Planning & Inspiration
Interview With Danielle Stern Of Leftys Right Mind
Imagine painting a monogram on a pair of Christian Louboutin heels as their owner stands overhead, nervously watching your every brushstroke. An undeniably stressful situation for even the most seasoned painter, this is all in a day’s work for Danielle Stern, Founder and Owner of Leftys Right Mind, a Luxury Creative Studio based in New York.
We’ve known Danielle for some time now, first interviewing her in 2016 when she was just starting out, mainly doing hand-calligraphy signage for local restaurants and boutique shops. Bride & Blossom worked with Danielle to create the floral décor for her unforgettable wedding at Cold Spring Country Club in 2017. One of the best things about doing weddings is fostering relationships with our brides that last long after the vows have been exchanged. Keeping in touch with Danielle, we have watched her flourish on both a personal and professional level.
Over the last few years, Danielle has built Leftys Right Mind into a dynamic art and design enterprise specializing in custom hand-painted luxury goods, which includes bridal accessories and attire, and on-site personalized events for the likes of Neiman Marcus, Ralph Lauren, and Marie Claire. She is also mother to an adorable little girl Mila, with another baby on the way. Leftys Right Mind’s Instagram is an eye-catching source of inspiration, revealing Danielle’s ceaseless passion for her craft. At the same time, she isn’t afraid to acknowledge the hard work and challenges that come with trying to maintain a work-life balance. For these reasons and many more, we couldn’t wait to feature Danielle in our Women Paving the Aisle Series.
We spoke to Danielle at the end of March just as businesses were beginning to close due to escalating health concerns and her family had meant to start their gut renovation on their new home – a project that has since been put on perpetual hold. Of course, Danielle’s Dad and Mom (who is also her business partner!) welcomed the Stern clan in with wide open arms. Her Mom, Bobby, runs The dBb Group, the full service Event Planning and promotional product seller side of their business. They too are working on some incredible projects – check them out on IG @dbbgroup.
Despite the uncertain situation, Danielle led our discussion with refreshing openness and positivity about the future. Here, Danielle talks about her artistic journey, how embracing handmade and digital technologies has given Leftys Right Mind a cutting-edge above the rest, and the artists who inspire her most.
We always like to start from the beginning. Can you tell us about your background? Were you interested in art as a child?
Yes! I have always been drawn to fine art. Being that I grew up with my Mom owning her own event planning business, and running it out of our home, I was constantly surrounded by ribbon racks, stationery books, calligraphy, etc. My friends and I would play “party planner” with all of the goodies we found in her office.
In high school, all of my AP courses were in the Art field. I loved drawing, painting, sewing… the skills came naturally to me. I knew that I was passionate about the creative field and although I excelled, it still challenged me.
I chose to attend Syracuse University to study Art and Design. Starting out Freshman year with the foundation courses, I eventually chose Surface Pattern Design as my major. Painting all day every day, we designed textiles from wallpaper and linens to wood and marble surfaces. As much as I loved my studies, I felt that I needed more client facing engagement and to be honest, humor in my life. I ended up transferring into Advertising Design. It was important for me to acknowledge the growing digital demand – it was crucial that I had a very strong balance between my hand skill and computer training. I had the fine art background, which was invaluable in creating my unique voice as an artist. Ultimately, I wanted a career that would bring these two interests together. My first job was at Aéropostale where I worked as a graphic designer. I hand sketched and painted designs and patterns, scanned them into the computer, and finalized them using programs such as Photoshop and Illustrator. The perfect balance between my two worlds.
Fortunately, my artistic journey has been very organic. From the beginning, my parents instilled in me a sense to trust myself and be who I am, to follow what came naturally and what I was passionate about. I am very fortunate because my job allows me to explore both sides – graphic design and painting and drawing by hand.
This is actually our second time interviewing you. When we first talked, you were doing mainly custom hand calligraphy signs. Leftys Right Mind has significantly grown since then. What creative services do you offer now?
First, I just want to thank you for talking with me again. This is especially meaningful because my husband and I just celebrated our third-year wedding anniversary and Bride & Blossom was our florist!
Leftys Right Mind has evolved a lot over the last two years. We are now a Luxury Creative Studio, partnering and collaborating with brands and retailers to create on site experiences through personalization. This could be a special shopping event at Neiman Marcus or Ralph Lauren or a private luxury event like the Marie Claire Power Trip. We hand painted luggage tags on an airplane flying first class with one hundred of today’s most influential women in business. Even the pilots and crew were all women – it was incredible!
When Leftys Right Mind first launched, most of the hand calligraphy and lettering projects were for the hospitality industry. Then, a friend asked me to paint some denim jackets for her bridesmaids and that really took off. Soon after, another friend asked me to paint her Goyard purse, which jumpstarted custom painting on luxury handbags. We realized that a whole space of interaction exists where people want that exclusive, handmade custom option. A monogram makes the shopping experience unique to the customer – customization has become an expectation. Our special events have really flourished – we have been able to fulfill the ‘customized’ requests of customers while interacting on a more personal level. We also launched our decal products about a year ago which have been an incredible hit. A unique, dependable way to personalize all your gear, without the high price point.
