Everything happens for a reason and those reasons took Erin from Montreal and dreams of photography to New York City and a successful career as a talent representative. Did we mention that she’s also a ridiculously talented jewelry designer? And she used to work at Pentagram? No bigs.
Do you remember your first week in New York?
Yes, I lived across the street from where I live now on 12th and 3rd, that was my NYU dorm in my freshman year. I was 18 and I moved to New York to study photography. I remember it was awful [laughs]. I was looking forward to studying at NYU but I knew absolutely no one. I was very different to the way I am now. I was very shy.
I grew up as an only child in Montreal. I went to an all girls private school with only 40 kids in my graduating class. I was one of the only ones that left Montreal to study, everyone else went to Concordia University or McGill. My mother was very overprotective and didn’t want me to leave while my father was very much like “you need to go, it’s good for you. You need to break out of your shell and this is your way”. I knew I was in a bubble in Montreal.
That first week here was such a challenge. I remember I didn’t want my parents to know that I was unhappy so I had to fake it. I cried to my cousin every single day that week.
The cool thing about NYU was that my program was super small. I think there were 28 kids in my year but within a big school of 40,000, so you can make your friends within that.
I never did photography in high school so I had never been in a dark room. I didn’t even know how to use a manual camera. I wasn’t part of the group of full-fledged photo nerds that carried around cameras everywhere.
When I was finishing high school I was debating whether I wanted to do graphic design or photography. I went to a high school that was very technology oriented. We started learning Photoshop at age 10, right when it first came out. I started by taking images from the internet and compiling them into landscapes. My teacher was like “you can’t steal images off the internet, you have to take your own.” So, that’s what brought me to photography. I felt like that was more me than graphic design. But after about a year at NYU I realized that although I loved photography it wasn’t for me. To be a fine art photographer you have to wake up and want to create. I need projects to drive me.
Did you finish the degree in photography?
Yeah, I studied photography and I was planning on doing a minor in math, because my father’s a businessman and thought I should have something to “fall back on”. I love math and I’m really good at it but it was fucking hard. I managed to get an ‘A’ the first semester but when I started the second semester I remember walking out of the first class and calling my father and saying “I love you but I’m not doing this.”
I switched to a minor in Italian. I’ve been going to Italy as a child every year with my family, because that’s what my father did with his family and he likes tradition.
Is he Italian?
No, he’s Egyptian.
What happened when you finished your degree?
During college I realized I didn’t want to be a photographer and was more interested in the business side of photography.
I remember asking my parents if I could stay in New York in the summers and they said not unless I had a job. I thought “great, I’ve got to find a job!”
I was babysitting this kid at the time who was a child actor and model and his mom hooked me up with a woman that had worked with him. I kept calling her every week and leaving voice mails. Finally I ended up meeting her and becoming her intern, and then her assistant.
My parents didn’t want me to be a freelancer, especially being on a Canadian visa, so this photographer helped me meet a lot of different people at photo agencies and I ended up getting a job right out of school at Management Artists, which is a photo agency that represents Mark Abrahams and Mark Seliger, to name a couple. I was producing for about six photographers for about a year. That was definitely paying your dues!
I met some of the best friends I have today during that job. But after a year there I thought that was enough for me. A year felt like three. I would never replace that experience though, I think it was essential to what I’m doing now.
At the end of that year my mom and I officially started Bande des Quatres. My mother is a jeweller and she’s been making jewelry since she was 15.
One year she grew too fast. She grew two inches in the summer and her tendons and ligaments were too stretched so the doctors had to cut them. They put her in a cast from her ankles to her hips and her parents sent her to camp that summer.
They sent her to camp when she had a full leg cast?
She could walk but she had to walk with her hips.
That’s so cruel!
Obviously she couldn’t do any sports, all she could do was arts and crafts and that’s what started her love for jewelry.
I grew up around it, but I always knew I didn’t want to be a jeweller. People think that if you grow up with a jeweller as a mother that you have tons of jewelry but I never wore it, I hated the feeling of it on my hands.
During my senior thesis show I was given the lobby wall of Tisch to display my work. I was like “I’ve got the prime spot so I want to look the part for the opening night”. I had just seen the Michael Jackson This Is It movie, I love Michael Jackson, I love his outfits, and he was wearing these sequin pants, I was like “that’s it! That’s my outfit. I want those pants!”
