By: Ali Fahoury
For local Nashville jewelry designer Blaque Reily, what started as a background in Environmental Science and an MBA transformed into her very own contemporary fine jewelry line, Portmanteau (find her on Instagram at @portmanteaujewelrycollection). Simply put Portmanteau means the blending of two words into one concept. Her pieces are very much a reflection of this meaning, and can be described as eclectic yet sophisticated, raw while still modern. If there is something she feels like wearing that is missing, she creates it.
Blaque kindly invited me into her home studio on a rainy Tuesday afternoon, where I got to see and experience how her collections and pieces come alive. The gloomy rain invited a sense of romance into her candle-lit abode as she toured me around the different rooms. Her home, decorated with the old and the new, was also a reflection of the brand's namesake.
With a draft in the air, she charmingly brewed a cup of tea with ease and an underlying sophistication. We began our conversation in her workshop where an array of tools decorated the wall and intriguing ornaments caught my eye from every corner. “My mom is an artist and collects random things. She has a jar full of vintage dice” Blaque explained in reference to a casual set of red dice sitting on her table.
As previously mentioned, Blaque received an undergraudate degree in Environmental Science and an MBA from Vanderbilt University. She enlightened me that she always had an interest in Resource Management and Sustainable Business. Growing up, her family owned a commercial fishing site where she was raised in Alaska. With roots far west from Nashville I asked her if she would ever return “home”.
“I love that question because I think everyone asks why are you in Nashville, not if you’ll leave. Nashville has been really good to me and I am really grateful for that. In this place, at this time, being a creative entrepreneur is more doable than ever before. I don’t have an urge to leave but it does feel like my heart is where my roots are, out West".
When Blaque takes a break from her work bench and goes out, “it's all across the board”. She liked to find a good hamburger and recommends Butchertown Hall in Germantown. Within her own neighborhood in East Nashville she likes to go down the road to Dino’s, “I like a good greasy spoon.” Since we are in Nashville, home to some of the best BBQ, Blaque will be sure to tell you to go to Peg Leg Porker. “They have the best ribs in Nashville. They have a Tennessee style dry rub.” For drinks? Old Glory and Bastion.
As an entrepreneur each day for Blaque can look a little different. She explained that “the kind of work you’re doing is the work you want to hide from, but it is also your joy. I sometimes procrastinate the creative part but it's what I love. Most entrepreneurs struggle with discipline. I have a list of life tips that I subscribe to. Such as Mondays, keeping them aside to do bookkeeping and administrative work. Sundays I keep sacred, relaxing allows you to do better work. I make a list every night on how I will plan my day. For balance I run and do yoga.” On a day-to-day basis you can catch her in black jeans and white t-shirt. “The older I get the more simple I try and keep things. I have some fun statement pieces but generally the less decision making the better!”
Her interest in sustainability is very much evident in the inspiration she uses for her pieces and the direction in which she is driving her designs. One of her first and most popular pieces is a pair of earrings with feathers. The feathers derive all the way from New Zealand where her family hunts ducks. She opened her mom's old sketch book and flipped through the pages, showing me where she pulls shapes and ideas. She began taking items from a drawer, laying out sea pods, tortoise shell and porcupine quills.
“When I was young I took a jewelry workshop. My parents are both professional artists…I started making jewelry that I wanted to wear and people would often ask me about it. It all started with a website and a few wholesale accounts while I was applying to business school -- which is what brought me here to Nashville in the first place.”
The encouragement and easy access she received to start her own collection ignited another fire in Blaque. “It is a big part of why I do mentorship workshops.” Blaque actively participates in a mentorship program where she presents the opportunity to at-risk and low income youth to learn how to create jewelry. “They pick up a tool and get a sense of creative confidence, knowing it’s possible to build something from the bottom up that can be sold.” The program is something that is near and dear to her heart.
Our conversation organically flowed from one question to the next; when I had to ask her what is the best piece of advice she has for someone who is looking to grow their own business, she replied, “You have to accept that you are going to fail at times and make mistakes. Once you accept that, there is something easier about moving forward. There is a point when you just have to dive in.”
When in Nashville, you can find Blaque's unique designs at the following retailers: Emerson Grace, Wilder and H. Audrey. She sells directly on her website, as well as in online retailers such as Shop Goodwin. Blaque also accepts commissions for personalized and custom pieces. She shared a few rings with me that she had made for a bridal party, each ring stamped with J + Co. for the bride and her bridesmaids. The next Portmanteau collection will launch spring 2018, but you can look forward to a few pieces being released early for the holidays.
Ali Fahoury is a new-comer to the Nashville scene with a background in handbag product development. She recently relocated from New York City where she worked for a major corporate fashion house and decided that "fast fashion" and the every day push and pull of the NYC streets were not for her. Her interests include sustainable and socially conscious fashion and holistic health. When she is not working you can find her walking her 2-year-old cockapoo Birkin, drinking wine or doing yoga.
Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Instagram (@alexandrafahoury)
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