Leftys Right Mind grew into what it is today extremely naturally – what it has evolved into is a true dream for me. We don’t really say “No” to any opportunity. If we’re asked to do something we have never done before, we thrive on the challenge to figure it out. We now have an amazing team of designers creating work that we all are really proud of. Leftys Right Mind has been fortunate to collaborate with some of the biggest names in retail and fashion such as Ralph Lauren, Jimmy Choo, and Saks Fifth Avenue.
Looking back on those early years, what have you learned as a business owner and designer? Is there anything you would have done differently?
As a business owner, you end up doing a lot of tasks that you didn’t initially set out to do. I wish I could say that my days are spent designing, but a lot of my time is devoted to the general operations of the business – hiring, emails, and managing sales. As an independent business owner, you are your biggest advocate. In addition to Ashley, an amazing designer who recently joined us, we have a social media team along with freelance artists.
It’s absolutely necessary to step out of your comfort zone, because most of the time, you will not be in it. Conversely, you cherish those moments when you are in it and working on your craft. Flexibility is crucial when you are building a business.
Looking back, would I have done anything differently? This is going to sound cliché, but NO. I am where I am today because of all the steps it took to get here. Each experience, whether personal or professional, leads to knowledge and growth. Although it may not feel like it in the present moment, every milestone is crucial to lead you where you are meant to go. Never regret.
Can you walk us through your design process?
What matters first and foremost is your client’s goal. We are here as the expert specialist to provide guidance, but most importantly it is what your client is aiming to achieve, whether it involves an event or product. There is fine line between pushing your own opinion, which hinders your chances of truly listening to a client’s goal versus representing your voice to provide guidance and expertise in the process.
We are constantly asking questions about their goals and for any image sources of inspiration – a little goes a long way. From there, we create mockup designs with specific colors, patterns, motifs, etc. Then after a few revisions, we go to print or production depending on the nature of the product.
Leftys Right Mind has found a particular niche in the creative design industry in that you do handmade along with digital design. How has this benefited your business? Does having an understanding of both sides of the coin influence your artistic approach?
Absolutely. Having this perspective provides a universal understanding and flexibility. Some clients have a clear vision of what they want. I think as artists and designers, we have the ability to visualize and express what may not come so easily to others. Digital mockups become incredibly useful for clients whose vision is not concrete.
On the flip side, the handmade aspect provides clients with unique work. We are currently working on a Louis Vuitton jewelry case that will be decorated with the client’s logo art – bright pink ombre with a glittering diamond in the background. Sure, you always have an option for a printed version, but people go to museums and galleries and collect art for a reason. We take that same approach – hand painting transforms a jewelry case, leather jacket, or handbag into one-of-a-kind wearable artwork.
I call myself a creative anomaly. Generally, creatives have the tendency to be a little scattered brained. I am fortunate to have a strong grasp of both the analytical and creative sides of this business. This is crucial for being able to communicate with the client. For example, Ralph Lauren is very specific about brand identity and consistency. We have to be able to respect and understand the brand while still providing a unique piece of art at the end of the day.
Leftys Right Mind is finishing up a project with a big architectural firm painting wall murals in a children’s hospital in Washington D.C. The previous execution they received was very graphic, stiff, and the color story was not consistent. Because we are artists who work away from the computer, we were able to deliver a really beautiful painted watercolor piece consisting of both hand and digital techniques – Ashley did a fantastic job on this project.
You created the chicest custom leather jacket for Bride & Blossom bride Marissa. Can you tell us about the personalized goods and services you offer that would appeal to our readers who are getting ready for their weddings?
I loved working with Marissa! Her leather jacket came out so beautiful and looked amazing with her Reem Acra dress. Sophisticated with a bit of edge, the design included all-white calligraphy and flowers for her married last name ‘Rose’. For weddings, we hand paint everything from leather and denim jackets to luxury bridal shoes and purses to sneakers. We even painted the inside lining of a fur shrug. Our partner, The dBb Group, offers personalized bachelorette gifts. We thrive on being different and unpredictable, offering brides personalized accessories and goods that they can’t get any else.
We have to ask, how does it feel painting a Louis Vuitton handbag? Do you get nervous at all?
At first, OH YES! I remember when my friend handed me her Goyard bag saying, “You can do it!” I was just thinking, “What? NO… ok, seriously?” But I live for these challenges. The most daunting component for me as an artist is learning a new medium. Acrylic paint is very different than leather paint, which is very different from oil paint… even a BIC pen is different than a Sharpie. You must respect the uniqueness of each medium in order to fully experience their capabilities. Louis Vuitton leather has a very different texture than Goyard, which is very different from Bottega Veneta – knowledge about materials that are specific to each brand is crucial. We strive on creating artwork that is going to last and withstand its quality years later.
After all the bag prep work, I am in a zone by painting time. There’s a sort of thrill that comes with making people nervous, but in a good way. With big risks, come big rewards. People seem to invest themselves in our work more not only because it is expensive and one-of-a-kind, but also because of the exciting experience they get to walk away with.
Leftys Right Mind has worked with brands such as Proenza Schouler, Nieman Marcus, La Ligna, and Goop. Looking back, is there a particular collaboration or event that you are most proud of?
