Monica Stephenson has been sharing her passion for jewelry and the artists who create it since 2008. Her iDazzle blog was one of the first of its kind, intelligently delving deep into trends, designers and the industry at large. Not content to simply visit designers’ studios and attend trade events, Monica has braved the elements (and lack of toilet paper) to journey to the far corners of the earth so that she can crawl around in gem mines and get down and dirty with the source of all of this beauty. While I’ve always enjoyed following along with Monica’s many travels over social media, it was her last trip that inspired the most intense level of envy.
Immediately after taking home the Women’s Jewelry Association’s (WJA) Awards for Excellence in the Editorial Category, Monica and her family left for Europe to celebrate her and her husband’s 20th wedding anniversary. As I endured the sweltering humidity of a New York City summer, I occasionally took respite in stalking Monica over social media so that I could live vicariously through her. I caught up with Monica fresh off her flight from Paris for a download on her trip and a conversation about life, work and her secrets to a successful marriage.
COUTURE: Have you and your husband always been big travelers?
Monica Stephenson: We traveled a fair amount in our 20’s and early 30’s, and when our two girls were little, we traveled but it was more domestically, to see family. In the last 3-4 years we’ve really picked up traveling again. It’s always been a love and a priority but it’s only recently that we’ve been able to indulge.
COUTURE: So tell me a bit more about your latest indulgence.
MS: Last summer we spent 7 weeks in France—5 weeks in Paris and 2 weeks in the South of France—so on that trip, we checked a lot of things off the list. We climbed the towers of Notre Dame, we went to the Louvre every week; we did all of those things you would think of as quintessential Paris attractions or places of interest. So on this trip, we stayed in the same apartment in the Marais so we had our neighborhood and we knew the cafes, where to shop, the best boulangerie to buy bread. It made it easier to go back to the same place because it felt more like living there and we were able to take each day as it came a bit more, it was more relaxing because we knew where to go and what to expect. And kids love tradition, they love seeing the same places and the same things and going to their favorite restaurants; it makes a difference. And it was interesting to see what they chose to do, like returning to the Pompidou Center, versus me being travel director. We did have a few things scheduled—we hired a driver to take us to the Loire Valley to see castles, we made a reservation to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower—but we loved the serendipity of playing it by ear.
COUTURE: How old are your girls? Are they good travelers?
MS: The girls are 11 and 8 and they’re very good little travelers, they enjoy it as much as we do. At least I don’t think I’m dragging them through cathedrals and museums completely against their will! My husband [Dave] and I believe that travel is a gift that we give our children. The reason I travel is because I enjoy seeing a different perspective, a different aesthetic and the approach of a different culture. When our girls get to see those things at this point in their lives, by having this exposure to all of these things earlier, they learn a lot. They’re so curious and they absorb things in a way that’s different than an adult. And I think it’s important to take them out of their comfort zone. While it’s important to travel and unplug and unwind on occasion, I generally would choose something that requires a bit more energy, if not even vigilance. Not speaking the language, navigating public transportation; I like those challenges!
COUTURE: So you were celebrating your 20th Anniversary….I had a chance to chat with you and your husband a bit right before the WJA event, you seem like you’re still pretty crazy about each other after all this time. To what do you attribute that success?
MS: I would say that’s true, we are smitten with each other! We’re the same as we were 20 years ago, but in many ways, we’re different. We’ve grown and changed and we’ve had many incredible experiences together, and some independently, and we’re still very much into each other. There’s something to be said for not being selfish, for putting the other person first, and if you feel you’re in a balanced relationship, it’s safe to do that because you know it’s your turn next time. If I approach Dave and say, ‘I feel I need to go to Africa and crawl around in gem mines and get to know the source of this industry,’ his response is, ‘Okay, great! If you feel that’s important, I’ll support you and help you.’ And if he comes to me and says, ‘I really feel I need to go on this ski trip to this place where there’s only a satellite phone in the arctic circle…’ I can say, ‘That’s awesome, go for it! Just please come back!’ There’s this give and take and truly putting the other person and their needs on the same plane, if not higher, than your own. That’s gone a long way to make us successful as a couple, we try to take turns supporting each other’s careers, and with the kids, it’s a partnership–it’s not just one person shouldering everything. I don’t think I would have won the WJA Award without his encouragement and support.
COUTURE: Did you have a big date night to celebrate (I mean, in addition to the trip as a whole, of course!)?
MS: It was a whole day of celebrating! While we had our apartment, we left the girls with my mom and got completely away and stayed at the W Hotel in the Opera District. We had a great lunch, went shopping and walking around, and then hung out and took our time getting ready. Then we went to the Eiffel Tower to Le Jules Verne for dinner. We had a spectacular, literally, the best, table in the restaurant, and we just had a really wonderful experience! Afterwards, we went to the 2nd floor of Hotel Costas for an after dinner drink. It was a super fun, memorable day and night.
COUTURE: That sounds like a major highlight of the trip! Any other highlights?
MS: Well of course, I took some time to incorporate jewelry into my trip! I scheduled a tour with Alexis, who goes by Bijoux_Society on Instagram. She’s a jewelry obsessive, American in Paris, fluent in French who takes people on tours of jewelry. You can skew more towards historical, or towards high end marquee French brands like Cartier, Boucheron, and Van Cleef and Arpels. So I got to explore jewelry for a day in this very insider, very interesting and compelling way. I’m sort of a history geek and I know a little bit about the French monarchy and lineage so it was fun to go to Palais Royale where the origins of jewelry started in French culture, because that was the earliest place where the aristocracy would go out. In those days, there were casinos and restaurants, and not just wives, but also courtesans, would go there, so a lot of jewelry was purchased and given at that location. From there we walked to to Les Arts Decoratifs and saw some incredible, historical jewelry. We ended at Place Vendome and the venerable jewelry houses there. It was fun because I got to dig into jewelry in a way that was different than walking into a retail store, and I’m not sure I would have opened those doors and walked right in without Alexis, it can be intimidating! But I have to say, once we were inside people could not have been more gracious and welcoming, it was a lovely experience; they appreciate it if you appreciate it. So that was definitely a highlight. It was a day on my own and an example of taking care of myself. It fed me in a way that was just for me, that was my treat to myself!
COUTURE: Well speaking on behalf of the entire COUTURE team, congratulations on your big WJA win and your 20th Anniversary, and here’s to many more treats in the next 20 years!