I found someone in Montreal to make them for me. My mom suggested that we make some jewelry to go with my outfit. We were on vacation at the time and we were sitting in this hotel with all these beautiful design books and we just started sketching this ring, the Van der Rohe.
I started wearing it everyday and people on the subway and in restaurants would stare at it because they thought it was piercing through my finger. I never thought that, for me it was just two lines. This is back in 2011, so no one had really done anything like that. I would get stopped about three times a day. So I called my mom and said “why don’t we make a ring line?”
I never wanted to be a jeweller and I still don’t consider myself a jeweller, but for me it was a business to create. I wanted to create a brand that is recognizable and has meaning.
So we started designing and came up with the first line, which was only rings. For me the exciting part was creating the brand. I have this photographer friend, Hugo Arturi, who still shoots all of my editorial stuff. I wanted to shoot the rings on people doing everyday things. The first campaign was very much that, I used friends as the models, I always use friends actually. I didn’t want it to look “fashion”, I wanted it to look normal but I wanted the ring to be in focus so you can see the illusion it creates.
The first collection was very much inspired by the Bauhaus movement. The coolest part was getting all these people on board. We managed to get on Vogue.com, which was huge. I think the first year was a lot of personal sales and then I started reaching out to stores.
I knew that my line was going to be marketed very differently to my mother’s. For me it was going to be a line that worked in fashion stores. I didn’t want it to be just in jewelry galleries like my mother’s stuff.
We don’t mass produce, every piece is made to order but we will make multiples and every collection is always available. For me, the pieces are timeless and will always be relevant. It’s all about shapes and lines, which is exactly what my photography was about.
Where can we find it in the city?
Right now a couple of pieces are in Steven Alan and it will also be sold in the Whitney when it reopens. I’m very excited about that. Getting into the Whitney store is one of my biggest accomplishments. That actually came about from a cold email I sent to their “info” contact. The coolest thing about it is that the Whitney is designed by Renzo Piano and I have a bracelet that’s inspired by Renzo Piano. I had no idea that the building was designed by him. I got an email back and they made an order.
Can you tell us about the name?
Bande des Quatres is French for Band of Four. There’s not four of us, there’s two of us but we started with rings that are bands that go across four fingers. Also, when you own a piece you become part of this little group.
It seems like the brand has a really solid foundation. It’s not like you just decided to create a brand out of nothing.
It’s interesting career wise. I truly believe that everything happens for a reason, that you’re born to do something. I’m not religious in anyway but I believe in fate and destiny. There’s a reason I came to New York, there’s a reason I studied photography and there’s a reason I started a jewelry line.
Do you know what the next step is going to be?
Well, after working for the photo agency I went to work at the design consultancy firm Pentagram. That was awesome. I was there for 2 1/2 years. I was Eddie Opara’s project manager for about a year and then I became Natasha Jen’s project manager. It was awesome to be around all of that creativity.
I realized that I’m great at organizing and managing, but I also need the creative side. At Pentagram I could at least be around creatives and see the designs happen, but it still wasn’t enough. At the time I was also working on the jewelry and people would start contacting me about needing a designer or a photographer for their projects, and I became seen as a “connector”. Eventually I was introduced to this woman, Tara Averill, by an old mentor from NYU. Tara runs RepresentationCo and that’s where I work now.
I truly believe that everything is very interconnected. I love representing talent and meeting people, my job is really about meeting people. The jewelry plays a big role in that because when you’re sitting down with somebody you don’t want to just talk about your talent. It’s important to have something else that will stand out.
Is there any advice you would give your 18 year old self?
That’s a hard one. I think it took me a little long to break out of my shell so I wish I would have stepped out of my comfort zone a bit more.
You’ve been in New York about 8 years now, have you mostly lived around the East Village?
I have lived in the matter of a four block radius. I love this area and I love my apartment.
And what do you think of when you think of New York?
The one thing that I love about New York is the feeling of coming back here. When you go over the bridge into the city I still get chills.
The other thing I love is that at anytime of day I feel safe, which is the opposite of what most people think. There are always people around.