Opulent, One-of-a-Kind, Sustainable Jewelry

Nena's Notes PROFILE: Stephanie Lake

December 12 2016 – Lynsey Cawdle

Nena's Notes PROFILE: Stephanie Lake
Nena's Notes PROFILE: Stephanie Lake



When I started my blog I had prepped by doing many interviews with friends and acquaintances and found them to be very revealing. In sharing them I hope you have enjoyed the “conversations” over the past few weeks.  I love making new friends and have found many through the short time I have been blogging.  One is Stephanie Lake, a jewelry designer extraordinaire, of one of a kind treasures, collector of wonderful objects, fabulous wife, mother, and the keeper of the Bonnie Cashin archives.  She is the author of the only, just published by Rizzoli, monograph on the designer, Bonnie Cashin: Chic is Where You Find It.  It is unbelievable that this amazing design pioneer hasn’t had multiple books written about her…but no mind, Stephanie has written the quintessential book…it will be reviewed tomorrow in Books Books Books. I’m doing something different this week and concentrating on Stephanie and Bonnie in all my posts.  My Fashion Flashback on Friday will be about my personal experiences with Bonnie Cashin’s appearances at Saks Fifth Avenue, Chicago, and visits in New York.

Now let’s get to know Dr. Stephanie Lake, my new BFF!

“The fifth scholar in the world to earn a Ph.D. in Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture, Stephanie Lake’s jewelry and interiors are informed by her work as a curator, archivist, and auction specialist. Lake’s academic focus on decorative arts from the 18th century to the current day centered on personal adornment, fashion, and interiors. Her research included stints in Paris, London, Istanbul, Tokyo, New York and Los Angeles, working with some of the world’s most extraordinary collections and collectors.” From Dr. Stephanie Lake’s bio.


Stephanie and Cory.  Photo courtesy of Dr. Stephanie Lake


 I just adore this photo of 3-year-old Odette. Photo courtesy of Dr. Stephanie Lake

Stephanie was kind enough to sit down with me at the Ritz Carlton to sip champagne and answer my profile questionnaire while she was recently in Chicago for a Costume Council of the Chicago History Museum program in conversation with Petra Slinkard, Curator of Costume of CHM.


Discussing her book during our interview at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, Chicago. (I look like I have a toupee on top of my head!)  Photo by Cory Lake.


Stephanie being interviewed by Petra Slinkard to sold out audience at Costume Council of the Chicago History Museum event. Photo courtesy of the Chicago History Museum

The Interview…

NI:  When did your interest in Bonnie Cashin begin?

SL: I was working for Sotheby’s and a Cashin coat came up for auction. I was doing the caption for the catalog and I was absolutely stunned that I couldn’t pull a Cashin book off the shelf, we had a small fashion book library in our office. There was nothing to be found.  Here was an unbelievable untouched area in fashion history that I should investigate and then I started going around to museums and libraries as a scholar to find more, there was little to be found. I had worked at the V&A for a summer and was studying 18th-century dress and I happened to run into the director of FIT and I told her about my interest and she suggested her friend, June Weir, could put me in touch with Bonnie and I ended up with Bonnie’s phone number.  When I got in touch with her I told her I wanted to address historical neglect, I wanted to document everything, I want to be sure everyone knew about her. Knowing there was so little available information in the public domain, she sort of chuckled and agreed to meet me. We had tea and as you know walking into that wonderful apartment in her space at United Nations Plaza apartments, with all her collections from her travels, piles of cashmere sweaters, was extraordinary.  We spent a wonderful afternoon, we went to the elevator which came and went and came and went.  It was the beginning of a wonderful evolving friendship.  It was one fateful afternoon.

NI:  I think that is how she was, she either liked you or she could have cared less.

SL:  Absolutely, and I would see her when she didn’t like people, her eyes would glaze over and she would put up blinders of disinterest. She would say you are always different with different people.  Over the years I got to know all those different Bonnie’s.

NI: What did you want to do when you were a little girl?

SL: I thought I would be a lawyer, an editor or President!  Design and fashion were always there along with art. My grandmother was a painter and my parents had been involved in the fashion business.

NI:  When did it click that art/fashion was it?

