If multi-tasking splits the brain in two, than Elizabeth Sutton’s mind resembles a pie cut into eights, or tenths, depending on the hour, or day, or minute. The New-York based artist and mother of two held court at Fidi’s kosher Wall Street Grill on a recent Wednesday evening, wearing a red sequined power suit as guests admired her latest creation, a debut collection of leather goods, to be sold exclusively on her e-commerce platform.
“Honestly, the leather collection happened as a happy accident,” Elizabeth says. “When I left my marriage and decided that I needed to segue into consumer product, I was in the middle of developing a line of home accessories and décor [and then] my team and I were involved in a very tragic car accident. My assistant and dear friend passed away in my car. Through life circumstance, I was pushed into the direction of fashion.”
Sutton found herself at a low point. In addition to being emotionally distraught, she was in dire straits financially. The fashion arena proved slightly more stable than the art industry she’d initially bet on. After discussing the margins with a leather atelier in Mexico City, she decided to go ahead with a completely new endeavor. “Let’s call it a very happy accident after a very sad one.”
This kind of raw honesty has become de rigueur for Sutton. An active Instagram presence, Elizabeth regularly dispenses advice and words of affirmation to her nearly thirty six thousand followers. Her page is a Pinterest board of color and vulnerability; her art is vibrant and exact. Each painting takes dozens of hours to produce, and Sutton wields her brush like a mathematician. The depth and perception of her work reveals someone truly in control of her craft.
When we speak by phone the day after her launch, Sutton is in the midst of preparing a Rosh Hashanah meal for thirty people. Sutton shares two young children with her ex-husband, and cooking is reminiscent of her old life. “[Hosting] is something I used to enjoy doing so much, but no longer really have the time or funds for. Of course, I’m on a different budget than I used to be, but I’m also on a different time and trajectory. I tell myself all the time, this is definitely not the life I thought I would have; I am more powerful and more fulfilled than I ever thought I would be.”
And with due cause, the 29-year-old entrepreneur has an impressive list of business partnerships under her belt. The highlight reel on her Instagram page reads like a resume. Among her recent ventures is a collaboration with Joe & the Juice (she designed their cups), Janovic (together with Benjamin Moore, they created five exclusive color palates) and perhaps most notably, TileBar. The Arc Collection, created for the NYC-based tile distributor, is made up of five colorways; each one can be arranged in over 100 designs. On March 23rd, TileBar and Sutton won Best in Show at the Architectural Digest Awards. “That was huge,” she says with a smile.
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Trying to be a good mom today. Been SWAMPED with work. Working morning through night but can’t say no to the crazy opportunities coming across my table, I can’t not pursue. Important to take the necessary time for the only other essential thing in my life - being a mom. Started at 4am so I could clear my afternoon to take my kids to the farm 🐓🐑🐄🦜🐇🦝 Going with a bunch of friends and our kids. Perfect sunshine. CRUSHED MY DAY. Admin, did a ton of painting, and after I spend the afternoon with kids and they go to their father, I head to drinks with a client and back to work. All smiles (some yawns!) ☀️🦋🌈 #archdaily #instahome #instainteriordesign #instastyle #instainteriors #archlovers #designer #instagood #interiorinspo #hardworkingmom #hardworkingwoman #Womenincharge #womeninbiz #bossbabes #ladyboss #bosslady #momboss #girlbosses #Girlboss #girlbosslife #successfulwomen
Sutton’s leather collection felt like a natural next step. The saddlebags are all handmade in Mexico City using luxury Italian leather. The clasp, a 24k gold-plated butterfly, is Sutton’s signature emblem. The bags are available in 15-custom-dyed colors and range from $695 to $1,295. Collectors can swap their bag straps ($395) in and out, opting for butterfly adorned or color-block chevron versions. Sutton says that she underestimated the time and production costs involved in creating a collection. Every detail, down to the color of the tiny stitching, was considered. “Prices are going up next collection,” she said. “So get ‘em now.”
If Sutton’s products are meant to bring the good vibes, then her social media presence is there to remind us that sometimes the tide turns, and that’s okay. Sutton frequently sets her alarm to an hour that my once colic newborn would have found depraved. She’s mourned into her Instagram stories and lamented about the unattainable pursuit that is work-life balance. The level of engagement on her page suggests an appreciation for her normalization of taboos. Elizabeth doesn’t shy away from topics that shatter the aspirational gloss of Instagram: Divorce, motherhood, grief and trauma.
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My FIRST EVER PRESS piece on DIVORCE launched yesterday (but I semi-died in bed so I didn’t share.) Thank you to the incredible writer and therapist for the opportunity @itsovereasy @citytherapist As many of you know, I’m very vocal about my life in certain circumstances and though I am open in certain ways, I do keep a lot private. This interview is meant to EMPOWER those struggling with divorce, be it the causes or the aftermath, and to give them the understanding that they’re not alone and everything can overcome the challenge. There are too many stigmas in society about discussing topics that lead to divorce because uncomfortable topics are taboo to discuss. But there are only so many causes that can contribute to divorce, usually a number of them combined, including: financial loss, cheating, betrayal, substance or physical abuse, lack of compatibility, lack of love, other types of losses including death, miscarriage, mental illness, etc… you get the idea. Nobody is alone in their struggles, we all have our struggles! I hope this interview teaches you that you can overcome all obstacles, especially obstacles when going through divorce. My number one advice I can give to those going through divorce is to channel all the negative energy it is that you are leaving your marriage with, and focus on something that can be a positive distraction for the inevitable negative energy. That is PRECISELY HOW I BEGAN MY CAREER. The other night at dinner, I had the brilliant and hilarious idea of doing a collage artwork that says “FREEDOM” using various pages from divorce agreements to create compositions of the collage. I know I have a lot of divorcees who follow me and come to me for strength, which is super empowering!For the authenticity of the artwork, I’d LOVE if some followers would be willing to send me their favorite/worst page of their divorce agreement. It will all anonymous and I’d love to chop up your pages and include in my artwork. Send it to email email@example.com. #archdaily #instahome #instainteriordesign #instastyle #instainteriors #archlovers #designer #instagood #interiorinspo #hardworkingmom #hardworkingwoman #Womenincharge
And yet, her candidness does have pitfalls. “Sharing personal life experiences has possibly very positively impacted my brand but has probably negatively impacted my life, in a way.” she admits.
The age of reality-TV-celebrity-influencer has thrust even the most solitary pursuits into the open. Writers organize highly-Instagrammable retreats in Middle-Earth forests where you have to pay for WiFi. Designer-turned-marketers and SEO doyens have turned craft into sponsored post. We don’t just want to see the painter’s canvas; we want to see how it was created – and we want a sick score to accompany it, too.
But if Sutton’s brand strategy has broken some pre-existing boundary between artist and consumer, she’s okay with that. “I stay true to who I am, so if my being open turns you off, then you’re not the right client for my brand. And if someone brings the bad vibes, then I just say: No thanks.”