Off Duty: Designer, Katie Caplener, Vada Jewelry

Written By James Kicinski-McCoy

Photography by: The Bleu

I was introduced to 20-something Katie Caplener through our mutual friend Brooke Baxter. Brooke and Katie work side-by-side often being that they both work in the jewelry world and over the years a beautiful friendship has formed. Anyone that Brooke vouches for is A-OK in my book and upon working with Katie myself last year, and finally meeting her face-to-face, it was evident that she and I would gel and I must say that she is just as lovely as I had expected. Katie is the Founder and Designer behind the Austin-born brand Vada (not to be confused with Veda clothing). Vada is not only a stunning selection of one-of-a-kind antique pieces, it’s also a line of thoughtfully designed and handcrafted fine jewelry by Katie herself — case in point the Bovary Bracelet, the Female Figure Ring, the Enamel Mouring Band (which is on my wishlist), and the Baroque Pearl Drop Earrings (also on my wishlist). But, Katie’s design brilliance doesn’t stop at jewelry. She is also co-founder of Feline Objects. A line of incredibly cool and unique furniture pieces and other “objects” for cats and the people who love them.

I caught up with Katie while in Austin last month where we talked a laundry list of common interests, including a shared love for Texas, mutual friends, and all things business. I also got to meet Barney — one of Katie’s cats and the muse behind her brand Feline Objects. He’s panther-like and quite striking, and he makes a cameo in our shoot below. Let’s dive in!

Vintage Calvin Klein Trousers. Mom’s vintage belt. Vintage Bodysuit.
Vintage Calvin Klein Trousers. Mom’s vintage belt. Vintage Bodysuit.

Tell us a bit about what you do.  ” I am the founder and designer of Vada, a fine jewelry and soon to be eyewear brand. I do all of the creative direction, marketing, sales, and business operations for the brand, on top of design and overseeing production of the collection made in our Austin studio. I source all of the vintage and antique fine jewelry for my curated collection as well. I also co-founded Feline Objects, a cat furniture and accessories brand with my friend Jess.”

Was it always jewelry?  “Yes, I just had no idea I could make it my career. ”

Who / what has been your biggest inspiration?  “My grandmothers.”

What does a typical work day look like?  “It’s always a little different. If I am in Austin, my butt is glued to my office chair emailing and prepping new production. I take private appointments at my studio, so I will schedule a few a week. I like to start early and take off around 4 p.m. to go to Barton Springs or Deep Eddy for a dip.”

Typical work lunch?  “Tacos from El Tacorrido next door to my studio or Juiceland across the street.”

You travel a lot for work, tell us about that.  “I recently got a place in Los Angeles with my best friend, Tommy of Moth Food. My other bestie and eyewear consultant, Alexis, lives three doors down and my forever muse, Kaiman, is around the corner. I do not like to be alone, so I like everyone to be as close as possible. I am also in New York multiple times a year for A Current Affair, fashion market, and side projects. I try to make travel as seamless as possible. I usually eat at the same restaurants and meet up with the same friends. It helps other places feel like home because I get homesick easily.”

In such a competitive industry, how do you keep up with the Jonses?  “The Jonses are lame! Don’t waste your time on them.”

Is there a particular piece that you regret selling? The one that got away?  “All of them! I only buy vintage pieces that I love. My heart hurts every time a piece leaves my collection, but that’s the nature of the business. I recently sold my favorite chunky vintage chain to a really great client. I don’t regret it, but I can definitely feel its absence on my neck every day. Vintage, heavy gold chains are really hard to come by. ”

Keys to productivity?  “Rest and completely disconnect,  with phone on ‘Do Not Disturb’. Go outside! I hate being trapped indoors for too long. It’s necessary to take time to do nothing. I have never come up with a great idea while stuck inside answering emails. It’s good to schedule time to be away from your work. Actually write it down on a calendar and take it as seriously as any other meeting.”

Can you tell us how you remedy being in a creative funk? What puts you back on track?  “I know I keep saying swimming in the springs, but truly, it’s the best remedy. Other than my family in Austin, it’s the number one reason I live here. Right when I jump in the ice-cold water, it zaps any negativity.”

Any advice to other women looking to start a career in your industry?  “Don’t look around at what other people are doing. Create something that is unique to you and your journey. Start small and make only a few products at a time. You don’t need a full collection to start selling your work, and the mentality of launching with a full polished brand is really overwhelming.”

