Elissa Waverly on Founding East Darjeeling

Christina Najjar | August 3, 2019 | Fashion

Inspiration struck when Elissa Waverly created her first headpiece from fresh florals for a friend going through a difficult time. The friend was blown away by the delicate beauty of the garland, creating a moment of sheer delight and escape. Since then, Waverly has developed an extensive line of luxury silk floral headpieces, each uniquely styled to evoke love and joy.

East Darjeeling floral headpieces are handcrafted in America by local artisans using one-of-a-kind silk floral blooms that change in design and type from season to season. We chatted to Waverly in her stunning West Village space about her incredible, blossoming brand.

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What was the original inspiration for starting your brand?
ELISSA WAVERLY: Growing up, I never thought of getting into art. It wasn't a common path in Silicon Valley or among traditional Indian culture so when I started my career, I began in technology. The logic was when people ask me the question "What do you do?" I can give them the most impressive answer. I eventually realized that I was trying to impress everyone around me, but the one person I forgot to consider was myself. That's when I broke out and went on to pursue my passion for art and design.

In 2018, I got a call from a friend who was having a rough year, so I went to bring her a bouquet of flowers. Since I had been exploring the art world, I opted to take the bouquet apart and instead turn it into a headpiece. I always believed that everyone has the ability to control their environment by shifting the way they look at things. The headpiece did just this. Made from bright bougainvillea, cream dahlias and blush peonies, transported my friend and into a whimsical moment of joy and escape. Since that moment, we’ve expanded this idea into an extensive line of handcrafted faux floral headpieces, with the goal of sparking joy and positive change in everyone who wears them.

The naming of the pieces is so special, tell us about that.
EW: To pay homage to the founding story of friendship and positive change, I name the headpieces after people in my life who have had an impact on me in some way. Each piece has its own story. For example, one of the pieces in the collection I named after my neighbor in New York. She came over the week I moved in and was so welcoming. Whenever we see each other, we pause for a moment to ask ‘’how are you doing?’ In a busy city like New York, I found this very inspiring. The piece I have named after her is vibrant, warm, joyful and really a story of how we build our world through our everyday actions. It’s bright red, with lush raspberries and soft undertones of pink.

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Who is the girl you design for?
EW: We get a lot of people buying for special occasions, like weddings and events. The intention is really to design for a whimsical world and to elevate the person wearing the piece. A man in his 40s walked into the store one day and asked me, “What do you call these?” He said “You can’t call these flower crowns.” I said, “We call them headpieces.” He said “You can’t call them headpieces” I looked at him inquisitively and waited for him to say something. He looked around and said, “I can only imagine something happens when someone puts one of these on, it’s like you are from a different world.”

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Talk about the process of seasonally picking the flowers.
EW: Our stems are based on their quality and color. Just like real flowers, we work seasonally, so once a design is made, we can only reproduce it so many times before it’s gone.

For us, luxury is anything that is handmade. It’s not about the price tag or the brand name. When it comes to our work, we may have the same design, but each of our pieces is a little bit different because it’s made by hand. Some people think there is no consistency with this approach but I want to ensure each piece is unique and special. Imagine going on two walks. One on the sidewalk of a suburban neighborhood, where each house has the exact same fence, same color, shape and lawn. Now imagine walking through a Victorian-lined street in New Orleans, where each home has a different color, some purple, some green and each has different detailing. Your eyes are probably going to enjoy the second walk. It more closely resembles nature, where no tree, flower, shape or color is consistent. That’s beauty.

Do you have an all-time favorite piece?
EW: I don’t think I could pick! I’m just so excited that this has come to life.

Your retail space is a total haven, what was the design process like?
EW: I derive a lot of my inspiration going on long walks. One day, I came across an exquisite Victorian home in San Francisco covered in beautiful vines and flowering plants. The exterior was teal contrasted with a bright red garage. This was the original inspiration for the store, where you’ll find red curtains against blue chinoiserie wallpaper. It’s definitely a maximalist design. I think the world today has become too minimal modern. I like when people lean into themselves. It makes for a more interesting experience.

How do you give back?
EW: Our mission is to celebrate positivity and happiness and part of the way we’re doing this is through meaningful collaborations, partnerships and a supportive community of ambassadors. Right now we are partnering with Roots of Peace, an organization improving the lives of people in Afghanistan through their work with local farmers to plant over 5 million trees, creating more than 10,000 full-time jobs and facilitating exports worth over $125 million. Our work with Roots of Peace is going toward increasing the number of cherry trees grown, which directly improves the lives of farmers and their families. With each headpiece sold, East Darjeeling donates $3 to Roots of Peace, enough to cover the cost of planting one tree.



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