Men in general would be insulted if their wives would make a fuss over the jewelry gifts they receive. My husband David, the gentleman that he is, tolerated it with humility and instead of being offended, found the perfect solution: “Why don’t you design your own pieces?” At the time he was in the diamond industry and encouraged me “to express my creativity through a medium that would make me happy.” I think he just wanted to keep me busy as I was getting restless in life. “I will supply you the diamonds, will introduce you to a jeweler and you’ll take it from there.” That was a fair deal, I thought, a novel idea, albeit a challenging one. How could I design jewelry with no formal training?
If you know me, you know that I am very resourceful, never shy of asking questions and bold enough to believe that I can do it.
“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.
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 are here to have 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 mostly there to socialize.
I took it in stride and soon enough I realized that I was much better equipped at designing than making jewelry so 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, when 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 to have a lot of fun.
The tide soon turned toward men’s jewelry when the same client asked me to design some cufflinks. He loved the designs I presented him and he 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 shamelessly 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 immediately called me back! We set up an appointment for 5PM 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 had to cancel the appointment. I felt completely defeated and taken for a fool. As I took my coat to leave I noticed a very elegant man approaching. He looked me up and down, and when he heard what I was there for, he apologized profusely, invited me into his office and eagerly offered to look at my line. As it turned out, he was Arthur Cook, the DMM (Divisional Merchandising Manager) of the Men’s Division, and her boss!
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.”
The rest is history. Was it not for this missed appointment, I would have never met this gentleman and consequently would have never launched ZADEH.
Sometimes a closed door is indeed a blessing in disguise…