By Katie Weisman
A Fashion Designer's Tips for Making Gifting Less Grueling
Fashion designer and creative director Stephanie von Watzdorf is nothing if not well-travelled. Her Instagram feed features photos from destinations as close as The Hamptons in Long Island, NY to as far away as Lamu, a Kenyan island. Von Watzdorf is the original founder of Figue, a high end women’s clothing and lifestyle collection with an ethno-bohemian vibe. While she loved being an entrepreneur, she sold Figue at the end of 2020 due to business constraints imposed by Covid-19. Currently, she is consulting in the fashion and luxury world, gathering inspiration from her trips, and planning her next act.
A self-described “collector of eye treasures”, von Watzdorf grew up on both sides of the Atlantic. A grandfather was a choreographer and dancer for The Ballets Russes, the early 20th century Paris-based dance company that collaborated with then-avant garde artists including Pablo Picasso, resulting in rich sets and elaborate costumes, the latter stored in closets that Von Watzdorf explored as a child. This background contributed to von Watzdorf’s fabulous and enviable sense of style. She is an avid gift-giver and often finds treasures during her trips. Below, von Watzdorf shares her tips for successful and stress-free gifting.
To & From: We hear over and over that gifting is a pain point for so many people. Do you ever have challenges finding a gift? What makes it so hard?
Stephanie von Watzdorf: I don’t think people always know, or are really familiar with, the people they are gifting to. That’s when the difficulty happens. You really have to tap into a person’s heart strings and what they are passionate about. If they are a biker, you tap into that. So, how about a book with vintage posters of cyclists or bicycles.
I don’t have real challenges for gifting other than when I don’t know someone well. I think about what they do in their downtime, their passions. When I’m stumped, I think about what I might like for myself. You can never go wrong sending flowers ahead of a dinner or event.
To & From: You have incredible style – any advice for people who have a tough time thinking about what to give?
SVW: Thank you! Style comes from within, it comes from your innate personality, and is based on what you’ve been exposed to. So when you are thinking about what to give, figure out what a person loves. Their style can also be a guide.
To & From: What are your favorite occasions to buy gifts for?
SVW: I don’t need an occasion! I am constantly travelling and always picking things up during my trips. If I find something great for someone, I’ll get it and give it when the opportunity arises. I don’t follow rules.
If you see something wonderful, get it when you see it, and have a place at home where you could store it. This helps to alleviate a lot of the angst of occasion-focused giving. Be a collector of wonderful things you want to gift.
To & From: You are an avid traveler – do you feel pressure to bring back gifts from your travels? What are the things you like to pick up for friends and family?
SVW: I don’t feel pressure because I collect as I travel. I try to find the most beautiful artisanal products from the region or country I am exploring. This could be weavings from Guatemala, jewelry from India, or beaded artifacts from Africa. I try to highlight the skills of the artisans of that country.
To & From: How and where do you look for gifts? Are you on a mission to find something, or can it be serendipitous when you happen upon something fabulous?
SVW: Travel aside, during this whole Covid-19 period, online shopping became very helpful. Otherwise, I look for things off the beaten track from antique stores, flea markets, or markets specialized in handmade goods from small, local brands. I often lean towards items for the home. There’s nothing like a perfect dish.
To & From: What is the one thing that you can think of that would make gifting easier?
SVW: I think gifting has to be a little more fun; it doesn’t have to be a big deal. Take a chance on something. Add a little humor to the process to eliminate the dread. It can be easy. The simplest item can be the most wonderful thing. In the end, it’s the thought behind a gift and the act of giving that’s the most important.
To & From: Finally, what was the first gift you got that was the most special thing in the world?
SVW: One of the first gifts I received as a little girl from my grandparents. My French grandmother and German grandfather, who always travelled to India, brought me a little stuffed fabric elephant covered with embroidery, beads and tiny mirrors. An elephant is a symbol of good luck. My grandmother always brought me fabrics, bangles and other jewelry from India. As a child, a saree embroidered with gold, bracelets with charms and tassels with jingling metallic sequins, really charmed me. This helped inspire Figue.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
More Gift Guides
Valentine’s Day is a holiday that sneaks up on us. But don’t fret. Here are a few simple ideas that will make everyone smile.