Interviews

Lauren Abend


May 4, 2016

As Lauren showed us around the jewelry and accessories showroom at Mega Mega Projects, the fashion PR agency and wholesaler that she co-founded, she told us about growing up in the woods, living abroad before she settled in NYC, the importance of Shabbat dinner, and the funny women she admires.

Describe your early years.

I grew up outside of Boston, although I was born in California, so I would like to think I’m still a little bit of a West Coast girl at heart. I grew up making forts and running around the woods semi-clothed and reading. I have two younger brothers, and we went through phases of hating each other, as siblings do.

In high school, I got really involved with the arts and theater, in particular, and that led me to do my undergraduate degree in London. I took a gap year between high school and college and lived in Los Angeles, did an internship at some casting offices and agencies and realized that it was not for me.

In London, I studied theater.

I thought I wanted to act on stage and be the next Judi Dench or be the female version of playwright Harold Pinter.

Then, I realized that I would like to eat food, which you need money for, so being Harold Pinter was a really terrible idea.

I had always loved fashion. When I was in middle school, I thought I wanted to be a fashion designer, but that seemed too out of reach and crazy, so I let it go. You know when you write yourself a letter and your teacher says, “In 10 years, I’ll send this to you…”? My letter was like, “By now, you’ll be starting your fashion line because you’ll already be a famous actress.” That was my goal.

When my visa expired and I moved to NYC, I got a job as the retail director for a brand called Rogan, which was a CFDA award-winning men’s and womenswear line. I got to run the show for their flagship store on the Bowery and helped them with their e-commerce and with wholesale and reviewing the line. When I was ready for a change, I was thinking about doing something with emerging designers. The recession was just starting to calm down, and all the Brooklyn designers were hitting their peak, and I thought, “None of these people know how to approach the stores or how to get into them and maybe I can help.” I met Meghan, who was doing freelance PR for a couple of designers that I knew. I helped her find the liquor sponsor for a party and she was like, “Who’s this girl? She’s fun and helpful.” Then we started Mega Mega Projects together.

What’s your earliest memory?

It was in California at a birthday party.It’s very hazy and sun-drenched, and there was cake. It was at my nursery. The daughter of the woman who ran it was my best friend and the reason I was potty trained at 18 months. She was a full year older than me and I asked, “How do you get those underwear?,” and my mom said, “This is how you do it,” and I was like, “Done.” Fashion’s always been a really important part of my life. I wanted that big girl underwear.

What are your parents like?

I consider myself very lucky. My parents are both pretty awesome. My dad started a company the year that I was born, which was a terrible idea. He likes to brag that he had his first kid and quit his last job and started his first company all in the same year. The story that I’ve heard is that my mom said, “OK, but don’t ask me for help,” and, within 6 months to a year, she was helping him, obviously, and, by the end, she was the COO of the company. Because my parents went through starting a business, they have been really supportive of Mega Mega. I remember having a conversation with my mom one day where I asked, “Were there days when you just wanted to give up?” She said, “Uh, days? Try months.”

How did Judaism play a role in your upbringing?

I was bat mitzvah’ed. Both of my parents were, as well. My mom’s mother spoke Yiddish fluently, which I always thought was really cool. In fact, I had a really terrible Hasidic landlord in Williamsburg and, at one point, there was a big issue and she was like, “I’m gonna call him and yell at him in Yiddish and then we’ll see what he thinks.”

When I was 10 or 11, we started doing Shabbat dinner. We would have a sit down dinner together every night, but I think my mom wanted it to be a little more special. We did the blessings and sat in the dining room and used the nice china. It was really nice and I think that that’s how I would want to do it with my family.

There are only positive things that can come from Shabbat dinner.

What advice would you give to your teenage self?

To not worry so much about getting into the right colleges, making sure I got straight A’s. It makes sense that now I do sales where I’m like, “I want the result.” I could have had a little more fun, but I didn’t let myself because I might not get an A. I didn’t really go out on dates with boys in high school because I thought, “Well, I’m not gonna get married to you, so what’s the point?” Now, I think, “Why didn’t you? God, that would have been fun. He was cute, just go out with him, whatever.”

Describe your personality.

My new thing is trying to be more mindful. I’m going to stop biting my nails, I’m not joking. Just being aware of what’s going on gives you the opportunity to say, “OK, what I can do about this?” It’s not like mindfulness and meditation are going to suddenly get you to be this enlightened person who doesn’t get angry anymore, but, if you are gonna get really frustrated about something, it’ll be more like, “Wait, I’ve become aware of the situation, I’m gonna hold on.”

I’m very ambitious. One of the things that I’m most proud of is the fact that I am able to take risks. I have a high threshold for that. My friends are very important to me. I spend a lot of time with my parents and my brothers. I like to cook, I don’t like to clean as much. I like things to be very fair.

What does your company do?

