I have never been one for defining myself. Instead, I have built a career out of being a bit of a chameleon, molding myself to a great many creative endeavors with one particular guidepost in mind — the celebration of beauty. Sometimes I act as a creative director, working with a brand and managing a team to express a particular vision. Sometimes I am a recipe developer, concocting and finessing a dish to create just the right balance of flavors. And other times I am a collaborator, finding inspiration through the greater EyeSwoon community — friends, chefs, like-minded designers, and creatives.
But, if I were forced to choose one label to define what I do, it would be lifestyle designer and a stylist. It sounds so silly when I say it and hokey when I write it, but it is what I get most excited about and what I am asked to do most often. All of the above elements unite when I engage my eye to style a tablescape, work with a palette, choose florals and create a composition to express a particular mood. This is what I love, what makes me swoon. When I am in this place of creation, one thing is always the same — I act on instinct. I trust my eye. That is, when my mind does not get in the way.
You will always be too much of something for someone: too big, too loud, too soft, too edgy. If you round out your edges, you lose your edge. ~Danielle LaPorte
That’s the thing, right? To not get in your own way? It is SO hard. Sometimes impossible! The uncertainty creeps in. Can I do this? Will I deliver? Am I a fraud? My mom always tells me I share too much, that I sound insecure when I reveal the inner workings of my mind on EyeSwoon. But you know what, we all have it. I am a sharer at my core. I am overly honest at times, some might say to a fault. But I say to simply be true to what you really feel. It is why I started EyeSwoon, to find my own voice and to share my truth in hopes that it would incite a creative journey in others. To do this, I need to be honest enough to share my own roadblocks. A very hard part of my own journey was feeling riddled with fear and doubt. BUT — and it’s a very important but — a larger part of that journey was pushing past the fear and no longer letting it debilitate my creativity.
You do not have to be embarrassed by your creative schizophrenia and you certainly do NOT need to be defined as just one thing! So perhaps I do not have a label, “Hi, I am Athena and I am a blah, blah, blah,” to say at parties. This scenario scared me for so many years – at events, I would find myself standing behind my own glass wall to avoid that very question. But, I have found myself in a world, or perhaps I defined the world that I choose to live in, where now it feels okay to be many things. And this new world that I just might have manifested has allowed me the opportunity to collaborate with a timeless brand like Georg Jensen. I was honored to be asked to style the breathtaking table that majestically sits at the back of the impeccably-designed store to celebrate their newly-opened Madison Avenue location.
I have admired — okay, swooned over — Georg Jensen for a great many years. I can distinctly remember, at 22 years old, registering for a pair of silver GJ candlesticks for my wedding — timeless, sculptural, architectural, and without a douby sexy. They were a shiny presence in my home and for years I kept a pair of avocado green beeswax candles nestled within them. Oddly I never burned the candles. They were almost holy, a talisman, untouchable, precious. It is funny, really — almost like an Italian grandmother keeping plastic on the sofas.
Georg Jensen is an internationally-celebrated design house that holds style, design and function as core values. GJ strikes the perfect balance of understated elegance combined with authenticity, and craft that commands attention. When I design a space, table or event, I am attracted to these very principles. One thing I have found as I’ve studied the brand is that its founder, like myself and us all, is multifaceted. As was unusual in the late 1800s, Georg Jensen had a background in multiple disciplines – he had been both a student of fine arts and a metalsmith. After an atypical career path, he revived the artist-craftsman tradition, combining his varied skills – and his unique aesthetic was embraced by the public. The tradition clearly continues to this day, not only in the items the brand designs in-house, but also in collaborations with other artists, like the stunning line with Ilse Crawford and the jewelry collection with Zaha Hadid.
In styling the table, I was given free reign to choose from any items in the current living collection and silver from the vintage tabletop collection. I had an acute awareness that the design needed to meet the aesthetic of a Danish company. This informed the color scheme for the branches — since the Nordic palette favors cool hues, I scoured the flower market to find greenery that had subtly gray or blue undertones. I wanted to keep minimalism in mind but not go too minimal. The goal was to find a subtle Scandi balance in the composition, highlight each statement piece without allowing them to overshadow one another, and to achieve a bit of a broken symmetry. The low, overflowing bowl of torn pomegranates, with silvery eucalyptus and berries spilling out, is almost in direct opposition to the tall, sparse evergreen branch.
You can never be too much you. ~Georg Jensen campaign slogan
As I worked within the space to create the scene, I was on a strict timeline. Georg Jensen’s new and first female CEO, Eva-Lotta Sjostedt, was holding a meeting at the very table I was designing. It was not a business meeting but a gathering of young teenage girls from underprivileged areas of NYC who were part of an organization called Step Up. The purpose of the meeting was to talk about dreams, goals, and help impart the crucial message that there is nothing they cannot achieve. (I might add that I have since donated to Step Up and have become a mentor – thank you for inspiring me, Eva!)
The following evening, at the store opening, I had the honor of meeting the entire GJ team, including Eva-Lotta Sjostedt. As we got to talking, she shared with me the message behind brand’s new campaign. The slogan is simple: “You can never be too much you.” In encouraging women to be themselves, the brand partnered with five powerful women, film director Susanne Bier from Denmark, professional motocross rider Behnaz Shafiei from Iran, two Michelin-star chef Dominique Crenn from the U.S., world champion welterweight boxer Cecilia Braekhus from Norway and comedian Sarah Kendall from Australia. It was a powerhouse lineup of women who continue to test the boundaries of what other people think is possible — because the biggest stamp of approval each of these women seems to seek is her own.
There is no doubt these women are hugely inspiring, but during the course of our discussion, something else became clear — I was also completely captivated by Eva herself. She is clearly a sought-after, sharp and savvy businesswoman. Yet in talking with her, I was also struck by her demeanor. She was elegant, soft-spoken and articulate, not to mention a mama of three; Eva was the ultimate role model.
When I signed on to create beauty on the table for Georg Jensen, I had no idea I would connect so deeply with the narrative. Two things I think we all aim to find in life are freedom to be ourselves and connection with one another. I found both here. I can say with certainty — I am a firm believer in the power of believing in yourself. You can be honest enough to admit that sometimes you question your abilities. Just remember, we all do. What’s more important — push through it. And never round out your edges.
The new Georg Jensen boutique is located at 698 Madison Avenue in Manhattan.