Any exciting news or projects on the horizon?  “Vada is launching eyewear! I just returned from Japan to pick up the samples. Vada Eyes will be available for purchase Spring 2020. It really is a dream come true — merging jewelry and eyewear just made sense for me.”

How do you typically spend a day off when the work can wait?  “Outside and near the water. Austin allows for this almost year round.”

Do you sleep-in on your days off?  “Yes, as much as my body will allow.”

How many times do you hit snooze?  “I try to not use an alarm. I never want to start my day with added anxiety.”

What’s the very first thing you do when you wake up?  “Let the cat outside, water my plants, chug water, and make a list for the day ahead.”

What’s on your bedside table?  “A stack of half-read books, incense burner and ashes, Noguchi paper lamp, and yesterday’s jewelry.”

Vintage Denim Overalls. Balenciaga Kitten Heels. Old Céline Frames.
Vintage Denim Overalls. Balenciaga Kitten Heels. Old Céline Frames.

Describe your personal style / style philosophy.  “I always love a masculine two-piece matching suit paired with kitten heels, so heavy masculine with a touch of feminine. I have been embracing my southern roots this past year and acquired multiple pairs of vintage overalls and cowboy boots that I like to mix with delicate French antique pieces. I mainly shop vintage / secondhand or independent small-batch designers. Fast fashion is gross.”

What’s the one thing in your closet you would save in a fire?  “My cats. They’re usually sleeping in my closet.”

Your first fashion splurge?  “A Céline bag from ByGeorge Austin. They don’t make ‘em like they used to.”

Your biggest fashion failure?   “There are so many. I’m an emotional dresser, so bad mood = bad outfit.”

What do you wear when you’re spending the day comfortable, at home, and off duty?  “Nothing.”

The most epic book wall.
The most epic book wall.

Who, what, where inspires your style the most?  “Women all over the world and men over the age of 65.”

What are some things on your want list?  “A Pleats Please Issey Miyake set with matching pleated bucket hat, Vintage Elsa Peretti Bone Cuff, Bottega Veneta mesh heels, a vintage signature shirt that Bode makes a new version of, and a custom tailored suit ”

Your five wardrobe staples, go…  “Vintage farm denim from Moth Food, black cotton bodysuit, cowboy boots, oversized frames, and chunky gold jewelry ”

Favorite designers / brands?  “Issey Miyake. Moth Food — most of my closet is from his collection; the pieces are so special and he puts in the work to find them. You can only catch him at A Current Affair / pop-ups or by making an in-person appointment at his new showroom in L.A. Phoebe Philo’s Cèline. Collina Strada — I love her vision and that she is striving to be sustainable in fashion with new production. House of St. Clair — can’t wait to see the womenswear collection.”

Very favorite online shop?  “I don’t shop online. Etsy and eBay if anything.”

If you could raid one person’s closet (dead or alive), whose would it be and why?  “Elsa Peretti. Her style is impeccable. I’m slowly collecting pieces she designed for Tiffany & Co. over the years for my personal collection, so raiding her closet would speed up this process.”

Your favorite vintage clothing stores in Austin?  “Passport Vintage, Garment, Prototype Vintage, Blue Velvet, Ermine, Charm School Vintage, and Laced With Romance.”

Dresses or jeans?  “Jeans.”

Heels or flats?  “Boots.”

Vintage or new?  “Vintage.”

Katie's favorite shoes.
Katie's favorite shoes.

Breakfast / brunch of choice? Elizabeth St. Cafe if I’m home. Any chocolate croissant will do on the road.”

Coffee or tea? How do you take it?  “Coffee with coconut milk.”

Favorite local cup?  “Primo Coffee in Austin.”

Any cookbooks you love?  “I don’t think I own a cookbook. I want to get into cooking, but haven’t made the time.”

Your go-to dinner recipe when at home?  “I eat very simple meals at home mainly because there’s hardly ever anything in the fridge in fear it will go bad while I’m on the road. I’m not good in the kitchen. I like to make cute cheese plates, but when it comes to cooking, I leave it to my boyfriend.”

Favorite local restaurant and your go-to order?  “Koriente in Austin. Mix Mix Bowl with half rice half sweet potato noodles, spicy chicken, raw veggies, add avocado with a black tea bubble tea.”

Regular Postmates / takeout order?  “Domino’s when nothing else is open.”

Any most-loved kitchen gadgets?  “My grandmother’s cast iron skillet.”

Any supplements you take / magic elixirs you make or swear by?  “Turmeric tea and supplements. Inflammation is my biggest issue, so I try to keep that under control and turmeric seems to help.”