I am going to have to go with Ralph Lauren – they are definitely our biggest client. We work with all Ralph brands – Ralph Lauren, Polo, as well as Lauren by Ralph Lauren. To be able to work with one of the most iconic brands in the history of fashion is such an honor. What is special about this particular partnership is that brands at this level have strict guidelines. Ralph Lauren is very structured with how their brand is represented, whether it be typeface, artwork placement, or color swatches. The documentary Very Ralph brings this all home. Ralph Lauren’s unwavering allegiance to his vision from the very beginning is such an inspiration from both a digital design and artistic standpoint. Even when the money attempted to steer him in another direction, he stayed true to his beliefs and his vision. I freaking love his attitude – be someone people want to work with but never be a sell out! Leftys Right Mind has attended their fashion shows and many events at stores in NYC and across North America. Knowing that they trust us to represent them is a dream.
Your work has a vibrantly fresh, graphic quality about it. What inspires you artistically? Do you have any favorite artists or designers?
I love abstract expressionism. Artists such as Franz Kline, Jackson Pollack, and Mark Rothko – their work may appear simple upon first glance but if you dedicate the time to dive into the piece itself, a whole complex universe opens up. As a graphic designer, Andy Warhol is a huge inspiration for his color play, use of digital technology and representation, and sense of humor. I never want to take life too seriously! Growing up in New York, Keith Haring was a big influence. I love Jeffrey Koons – he often combines a monochromatic palette with extraordinary textures and finishes. I am currently designing my family’s first home, so I have been big into Home Decor – Christian LaCroix is doing incredible things with color, print and pattern play.
If you could pick one bride throughout all of history to make a personalized bridal jacket for, who would it be?
This is a tough question, but I am going to say Erin Andrews, the sportscaster and co-host of Dancing with the Stars – I am a huge fan of the show! She comes across as a smart, funny, relatable, and badass woman both on and off the field. Her style is chic yet comfortable. Simple, understated, and classic – she never over does it, yet always seems to stand out. And of course, Jennifer Anniston for the same reasons – these women never follow trends and stay true to their own stylistic voice. And if Jen and Brad get married again, the answer is yes, I am in. I will do anything she wants!
How do you stay creatively inspired?
Perhaps another cliché answer, but I think everything is inspiring. From the people in my life to the ripples in water… For me, it’s so important to take moments of pause and truly look at my surroundings. And I think that is why I am inspired by certain artists whether they are drawing from the everyday or getting us to look deep below the canvas’ surface.
What advice do you have for our readers who are thinking about starting their own business?
“Do it right the first time.” If you rush through the process, you most likely will have to revisit and do it over again, which ends up taking more time and energy away from succeeding. Planning and taking your time from the beginning will be appreciated. You also have to be willing to work outside of your comfort zone – don’t be intimidated by it, welcome it. There are no mistakes or failures, because you are always learning from experience, even those that are initially perceived as bad. The lesson will ALWAYS come full circle.
I do not procrastinate – the minute I sit down, I am laser focused on the task at hand. Whether it’s a project that needs to be completed or a launch, I make sure it gets done, and on TIME! The value of reliability between a studio and a client is crucial to trust and a successful partnership. Stay in communication throughout the entire project’s timeline – your clients will appreciate it more than you know!
Starting your own business is the hardest and most rewarding experience that you can give yourself. I have never worked harder for anything in my life. Even when your To-Do list is checked off, there is always something else to do. This all said, the fulfillment of watching something that you put all this time and energy into grow and be admired by others is a feeling like no other. My business is my passion and I feel so fortunate for getting to do what I love.
Can you take us through your perfect day off?
Another tough question. I am obsessed with my craft – a bit of a workaholic and addicted to productivity. My perfect day off starts with organizing and clearing clutter. I’ll try to workout, but that often falls to the wayside being an independent business owner and Mom. Relaxing on the couch is always a goal but my computer ends up following me and suddenly, I’m working again.
This all being said, it’s nice to turn off the brain, especially with everything that is going on in the world right now. I won’t lie – I am very proud of how organized I just made the Pinterest board that I’ve been building for my future house! One main folder, with subfolders dedicated to each room – it’s very satisfying for me to look at. It’s the little things in life, right? I get a kick out of my quirkiness.
Does Leftys Right Mind have any exciting projects coming up?
We recently came out with a downloadable coloring set inspired by luxury scarves – a portion of all proceeds go to No Kid Hungry. Unfortunately, a few of our big launches have been put on hold. We are working on a Bloomingdales exclusive with a TBA brand that will launch in Bloomingdale’s NYC flagship store, as well as on e-commerce. It was meant to launch in March but has been postponed until things have gone back to normal. We also have an exciting collaboration with a prominent shoe designer in the works – I can’t tell you too much more other than it is scheduled to launch July 2020. We also have a cool Instagram collaboration with jewelry design brand EF Collection that launched this week. Despite the adjustments in schedule, we are still very excited about the rest of the year!
A big thank you to Danielle for taking the time to talk with us! For more information visit Leftys Right Mind and follow along at @leftysrightmind