Michelle Graff called the studio a couple of weeks ago to talk to Mark about the early days of the Couture Show – has it really been 20 years? Doesn’t feel like it. Mark and I began our story in New York in our very early twenties where we lived for 26 years. We raised two kids, watched the city grow and change, learned a lot and grew as designers. Once our kids went off to start on their own journeys we grew homesick and decided to return to Southern California. Each one of us in the industry has a story to tell – Michelle’s journey has taken her from Pittsburgh to Ohio University, then Atlanta and finally New York where she became editor in chief of National Jeweler.
Josette: How did you do the jump from business and news journalism to becoming editor in chief for National Jeweler?
Michelle: I got my start as a newspaper reporter covering crime at the Marietta Daily Journal, a newspaper for Cobb County, a suburb of Atlanta. Working at a daily newspaper is basically boot camp for journalists; I highly recommend any aspiring journalist spend at least a year in the newsroom at a daily. It will be a both a great learning and terrible work experience.
When my hair started falling out from the stress of the newspaper (I basically worked from 9 a.m. to midnight five or six days a week), I decided it was time to take it down a notch. I quit my job and then later found a less stressful position as an editor at a weekly, the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Eventually, though, I grew bored with the job and restless in Atlanta so I quit that job and moved to New York City where my best friend (and fellow daily newsroom survivor) already had moved.
I didn’t have a job when I came here but it was pre-recession so, luckily, a lot of companies were hiring. I put a resume in with Nielsen, which owned a bunch of publications at that time including National Jeweler. NJ liked the fact that I had that daily newspaper experience so they hired me, and I’ve been here ever since.
Josette: Do you prefer reporting about the luxury world?
Michelle: That’s a hard question because I have mixed feelings about it. I’ve really come to love jewelry, the industry and the people in it. However, if you had told me that I’d be writing about fine jewelry when I was a 25-year-old reporter covering murder trials, I would have thought you were crazy and even now sometimes I think, “What am I doing here?” I am writing about something that is inaccessible to so many people, and there are so many more important things going on in the world that I could be covering, talking about, helping to change. But I guess everybody in life grapples with that question of, “Am I really making a difference?” I think you have to try to just do as much good in life as possible in any way you can, and just believe that you have ended where you are for some reason, even if that reason is not immediately apparent.
Josette: You were interviewed by Rod Worley at Four Grainer for the podcast about brand vs. non-brand, about the story behind the brand and the millennial generation.
What would be the best way for an older brand to reach out to this new generation of young buyers?
Michelle: I honestly think brands need to have a good story to tell. To get the attention of the younger generation, that story needs to include a chapter about how they are doing good in the world and/or not sourcing irresponsibly and contributing to the misery of others. Young people definitely care about “corporate social responsibility.” (See my moral dilemma above, and I am not even that young.
Josette: You are working on the Couture Show 20th anniversary, which is a milestone. What do you believe makes the Couture show such a special show for the jewelry industry?
Michelle: The Couture show has many advantages. To begin with, it is well run. The current show director, Gannon Brousseau, knows exactly what he is doing and has a smart and innovative vision for the future of the show. It also has a great collection of designers–to me, it’s the No. 1 show in the world for seeing the latest designs–and a lovely setting. The Wynn really does make coming to Couture an excellent experience, from the ambience, to the scent, to the décor to the rooms (that bathtub!) to the service. Not to mention: Have you eaten the lunch at Couture? It’s the bomb.
Thank you Michelle, it was an honor to have you on the blog. Hope to meet you at the Couture show.