SHIFT Magazine: Amber Venz Brings Her Personal Style to the Web and to the Shops

May 3, 2011  

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By Rachael Mackin
rmackin@smu.edu

As Amber Venz got out of the cab outside of The Capitale in New York City, I immediately felt underdressed. She was wearing an enormous grey and white mink coat, sky-high stilettos and a translucent cream minidress she had made herself. The invitation to Patty Fields’ Fashion Week party specifically said to dress for a part on the hit TV show “Sex and the City.” I wore leather pants, a sequin bag and an ostrich feather clutch, but walking behind her was like walking behind a tall, blond supermodel in fur. We breezed past the line and I was surprised to see her expression: a mixture of shock and sheer terror as we entered the vast room. Perhaps it was because we were surrounded by thousands of drag queens dressed in costumes, sipping on Belvedere cocktails in a dark room. DJ Cascade was spinning in the front of the room amongst go-go dancers in thongs and masks. Venz immediately slipped through the crowd to the side of the room, away from the mass of people dancing underneath the flashing neon lights. After half an hour, she whispered to me, “This is so not my scene. A man…woman just told me I was the hottest drag queen in the room. When I said I wasn’t one, the next question was whether I’m a drug dealer.”

Venz’s style is over-the-top; her style blog is witty, sarcastic and conversational; her jewelry designs are classic and effortless. But in person, she is a self-proclaimed wallflower. I was baffled. How could she stand in the shadows at a party but have the confidence to wear a dress made of a huge piece of fabric that she wrapped around herself, secured only with a knock-off version of a Lanvin belt she had made herself?

“In school, I always wanted to do something that was different. Anything that was a step forward or one-off. In high school, no one wore hats so I decided to start wearing them or I’d wear fake glasses. I’ve always just done things with fashion that other people are afraid to do, I guess…even now my boyfriend will say why can’t you just wear something normal? But if I’m going to tell people what to wear and how to think about the way they dress then I can’t walk in a place in something normal because then it’s like, well why are you so different? Up until very recently I’ve been very reserved, but my clothes make me less so. My clothes are loud and I’m not, so they balance me out,” Venz said.

Her style is definitely distinctive, so it’s impossible to disagree that her sense of style and jewelry designs give her the right to be a dictator of style and trends on her blog VENZEdits. Reading the blog, it’s easy to picture the style icon. She calls it her “Style Diary” that gives a voice and a personality to her jewelry designs.

Grace Davis, Venz’s assistant last year, said the blog is a reflection of how approachable Venz is in real life. “She writes as if she’s talking to you and she really does understand the everyday young woman in the same way as seen with her style and her designs. Her designs reflect how unique but classic her style is.” Baxter Box, Venz’s boyfriend of several years, describes her style as “over-the-top and more-is-more.” He agreed that Amber is her blog and her jewelry. “She shares her fashion insights and style tips on her blog at no expense. Her jewelry style reflects her personal fashion style: it’s loud, over-the-top, but wearable. Amber is a person who loves being a weekend warrior – brunches at Taverna followed by dinners at Mi Cocina and nights on the town. In much the same way, Amber designed her jewelry to be worn from morning until night.”

It seems hard to believe the 23-year-old has enough time in a day to offer advice to the style-challenged on her blog, design jewelry and look like a diva in the spotlight 100 percent of the time. That’s the secret: she doesn’t. Walking in to her office, which is the top floor of her dad’s house, you’ll find her in sweats working diligently on the floor in front of piles of chains, stones and other materials if she’s in a “design mood.” The rest of the time she sits at her desk at the computer, which is in front of a board of pictures and clippings, which she calls her inspiration board and personal to-do list. The office is set up like a showroom– jewelry everywhere. On shelves, on hanging racks, on the floor— but don’t be fooled— everything is systematic and organized. The racks on the right side of the room hold hanging necklaces that are organized by rose gold, gold, silver and antique silver .

Though Venz doesn’t design every day, she keeps materials in a pile that takes up about three feet of floor space so when she’s in the mood, she can sit down and design three to five pieces. Three to five pieces seems like a lot, but Venz can finish one in an hour and a half. Bauble building just comes naturally to her.

Venz runs the entire company by herself and hand makes all of her own jewelry. “Making things overall started when I was a little kid. I didn’t ever sit down and watch TV; I just sat in my room and made things whether that is purses or sweatshirts. There was definitely a pattern at an early age of making things…In fifth grade I actually got kicked out of math class for knitting and selling scarves in the back row.”