SL: When I went off to college it was Art History, then in graduate school, it was decorative arts and culture, I wanted to concentrate on areas that weren’t taken as seriously and were marginalized. I was working in my college art office and a catalog arrived from Bard Graduate Center and it was on the history of wallpaper and I thought OMG this is serious.  I moved to London and I interviewed with them, it was a very small program.  The PHD had a handful of students at that time. Again a twist of fate that the catalog landed on my desk.

NI:  If you weren’t doing what you planned to do what would you be doing now…your jewelry, tell me about how that started.

SL:  My husband, Cory, we knew each other in high school and met again when we were in our 30’s and it was a fairytale romance.  We had places in New York, LA and Minneapolis and we decided, after trying all of them, that Minneapolis would become our base.  I was doing jewelry for my own collection, I was a big collector of vintage jewelry and couldn’t find much under five figures.  I went to New York and bought bags of stones and started making my own pieces.  Whenever I wore something I was asked where did you get that over and over. I started doing commissions and before I knew it I had a business. I didn’t start out with a business plan, I didn’t have any training in making jewelry, my background was in decorative arts and I had looked at all the beautiful things in the world.  It’s now a decade that I have had my own firm.  I don’t sell retail, I don’t advertise, but I have a national following and often an international following. I have collectors who have rooms dedicated to my pieces. I haven’t duplicated myself in 10 years.


One of Stephanie’s one of a kind pieces…amazing!  Photo courtesy of Dr. Stephanie Lake.

NI: If you didn’t have your two careers what would you be doing, or what is the next step for Stephanie Lake?

SL:  Having a three-year-old daughter changes my purpose…since I am doing what I love I can have time with my husband and daughter and I haven’t thought of a new direction. I work from home and I am content with where I am in my career. My husband took two years off while I was writing the book so we could raise our daughter together.  And for a child in this day and age, it was a unique experience and we always felt she was an addition to the whole.  (An aside from Cory, “I felt it was very important and I wouldn’t have changed it!”)


NI:  Favorite movie?

SL:  It was a question I asked before we got married that if you liked these movies it was a go…they were Grey Gardens and Auntie Mame.  And he actually had to enjoy them. He did.  (Nena, “I want to be Auntie Mame”…Cory “I want to be Auntie Mame”).


NI:  Favorite book or genre.

SL:  Definitely biographies.

NI:  Culture…

SL:  Ballet, (our daughter is Odette for Swan Lake), Opera, Symphony, Legitimate Theater, Musicals (getting to like musicals more).

NI:  Type of music

SL:  Very eclectic when I am doing my jewelry, I am listening to music and it can be influential.  I don’t know which one influences the other.

NI: Type of food

SL:  Chef-driven restaurants, cities are driven by food culture and you can have many influences and Minneapolis is a foodie city.  We order in or go out but are beginning to cook a bit mostly because of having Odette, although she is very social and goes with us when we eat out.

NI: Hobbies?

SL:  All very connected to my work…antiquing in particular.  Our home is modern but has lots of traditional elements to it.  Huge skylights, neutral walls, a nice backdrop for our art and decorative arts collections. Local artists and iconic artists.  We do a lot of entertaining, we both have offices at home, the Bonnie Cashin collection, a child, so it is a very unique home.

NI:  Fantasy dinner party?

SL:  Bonnie Cashin

       Gypsy Rose Lee

      Two Duchesses of Devonshire…Debo and Georgiana

     Little Edie Beale

     Tony Duquette

     Truman Capote

     Cory Lake

     Odette Lake

    Stephanie Lake

Would serve champagne and caviar!  A couple after my own heart!!!!!!


Cory and Stephanie Lake.  Photo courtesy of Dr. Stephanie Lake

This week will be a behind the scenes look at life in the Lake Residence, including more of Dr. Stephanie Lake’s one of a kind jewelry designs (www.StephanieLakeDesign.com), parties hosted with her husband, Cory, and daughter, Odette, in their art-filled home outside Minneapolis, and archival images featured in Dr. Lake’s highly acclaimed Rizzoli title “Bonnie Cashin: Chic Is Where You Find It” (https://www.amazon.com/Bonnie-Cashin-Chic-Where-Find/dp/0847848051).