Taking Flight: Mother-Daughter Duo Launch Of Rare Origin

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

If it’s true that you should never trust a skinny chef, then the same logic would dictate that you shouldn’t trust an artist who doesn’t have a bit of a wild side. On the East End of Long Island, the term “wild” has always been reserved for Montauk, the easternmost hamlet that sometimes becomes its own island when nearby Napeague Bay breaches Montauk Highway, meeting the ocean. Its distance, relative isolation and affinity for being cut off from the rest of the East End have shaped its story—it was once open land for grazing cattle, then a haven for artists, and is today a mixture of hipster sunshine seekers and old-school beach bums.

It is here, in their Montauk home, that jewelry designing mother-daughter duo Leslie Tcheyan and Octavia Giovannini-Torelli have gained inspiration for their new company, Of Rare Origin.

Set atop windswept dunes just off the windy roads of Old Montauk Highway, the family house maintains its bones as a prefab construction selected from a builder’s catalogue in the early 1960s. The whole setup encapsulates the whimsy of the team’s first, avian-inspired collection. “[My mother, Adrienne Tcheyan] literally bought the [Montauk property] on the spot. She [first] went to East Hampton and she felt like all of the women were so beautiful and so coiffed on the beach, and she was this ruffian who would go into the water with curly hair,” says Leslie.

“[She was] of rare origin,” says Octavia of her free-spirited grandmother. Launched this past January, Of Rare Origin is a labor of love for Leslie, who has had more than 30 years of consulting experience in the jewelry industry, including sourcing and manufacturing for several high-end jewelry houses; and Octavia, whose past work in marketing communications at Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects | Partners in New York City instilled in her keen business sensibilities.

Montauk has always been roots for the family. The home has no air-conditioning, no television and no radio. When the family matriarch suggested a television, years ago when Octavia was still a child, the request was met with a resounding “No!” “Every morning, you’d wake up and there’d be a squad of kids just all reading quietly and exchanging their books throughout the summer,” Leslie says. The idea of installing a pool met with the same sentiment. “We were considered this sort of crazy family that would swim in the ocean,” she continues.

Neighbors spending days in air-conditioning may have thought the family was crazy, reflects Octavia of her childhood, but “they’re crazy for sitting inside,” she says.

What the home did—and still does—have is charm akin to the all-American character of a good, worn pair of blue jeans. Aside from a renovation to add a bigger dining space, not a lot has changed about the house from the prefab days. The tight spiral staircase, an architecture style not seen much in the past few decades, is set in the middle of the first-floor living room, connecting to the bedrooms below.

That space was big enough for Octavia to host her rehearsal dinner prior to her Montauk wedding last September. A testament to their life out East, the reception was held at Rick’s Crabby Cowboy Café, a restaurant established in 1995 that maintains the fleeting feel of Old Montauk.

“For us, it comes down to simple values. It’s about recreation. It’s about spending time together. It’s about big meals,” says Octavia. Or, more realistically for a big family, “It’s about fighting. It’s about squabbling, cooped up in a house all together, arguing about who has to cook, who has to grocery shop, and who didn’t put gas in the car,” Leslie remarks.

Furnishings are basic—the house has all you need to live comfortably, but the focus of the home, and, by extension, of the family, is clearly on the expansive oceanfront view. It’s a site that has remained mostly the same since the ’60s, even as more Montauk mansions, including the former home of Bernie Madoff, have popped up along the dunes.

The family went out East in the summers, spending days working at Gosman’s Dock and the Puff ’n’ Putt mini golf course. And, of course, Leslie and Octavia both have fond memories of Grandma Adrienne in Montauk.

Adrienne was a classic Depression-era woman who was keen on keeping waste to a minimum. Every morning, she would put the crumbs from her breakfast toast outside for the birds. “We always used to tease and say, ‘Grandma, when you die, we’ll think of you when we see the birds.’” She lived to be 95.

Despite the strong connection to birds, the idea to launch Of Rare Origin with the Aviary Collection was crafted before the duo even had time to process the inner meaning and the ties to Adrienne. “I didn’t really think of the designs in terms of Grandma,” says Leslie. “But when we made the birds, it just all of a sudden clicked.” In that vein, the two have received countless comments about how the birds have resonated with their customers, as they’ve found that many people have an emotional and personal connection to birds.

The Aviary Collection features colorful pieces with birds perched in various settings. There are large pieces, where the birds are housed in their own 18-karat bird cage, as well as smaller ones, where birds and flowers sit atop a bar. “A lot of the inspiration comes from materials,” says Octavia. The two work with ruby, jade, coral and lapis, among other gems and composites that help the designers achieve the desired shape, color, structure and lightweight feel.

The collection is handmade in Italy, through connections and manufacturers that Leslie has from her previous experience in the industry. Despite Octavia’s relative greenness in the professional jewelry world, her upbringing around Leslie’s businesses and her background mean that she works well with her more left-brained mother.

“I am a more linear thinker than my mother, and I think that’s kind of the greatest asset,” says Octavia.

“I couldn’t do this without her. Absolutely. I could go back to being the hobbyist, but I could not do this without her,” says Leslie, whose initial foray into designing her own pieces around 2009 planted the seeds for the company. “When you have an asset like Octavia you don’t hesitate,” says Leslie of her decision to start the company with her daughter.

The two often finish each other’s sentences and thoughts. Leslie’s business card reads “boss.” Octavia’s business card, “bossier.” The business cards were a surprise that Octavia gave her mother, after she ran the idea by her sister Thea Giovannini-Torelli, who is often referred to as Of Rare Origin’s ghost CEO.

“She gave herself the title [of bossier],” says Leslie. Octavia acquiesces.

As for the name of the company, it came to the duo after countless hours spent with Leslie’s favorite book, the thesaurus. Says Leslie, “We always felt like we were really a mixture of all sorts of…”

“…origins,” finishes Octavia.

Photographs by Ben Fink Shapiro

Hair and makeup by Fabiola Sevilla



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