The pattern continued through high school. In ninth grade she saw a pair of earrings at Studio Sebastian in Snyder Plaza. They cost $120 so she didn’t even bother asking her parents to buy them. Instead, she borrowed jewelry making tools from her neighbor and rigged them herself. “I just kept making things I wanted. If I saw a celebrity wearing something I’d knock it off for myself and figure out a way to make it,” she said. When Venz noticed the jewelry for sale at Sebastian’s after she began working there in 2005, she saw it as a perfect opportunity to take her jewelry to the next level. She started selling her jewelry in the storein exchange for bags, shoes and clothes from Sebastian’s. “My first trade of jewelry for merchandise at Sebastian’s was a Jane Mayell top, but my favorite thing ever was a mint green patent Lanvin bag. I love it so much that I actually designed my bed after it. But instead of patent it’s going to be velvet.” A designer who even sleeps in her work. It wasn’t until after she graduated that Box sat her down and to break the news that she couldn’t use her jewelry to pay off bags and clothes forever.

The first step to her one-man-show success was starting up the Web site, with the help of the boyfriend. “My technology company-the Nasty Goat Corporation- helps Amber with business development and web strategy for her blog and jewelry e-commerce site. Amber is very knowledgeable in the fashion area, but not so much in the web technology arena. I’ve enjoyed teaching Amber the ropes so to speak…I enjoy our meetings very much. They usually turn in to ‘mixers’ as Amber prefers meeting environments to be more like a party than a serious meeting,” Box said.

Davis remembers her time working for Venz as a truly amazing and entertaining experience, noting that she knew she wanted to pursue a serious career in the fashion industry after working with Amber for only five minutes. “It was great because Amber is willing to try to expand her business in any way…Everyday in the office was something different which really reflects how dynamic of a person she is as well as a businesswoman. She’s just truly passionate about what she does,” Davis said.

Right now Venz sells most of her jewelry to Stanley Korshak. Her designs have been sold in The Shak for the past year and Melissa Geiser, the store’s jewelry buyer, she is happy about her decision to buy Venz’s pieces. “I thought the look was fresh and current and that the pricing was right for our client,” Geiser said. “All age groups are buying it from college students to a woman in her mid-40s. She has a fresh take on jewelry combining ancient thoughts and new ideas into her work. It’s all about an inner feeling and an outward style.” The wide demographic of Venz’s customers may be credited to Venz’s versatility as a designer and commitment to personal relationships with clients. After leaving Sebastian’s, she hired a rep and went straight to market. Her jewelry did extremely well, but she blames the bad economy on why she decided to stop and stick with smaller boutiques that she had a personal relationship with. “Stores were bouncing boxes and some would actually steal merchandise. At the time I was working with about 20 department stores. About half of them stole stuff, including major department stores,” Venz recalled. So she decided to keep it simple: fire the sales rep and run the show herself, working only with a handful of stores. “The store Cabana on Lover’s Lane is great. I make pieces specifically for the owner’s inventory. I know the lines she carries and I know how she’s going to buy it so if I’m going to make a necklace in silver or gold, I’ll do it in gold instead because I know that she’ll buy the gold…She likes dainty pieces so I’ll dial down my bigger pieces. Even though a lot of it wouldn’t fit my actual collection, I’ll go ahead and make them because they work for her and her store,” Venz said. She learned to adjust her ideas and designs while working at Sebastian’s, noting that in order to cater to the customer there, she had to make pearls because her boss said pearls always sell. “But when I took the pearls to market after leaving Sebastian’s, none of them sold because the look was over. So I said well my whole thing has been this girly-girly persona. My Web site is like a tea party…what am I going to do now? So I totally revamped my site, my branding.” Comparing the evolution of her designs to the hit show on the CW, Gossip Girl, Venz describes her early designs as “very Blair: pearl necklaces, floral, ultra-feminine. I really embraced ‘The Blair’, but now everything is more Serena. Since then my style has gotten not darker, but more bohemian, more comfortable, layered.” Now her collection is almost 100 percent chains- many of them vintage or vintage reproduction.

It seems like this style icon of a 23-year-old has already conquered it all so it’s hard to even ask the question: what’s next? But Venz is ready with a list of plans for the future and projects already in progress. “The next step is licensing my jewelry and I’m helping other bloggers monetize. My boyfriend and I have built that project from the bottom up and it’s now a working site. I also want to become more of a fashion personality…and I want to write a book! A stylebook for the coffee table. And I’m helping as a stylist for a new TV show on Bravo.” Anything else? Exhausting and chaotic though her life may seem, Venz doesn’t skip a beat because she’s doing exactly what she loves. “I leave a lot of stress out of my life. I tend not to do things I don’t want to do. An overarching theme of everything that I’m doing is just making it happen for myself. That’s how the jewelry line started and with the blog you know you’ll see a lot of stuff about sales and vintage stuff. It’s all about how to attain what you want.”

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