At Home with Coco Smith of Cocotay
For our series Closet Confidential, we interview interesting and uber cool people in their homes wearing outfits from their closets. Writer KOYA NYANGI caught up with Coco Smith, owner of the jewelry line Cocotay, at her home in Cherry Hills.
PHOTOGRAPHED BY ESTHER LEE LEACH
I think it's safe to say that jewelry has the power to be that ‘one little thing' that can make you feel unique. Coco Blaisdell has built her company, Cocotay, with this feeling in mind; seeking out, curating, and selling vintage jewelry. Coco’s pieces have been featured in Vogue and Sex and The City. With a unique eye, she seamlessly blends vintage with modernity, while creating one of a kind pieces that have contributed to her rapidly growing success.
Koya Nyangi: You started your brand Cocotay in 2002. Why did you create this company and how did your interest in jewelry develop?
Coco Blaisdell: I grew up around jewelry; my grandparents had a lot of pieces and these were handed down to us. We grew up with a lot of family antiques, jewelry, and heirlooms. My mom inherited some wild things, like a bird pin that looked so ridiculous. I told her that it would make a fabulous cuff. Sure, enough she went ahead and made it into a cuff and it is still one of her favorite pieces to date! After this she began purchasing vintage jewelry that I could redesign. When I was living in San Francisco after college, I would go to flea markets and buy things to redesign. People would buy things right off my neck at restaurants and other places that I visited. I decided to move to New York City and try jewelry design for two years. Back then it was all networking in person because there was no Facebook or Instagram. So it was a lot of hustle and good luck.
KN: All your jewelry pieces are so unique. I know that you source a lot of vintage pieces and then reconstruct them. Tell us more about the sourcing process.
CB: For the first 10 years of doing business, I would travel up and down the east coast going to antique stores. I would go to the boonies of Virginia, to Maine looking for fabulous pieces. It was a total treasure hunt and I still miss those days. As my brand started to get a following, we ended up in Vogue, Sex and the City and Bergdorf Goodman - where I officially launched. I had to spend more time on personal appearances and networking in New York and this did not leave me enough time for scouting. So, I started to build relationships with jewelry dealers who would ship me boxes. I would buy what I love and then ship the rest back. It is a long process but I feel very fortunate that these dealers still ship boxes to this day. I need to touch and feel each piece. A picture doesn't do it justice, my clients really appreciate my attention to detail.
KN: How do you decide on a final design for the jewelry that you create from these vintage finds?
CB: For final designs, it is pretty wild! Sometimes I have pieces for years before I feel like I have the perfect design for it. But I love this part of it because I always ask myself if I love the piece or want to keep it. Because if I want to keep it, I know for sure I can sell it. I am so grateful because my clientele is so loyal and thoughtful. They come to me to help them design the perfect piece for an outfit, event or a meaningful piece that they have inherited. I have a dozen clients that I have worked with from day one, one of which has more Cocotay Jewelry than I do and I am very envious of that.
KN: You have mentioned that "vintage is your most momentous source of inspiration". What about vintage speaks to you as a jewelry designer?
CB: I think there are a few things that make me appreciate vintage so much. It was made so much better back in the day. If you go back to the early days, most jewelry (even custom) was made in Paris and Italy, and it was magnificent. I love the story behind the pieces I find, collectors in Savanah or a grandmother's lifetime collection where I can find meaningful pieces that I can pass along to my clients. The patina of each piece speaks to me. I love that they are perfect and that they are delicate and unusual. One of a kind. I love that my clients and I can go anywhere. From a local party to a white party in Capri and know they are the only person who has those exact earrings and that is pretty fabulous!
KN: What is your philosophy when incorporating jewelry into your wardrobe? How do you choose the right piece for a particular outfit?
CB: You asked me how you pick the right piece for the right outfit. I work backwards. I decide which earrings or jewelry I want to wear and then I go from there. I pick my shoes next and then the dress or outfit. I find that I wear a lot of black and white so the jewelry really stands out.
KN: Your Instagram is so well curated and a lot of your client interactions begin on Instagram. Tell us more about that side of the business.
CB: Instagram has been a big game-changer for small designers like myself. Even 6 years ago I was dependent on department stores and boutiques to reach clients and for cash flow. Now Instagram connects us with our clients directly which is so rewarding and priceless. I still love to work with special buyers but also love to interact with my Instagram following too. I love that someone can follow a hastag, find Cocotay and get in touch!
KN: What do you love about being a creative entrepreneur and what have you learned about yourself along the way?
CB: I come from a long line of entrepreneurs. My dad’s great uncle invented the Zippo Lighter, and his grandfather was a founder of Von Lengerke and Detmold (then Fitch) - which is now known as Abercrombie & Fitch and on my mom's side they invented the washing machine and sold the patent to Maytag. So, I sort of feel like, it is in my blood - in my soul. I majored in finance and worked at a hedge fund out of college but my heart has always been with small businesses and creative energy. I remember as a little girl, pinning up dresses, sewing, and painting. It is my happy place. If it were up to me, everything would be disco balls, sea creatures, beaches, and diamonds.
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