Mega Mega does press and wholesale for jewelry and accessory brands. Meghan runs the PR team and I run the Sales team and we run the business together. I sell our clients’ work to stores like Barney’s, Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, Harvey Nichols, major department stores worldwide, and smaller independent boutiques in every small town.

One of the nice things about working with fine jewelry is that these people are creating things that last generations. Fashion is fun and we like it and appreciate it, but there’s something very transient about it and not substantial. Fine jewelry is for a certain set of people, because it can be very expensive, but when you get to something like an engagement ring, you can do that at various price points and you know it’s something that’s going to mean a lot to people. There’s something really nice about working in that world.

We’ve been doing a lot of consulting recently. There are a lot of designers out there who aren’t really sure where to take their collection next or how to get from this little baby idea to having a full fledged brand and how to promote it the way that buyers and editors can digest it. We help them.

What’s something that makes you smile?

Flowers make me smile, every time.

Biggest insecurity or fear?

Owning a business is both a really empowering thing and a really terrifying thing. I have payroll every two weeks. That’s really scary. These people rely on us for their livelihoods. That’s a lot of pressure.

When do you feel like the best version of yourself?

Saturday mornings around 11. When I have done some kind of physical activity and when I get out into nature.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Oh, man. I wish that I could say it was a lot of jewelry, but it’s not. I actually don’t buy myself a lot of jewelry. I did buy myself a really expensive Lanvin handbag once. It’s one that not a lot of people have, which I like. It’s not an “it” bag. I probably spend most of my money on shoes, and I do tend to buy more expensive skincare products and makeup. It’s going on my face, on my body, and I can make sure that it’s organic and natural and really good for me.

Which brands do you trust?

I like Weleda, their stuff is really good. There’s a French brand called Nuxe. We go to Paris twice a year for work. The French pharmacies are incredible. They have the most amazing stuff, and it’s cheaper there than it is here. So, I tend to buy myself a lot. I really like Nars.

How does being Jewish fit into your everyday life now, if at all?

I don’t know if it fits into my everyday life, but I do enjoy having it be a part of my life, especially when it comes to family. I love my grandparents’ seder, it’s amazing. My grandfather dresses up. Everybody reads the Haggadah and he buzzes you in the middle of the sentence and the next person has to pick it up or everybody boos. It’s really funny. It’s a way of keeping me connected to them, which I think is really, really important.

I would like to have a similar approach to my parents’. Shabbat dinners, I would certainly expect my kids to get bar and bat mitzvah’ed. I think that those are all really important milestones. When I was 13, after I had my bat mitzvah, I decided that the next year I didn’t have to go to High Holy Days services, and my parents were like, “What are you talking about?” I said, “Well, now I’m an adult, I get to make the decision. I’m not going.” They said, “Your brothers are going, you’re going, get in the car, this is not an option for you.” I remember asking my dad why we did it, and he said, “Because I’m Jewish, your mother’s Jewish, and if you’re going to practice a religion, then I would want you, ideally, to practice this one.”

That is what my approach would be: introducing my kids to their heritage and letting them play with it and interact with it. If they want more, they can have more, and if they want less, they can have a little bit less.

Which living person do you most admire?

I really like some of the female comedians that are out there right now. Amy Poehler or Tina Fey or Amy Schumer. The girls on Broad CityBeyoncé, I’m not gonna lie.

Who are your favorite writers? What books have you been reading?

I’m currently reading City on Fire, and I really, really like it. I like John Steinbeck, in terms of canon. F. Scott Fitzgerald is a favorite. As far as new, more current authors – Jeffrey Eugenides, I love him.

What do you love most about New York?

How diverse it is. Not all cities are like that. The food here is amazing.

What’s your favorite restaurant or meal?

The chicken liver at a place called Bianca on Bleecker Street. I don’t even know if it’s there anymore. It was so good. It was a pile with lots of bread. Last night, I went to this place called Sevilla on the corner of W. 4th and Charles. It’s this old Spanish restaurant, and we sat at the bar, and they brought the fried potatoes over and you ordered a drink, the house wine was amazing, the paella was so good, it was great. I think we’ll probably be regulars there.

What’s a cause that you care a lot about?

Making sure that women have an equal say, voice, have control over their own bodies, careers, paychecks, all of that. I think it’s really important and it’s not good enough yet.

What’s the best Jewish food?

I secretly really like gefilte fish, but I don’t think that’s the best Jewish food. Bagels and lox, but it has to be from a really really good place. Must be H&H, but now that’s gone.

What’s the worst Jewish food?

Rollmops. Nope. Mmhmm. I can’t hang with that.

Is there anything else you want to share?

I like being Jewish. There are a lot of people like me who feel much more culturally inclined towards it than religiously inclined towards it. I love the idea of bridging that and accepting it and being like “It’s OK, Judaism can be a culture, it doesn’t have to be purely a religion.” Some people might find that horribly offensive, but that’s how I’ve always connected to it, so it’s nice that it’s being recognized.

Photos by Andrew Avrin

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