RONY VARDI IN NEW YORK, JANUARY 2017. MAKEUP: NARS SOFT MATTE COMPLETE CONCEALER IN CHANTILLY.
Since first opening its doors in 2004, Williamsburg jewelry boutique Catbird has gone from a tiny Bedford Avenue storefront featuring one-of-a-kind pieces to an industry tastemaker and veritable brand in and of itself—all the while remaining true to its organic, personalized feel. Behind the movement is owner and designer Rony Vardi, whose keen eye as a buyer and skilled hand as a craftswoman have transformed Catbird staples like stackable rings and dainty jewelry into must-have pieces worn by the likes of Lena Dunham and Jessica Biel. As a face of Interview x NARS Cosmetics’ “The Art of Throwing Shade,” Vardi shares with us the “organic” rise of the store and her designing career; the inclusive, community spirit that drives Catbird’s success; and her no-fuss approach to style and business.
STARTING OUT: Business owner really came first. I was at a sweet spot in my life where I was able to take a risk and I knew that I wanted to take a right turn from the different jobs I’d been doing. I had been a graphic designer, I’d managed the store, I had been an art director … I was dabbling in a bunch of things. I thought I wanted to be a doctor—that’s way earlier. [laughs] Then I lived in Williamsburg, a space opened up near my house and the rent was pretty affordable. It was very busted, and me and my boyfriend at the time—who’s my husband now—and friends were scrappy and cleaned it up and put it together. That’s really how it started; it wasn’t just about designing, it was about opening up a space and figuring it out as I went along. It was a fluid vision.
Designing jewelry actually came a lot later. When I opened the store I sold jewelry that I had bought, and I would make a little bit at home with vintage findings I had in my house. But I wouldn’t have called it designing, not then and not now. It was really sort of assembly. Over time I felt that that was just the thing that my customers responded to the most, what I was most passionate about, and what was definitely the most fun. Years later the line started very organically. I worked in the store a lot, I saw what people were responding to. I’ve always been someone who wore small delicate jewelry, so I started making some. One of the girls who worked in the store was a jeweler, so she started making stuff for me in her kitchen. It started very slowly and organically.
ON SEXISM: If I have faced them, I have been unaware of them. I plow forward and either choose not to notice or blindly don’t notice. The only thing I can think of is my very first landlord. He was an Orthodox Jewish man in the neighborhood, and he wouldn’t shake my hand when I signed over the biggest check I’d ever written when I signed my first lease. That’s the only thing I can think of that’s very much about being a woman. With everything else, I’ve had strong role models in both of my parents. Both of them had an entrepreneurial streak, and literally never in my life have I ever thought that I couldn’t do something because I’m a woman. I think that over time here and there, there have been dismissive remarks or eye-rolls, perhaps. I’ve been talked down to here and there, but I can hold my own, and I choose to not pay any mind to it, I think.
FEELING EMPOWERED: What makes me feel empowered is the staff that I have, the culture that I’ve built in my workplace, and customer feedback—the customer community and my work community. I have about 60 people, almost entirely female. There’s one man. [laughs] There’s a spirit of kindness, thoughtfulness, and dedication that makes the work day a real pleasure. People come to work with a sense of pride and act like responsible adults in the best sense of the word. It’s a real joy to be around them.
BEAUTY AND CONFIDENCE: I am a bit of a chicken, style-wise. I have a few outfits that I like and am comfortable in, and I stick to them. I wear my makeup pretty sparingly and stick to a pretty natural style. I guess I am most confident at my most natural. However, I absolutely love beauty products and delicate jewelry and tend to indulge and play the most in those realms. For me, well-tended skin layered with delicate jewelry is me at my most confident, at work or anywhere.