An Interview with Shari Lebowitz, Founder of Bespoke Designs
Photographs by ChiChi Ubiña
“In this digital age, there is nothing as warm and personal as a handwritten note on an exquisite piece of brightly colored, beautifully textured stationery. It takes an ordinary gesture and makes it a celebratory one. It is wonderful to reach into your mailbox to find that gorgeous handwritten envelope.”
Fairfield County LOOK has had a great time getting to know Shari, the founder of Bespoke Designs. We enjoyed visiting her exquisite, sun filled studio in Westport and learning about her beautiful, personal designs.
Tell us about your background and your design education?
Raised in Asia, I have appreciated design and color and texture all my life, so it was a surprise to no-one that I landed at Parsons School of Design and did my degree in Interior Design. For years, I leveraged my training and experience in some of the most fabulous homes from NYC to Palo Alto. I always felt my training, combined with my vision and creative eye, were not limited to any medium. I celebrate design everywhere.
Having left the interior design field, what drew you to graphic design with an emphasis on special events stationery?
All of us recognize something special when we see it. When I became engaged, I went in search of the perfect invitation and found nothing that moved me. Nothing that felt like a little slice of Ken and me. I knew the only option was to create it myself. And a new beautiful business was born. To me, the two parts of my career are not so terribly different. In both cases, it has started with the people I meet: their stories, their style, their hopes. They are my inspiration.
How does your experience in interior design translate to the client of Bespoke Designs?
I’ve worked with many fabulous clients over the years and have done some truly beautiful work. One of the things I have always enjoyed is the way seemingly different elements work together to create something unique. In my interior design career, I blended fabrics and shapes and unexpected materials to achieve the right look and feel. In my life as a paperpreneur, I still count that as the most important perspective I can bring to a project. I’ve also found that thinking on the scale of a home and how everything can work both independently and cohesively translates well to paper design. Each element has a role to play, but how they work in concert is when the magic happens.
Your work is so varied and tasteful. Obviously, you have a great aesthetic and you work with wonderful designers. Tell us about that process.
Thank you for saying. We are really quite proud of all that we’ve accomplished so far. And for me, it’s been a joy working with such an exceptionally talented team. Each of my all-girl team brings a level of professionalism, diverse experiences, and remarkable skills into the studio each in their own way. Our process begins, of course, with understanding our client unbelievably well. In order to design something that speaks to them, we ask all kinds of questions. If it’s a couple, we want to know how they met. If it’s a major birthday milestone, we want to hear about the person’s journey. If it’s a mitzvah, we want to learn about the culture and values of the family. We look for little details – things that are authentically them – and use that as the touchstone of our design inspiration. It’s why our work is so varied. For each and every project, the design is bespoke.
Help us understand what an over-the-top event’s stationery needs would be?
We have worked on everything from lavish New Year’s Eve black tie birthdays to long awaited birth announcements; and everything gets the same level of care and attention as far as we’re concerned. It all matters to us. But if you want to know about our most complex projects, it’s definitely weddings. In large part, because there are so many components. It’s not just a party: it’s a fully branded, multi-day, multi-event happening. And we design and create every aspect as required: engraved place cards, yes; maps of all local interest, yes; welcome boxes with fully branded event goodies, yes; a new family crest, yes; a wax seal with a brand new joint monogram, yes…yes! Event planners have learned what an essential partner our studio can be in assisting them to deliver amazing events to their clients.
As part of your ultra-high-end services, do you meet with clients at their homes or offices?
We cater to whatever our clients need. If they want to come to the studio for our creative session, we have champagne waiting. If it’s more convenient to go to them, either at home or at the office, we do that. Even in the case where schedules don’t allow for a face-to-face meeting, we send ‘look and feel’ packages to wherever they are, and we talk by phone or Facetime. Our whole approach is to give our clients a fabulous experience while also delivering something incredibly fabulous. The two go hand-in-hand and we are amenable to whatever schedules and geography may require.
What are some of the unexpected benefits of working with you?
It has been whispered that choosing invitations can be one of the more dreaded parts of the wedding planning process. We say, not so sister! One of the best compliments we’ve received is that we were the part of the whole experience that our clients were most thankful for. And I think that’s for two reasons: 1/ People have pretty standard expectations when it comes to invitations. It’s a low bar. And then when we show them what it can be, it blows their mind. In some ways, the paper is the glue to the design vibe. It’s the first thing guests hold in their hands in anticipation of the day, and it lives on as a memento long after the music stops. So they get something pretty exceptional by working with us. 2/ We’re the most responsive people you’ll ever meet. There is no situation or ask or problem we can’t solve. We are always reachable, always moving mountains, always focused on our clients. And while I’ve used weddings as the example, I know our clients for other needs like mitzvahs or parties or corporate stationery feel that same level of surprise and delight.As a curator and designer of beautiful designs, what gives you inspiration?
I’m in love with all kinds of things. I collect glass marbles and vintage textiles; I covet vintage stamps. I am obsessed with the singular color of pink in my garden, from the palest blush to deepest hue. I love love love the feel of handmade paper and have difficulty parting with my stash of papers from Japan and Italy and small makers all over our country. To me, inspiration comes from the details, but the exciting bit is where it goes from there. In my bubbling mind, worlds collide and create all new amazing possibilities.
Tell us about personal stationery and the current state of personal correspondence.
We live in a world of instant erosion. As soon as one thing happens, another takes its place. By contrast, the power of the written word, inscribed by hand from someone’s heart, has longevity. I want to be a part of a world that not only encourages but realizes that weight. That reminds people of the value of time taken to write something personal. The envelope it arrives in should be choiceful. The card, a reflection of an ethos, should be authentic. The words on them should be sincere. All of that adds up to something at risk of being lost in a transactional society. I, for one, hope to stand in its way. And I hope others will join.