Typically a vision in all black, she can rock the single earring look like nobody’s business.
Actually, it is her business.
Taylor Wilkinson, the designer behind her namesake contemporary statement jewelry line, was a stay-home mom for fifteen years before she turned a love of accessories into a boutique brand. With little to no experience in design, she launched Taylor Wilkinson Designs (TWD) in Oxford, Mississippi, and within a year, the likes of Miranda Lambert and Rita Ora were seen wearing her edgy metal pieces.
I met Taylor for drinks at Oxford’s Saint Leo to find out how she did just that, the real-life challenges of being a female entrepreneur (with three children at home), and to prod a little about her own personal style.
Hometown: Oxford, Mississippi
Last mind-blowing NYC restaurant experience: Catch for sushi in the Meatpacking District
Favorite restaurant in New Orleans: Peche!
Go-to bottle of wine at home: Trimbach Pinot Blanc
Cocktail currently on repeat in Oxford: Mexican Firing Squad at Saint Leo Lounge
Most magical pair of boots in your closet: Red velvet Gucci boots, a fortieth birthday gift. Truth: I’ve only worn them once!
The dress you’re wearing now: Frame leopard wrap dress from Cicada
Can we please just talk about going to college at Ole Miss in the '90s?
It was a blast! It was amazing. The late night was always at a fraternity house. We would race home to go check our answering machines to see if the boy had called. No one knows what that’s like anymore.
Could you have imagined becoming a jewelry designer? What was your first job after college?
No, I could barely imagine graduating! I worked at Banana Republic and then for a healthcare company. I worked for Saks and was the liasion between the buyer and the art department. Maybe that’s where this all came about for me. I love accessories, almost more than clothes. I’m usually in all black, but I’ve always loved jewelry and shoes. I did not go to design school. I majored in journalism!
Did you toy with other names besides Taylor Wilkinson Designs?
A million. The middle names of my kids…I went down the whole Mary Kate and Ashley Olson and Elizabeth & James path. Then it was, do I add ‘designs’ to it or just my name? The hardest thing for me for was my logo. I worked with Confit Designs in Oxford as I wanted everything local. The first one was just edgy and kinda reminded me of Betsy Johnson.
How long did it take to launch and what were your first setbacks?
It took every bit of a year. We have three children and I’d been a stay-at-home mom for fifteen years so it was challenging. You’re going to get the door slammed, but I told myself if this brand ever grows, I’m never going to not return an email. There has been more good than bad, but that has been the hardest pill to swallow. I had rose-colored glasses but you have to hustle!
You’re wearing two different earrings on each ear. It’s such a cool look. What's this gold hoop earring?
I was introduced to a brilliant and kind woman named Rebecca who always encourages me and goes out of her way to connect me with industry people and motivate me. Being new is exciting, but there are also times you think, Why the hell did I do this at my age and at this point in my life? I designed these with her in mind as a sort of a thank you for her time and love. I’m not sure if she actually even knows they’re named for her!
You can't have too many piercings if you want to pile 'em on, right?
The more the merrier! I almost, almost got a third piercing in New York recently, but I remembered how I couldn’t sleep on my side with the second one.
That totally reminds me of getting the second piercing in high school!
Yeah, that’s what I did too, as the revolt! My best friend and I were burning rubber to the old Claire’s next to the Corn Dog 7 in the mall. We’re getting some double piercings! I didn’t wear them forever until I started this business.
Me either until I pushed one of your minis through a closed hole at a trunk show!
Oh my gosh, yes! You totally bled for me in the middle of CoatTails!
Do you consider your designs everyday statement jewelry?
I tried that whole collection of minis, tiny earrings, but it didn’t work for my brand. You have to go down the path. My customer is someone who is going into a boutique and needs a dress and a big statement earring. I do wear them everyday.
What metals are used in TW Designs?
I had to pick a lane. It’s either 14K or 10K gold with diamonds or vermeil with a high-end CZ , and that’s my customer. All of my jewelry is sterling silver or sterling under 18 carat gold vermeil. Gold plating is kinda like taking a spray can. As big as my pieces are, in 10 and 14K gold you’re getting into a price point I’m not comfortable with. Most women at that price point are going to buy a big diamond stud. I wanted a price point that wasn’t shocking and to be able to create big pieces.
Who are your style icons?
I’m across the board. I go from Why can’t we all dress like Jackie O to Rita Ora. She’s very cool. I can go from one spectrum to another.
That's very cool-girl style. There's appropriate-for-the-party style and then there's street style Anine Bing...
Anine Bing is literally perfected. I just think it’s cool that she releases a new line every Tuesday.
How often do you launch new collections?
I like to try and shoot for new pieces annually, and that may or may not be an entire collection. It could just be a new ring design or pair of earrings.
Tell me about the style and visual space of your home.
We gutted a house in Oxford built in 1950. It sounds very institutional, but all my walls are white with the hopes of filling them with photographs of family and friends and cool art we find along the way. I’m pretty anal about tidiness. There’s something about having a little visual peace, you know? If things are in their place, I can overlook a dust bunny here and there.
How do you accessorize your home?
I like photographs and I really like faces. Hayley Gaberlavage does these very detailed faces. Right by our bar I have this face who looks like an aunt I adored. She was badass from Chicago who ended up living in Oxford and I got to know her. She has curlers in her hair. Hayley is very humorous; you’d love her and totally get who she is.
What does your morning routine look like?
Coffee first, always coffee! Kids off to school then email. There may or may not be exercise thrown in there, but I do try and get to yoga at least two to three times a week around noon. It’s a great midday reset for me.
You can honestly say your brand was born in Oxford, Mississippi. I first saw your jewelry at Cicada.
Yes! Anne-Marie at Cicada was my first buyer and supporter. The brands are in sync and it was just the right fit.
How has marketing in the digital era been a challenge?
Jewelry is hard to shoot. The last campaign that we did, I used all Ole Miss girls. On metals you get all kinds of crazy reflections and the editing process is so hard to match the color of the metals.
Your designs have received a ton of press in a short time. How do you get celebrities to wear your designs?
I have worked with two outstanding PR firms, but the first big celebrity moment I had was Miranda Lambert. I owe that all to her stylist, Tiffany Gifford, who took a meeting with me in Nashville two years ago. TWD has been featured in Vogue Taiwan, Harpers Bazaar Kazakhstan, Martha Stewart Weddings, The Hollywood Reporter, elle.com, and Women’s Health. Daya, Elizabeth Gillies, Rita Ora, Ashlee Simpson Ross, Anna Chlumsky, and Carly Pearce are a few celebrities who have worn pieces.
What advice do you have for future girl bosses launching their own company?
Be prepared to hear no a million times, but keep your chin up and move on. Be prepared to spend more money than you ever thought. Be prepared to have women in the industry who talk the talk but not walk the walk. Be prepared to feel elated one minute and completely deflated the next. Be strong. Don’t take any bullshit. And be patient.