How do you stay active? Do you work out?  “Pilates at The Peach House in Austin and swimming. I would like to get on a weekly routine because moving my body really helps my creative brain.”

What does self-care look like for you when you’re off duty?  “Drinking lots of water, eating more than three meals a day, swimming in the springs, and staying off my phone / laptop.”

You decide to treat yourself, how do you indulge?  “Facial and massage at Aloe Skin + Body in Austin, hitting all of my favorite vintage shops, and a nice dinner out.

Thrifted yellow bodysuit. Vintage French velvet suit from Moth Food. Margiela Tabi Boots.
Thrifted yellow bodysuit. Vintage French velvet suit from Moth Food. Margiela Tabi Boots.

What’s the story behind your home and how long have you lived there?  “I have lived here for five years. I like to call this my starter home, as the bones of the house do not have as much personality as I would like. My art and objects are very personal; they are the soul of the house.”

Can you share a few things that you cherish in your home and why?  “I cherish all of the art and things collected on my travels or gifted to me. The library is my most cherished area of the house. The shelves were custom made from smokey glass and brass brackets. The whole project was a birthday gift from my boyfriend; he can build anything. A framed hand stitched piece by my Granny Dot that reads ‘There’s No Place Like Home, Except Grandma’s’. A vintage lucite ‘snail table’ with glass top and the wood dining table my dad made are my favorite furniture pieces.”

Tell us about the art in your home.  “The art in my home is very dear to me, all of it was created by loved ones or found second hand. I currently have art by Wes Thompson, Ruben Burgess Jr., Miguel Rangel, Katy Shayne, and Sam McCurdy on my walls. I love these people, and they’re some of the most talented people in the world. It makes me feel happy and at home when I see it around my house, like a little hug from all of them. I am constantly searching for vintage oil paintings. I have a few in my house and around the studio. My favorites are a dark oil painting of a nun and a portrait of a very androgynous woman with a gold hoop earring. I like to think that her and I are a lot alike and have weirdly similar boobs and shoulders.”

Where do you find / shop for home decor?  “I stop at every antique mall I come across while traveling. Locally in Austin, it’s Room Service or the Austin Antique Mall, but I also love Craigslist. In L.A., my roommate and I furnished almost the entire apartment from an antique store in Long Beach. I go to Round Top Antique Fair twice a year. I have regular dealers that I hit up when I arrive, and then I like to roam around and see what I can find. I went to Brimfield for the first time this year and will definitely be back next year.”

Feline Objects Muse, Barney.
Feline Objects Muse, Barney.

Favorite candles?  “Wonderwood by Comme des Garcons, Burning Rose by Byredo, but I’m really an incense lover. Japense Cedar is my favorite, and I burn it all day long. I also love Astier de Villatte’s Aoyama incense.”

Signature scent?  “Rose 31 by Le Labo — smells like my grandmother’s house.”

Song on repeat?  “‘Dream Baby Dream’ by Suicide.”

All Vada.
All Vada.

Any favorite, must-read books?  The Abortion by Richard Brautigan. I love a good romance. M Train by Patti Smith, a memoir about her losses. I love all of her books and music. Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion. The book was written in 1968 about California during that decade. I recently rented a place in L.A., so I like to imagine Joan in L.A. in the ’60s.”

Favorite Netflix series / movie?  “My boyfriend and I are obsessed with This is Us. I used to be a closet-watcher, as it is a really cheesy tear-jerker. My TV series watch list is pretty basic: Handmaid’s Tale, Game of Thrones (RIP), Seinfeld, Law & Order, The Sopranos, Friends.

Any good podcasts you recommend?  “How I Built This.”

Coffee table books and magazines you love?  Teeth Magazine, Purple Magazine, Self Service Magazine, Please! Magazine, The Paris Review, Cat People by Bill Hayward, Georgia O’Keefe and her Houses, Photographs by Man Ray, and 1000 Chairs. 

What are your hobbies?  “Thrifting, swimming, collecting vintage jewelry (work can be a hobby too!), trying to keep my plants alive. I would love to have a garden one day, but travel will not allow it right now.”

Night in or night out? How do you spend it?  “Night out with my closest buddies at Justine’s in Austin, eating frites and drinking martinis.”

Written by: James Kicinski-McCoy

James Kicinski-McCoy is the 40-something Founder and Editor-In-Chief of The Bleu. She likes tequila, picks fights with her husband so she can have the bed to herself, and is trying to figure out that work / life balance.

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