian lockets, etc).
How did growing up in the pearl- and flea market-obsessed South influence your designs?
Oh my god how didn’t it! When I was growing up in Memphis, the big flea market was a wonderful bazaar of antiques, junk, jewelry… the good stuff! It was a real flea market—not toilet paper holders, socks and potpourri. My mom and stepfather would take me all the time. There was a great eccentric couple that specialized in antique and estate jewelry. They would babysit me while my parents shopped. They let me play with everything, even the most expensive pieces. There is so much history everywhere, and it is such a visually rich landscape.
Why do you think brides love your jewelry so much?
My jewelry is very personal and it is one of a kind. You can get a really special gift that was made specifically for you. In this day and age that is pretty special. I love visualizing people and trying to make something that will really reach them and touch them. I think people feel that and are excited to be able to give someone a gift with so much thought behind it.
You recently moved about 2 hours northeast of the city. Why?
I left Brooklyn at the beginning of 2006 for a southern sojourn and moved back about a year ago. We decided to live up here full-time since we have property close by that we intend to build on. Plus we have an almost 4-year-old son and we had gotten used to space! Plus we have a lot of animals. Being two hours away from the city is really having the best of both worlds.
Now, you commute to New York every Friday. What’s a typical Friday in the city like for you? What do you look forward to during these weekly visits?
I love my Fridays. I will usually get up and get my son ready for school. I see him off and then get in the car. I get my coffee and tune in to the local radio station WJFF, which is pretty great. Then I look forward to some time where my mind can wander. As I get closer to the city, I get excited. I park in my old neighborhood, jump on the train and then spend a day surrounded by beautiful things and hope to have some interesting exchanges. Of course food is important. I look forward to the variety of good food that NYC offers. Then, I either meet up with friends and have a ladies night or get a bite and hit the road. I use my drive time to catch up on returning phone calls or again just let my mind go.
What are some of your favorite New York City destinations?
It seems so long since I’ve just gotten to explore. I love the jewelry dens of the diamond district, Albertine and Albertine General in the West Village (where I work one day a week), Takahachi on Avenue A for sushi, the eclectic shops of Williamsburg, riding bikes on the West Side Highway, Russ & Daughters……………
Do you have a favorite place in the City to source antiques, bits and baubles for your designs?
I love going to the 6th Avenue flea market, although it is changing and getting smaller. The Brooklyn flea markets are great, too, although now I have so many places up where I live… I have started to go to auctions quite a bit, and that is fascinating. Every once in a while someone will give me a name and a number and tell me to call them… that is always a surprise!
As a southerner, what do you find most appealing about NYC? What was hardest to get used to?
The freedom to do whatever you want. The energy of the city encouraging you to be the best that you can. The constant flow of creativity and the random craziness that happens! The hardest thing was to let myself relax. All of the activity just outside of your window makes you feel like everyone is doing something but you. But once you get a balance it’s great.
What do you have planned for your next collection?
I am working on a few new collections. I have been experimenting with gold and other materials and also exploring some literature that may inspire a line. I also have a fun and colorful line coming up as well!