“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has brilliance, power and magic in it.”
– Johan Wolfgang von Goethe
It was 1995, and I was a new mother with three little girls – 2, 5 and 7 years old. They were attending the 92nd Street Y at the time, and I would head every Wednesday morning to a wax carving class offered there. My husband was in the diamond industry and instead of buying me jewelry he encouraged me to design my own, “to express my creativity through a medium that would make me happy,” he would say. I think he just wanted to keep me busy as I was getting restless in life. He would provide the stones and I was free to design anything I wanted, without restriction. That was a fair deal, I thought.
Through my classes at the Y, I eagerly practiced sculpting, carving, filing and whatever else was being taught. I was on a mission. I soaked everything in, learning as much as I could about the secrets of jewelry making. I peppered my teacher with questions, session after session until one day she took me aside and said:
“Catherine, I know you want more and you will go far but this is a chill class, people here are having fun…what you want to learn takes years of practice and we are not equipped to provide you with a formal training!”
I looked around the class, and realized that all the students were indeed older women who were there mostly to socialize. I was okay with that.
I found a model maker who helped me design my first set of rings, which I wore every day. A friend casually complimented me on them and asked where they were from. I proudly declared that I was the designer, so he asked me to design some rings for his wife. One commission led to many more, every piece more intricate than the last. Each was a reaffirmation that despite my lack of formal training, where there was a will there was a way. I had unknowingly launched a vibrant private client business that allowed me to express my creativity and have a lot of fun.
The tide soon turned toward men’s jewelry when the same client asked me to design some cuff links. He loved what he saw and encouraged me to try selling them to stores. This was an entirely different challenge, and the first and only store that came to mind at the time was Bergdorf Goodman. I located the name of the buyer, picked up the phone and called her. I didn’t have any introduction, recommendation, look book, or linesheet, and definitely no press kit – nothing that is required of new designers today. I just called her, again and again for three months straight, and every time, left a nice message.
Until one day, I snapped and left the following message:
“Hi, this Catherine Zadeh…I have called you so many times, left so many messages. I don’t understand why you are not returning my calls. All I am asking is fifteen minutes of your time; you will either like the collection and we can do business together, or you won’t like it and I will never call you again.”
She called me back! We set up an appointment for 6PM on a frigid Wednesday night in February.
I stepped out of the elevator, my heart palpitating. I was petrified and intimidated. As soon as I approached the receptionist, I was told the buyer had just called and was no longer able to make the appointment. I felt completely defeated and taken for a fool. As I took my coat to leave I noticed a man approaching; he was so elegant. He looked me up and down, and asked me what I was there for. He apologized profusely, eagerly offered to look at my line, and invited me into his office. As it turns out, he was Arthur Cook, the DMM (Divisional Merchandising Manager) of the Men’s Division.
I opened my little suitcase, he took one look at my designs, took his hat and his heavy coat off, and said:
“Welcome to Bergdorf Goodman.”