Laura Nelli is a creative. You know it the second you speak to her, her passionate eyes and warm smile giving way to a world of endless ideas and compassionate enthusiasm. But that’s also her title as part of the cutting-edge ad agency Zeus Jones; a place that encourages its employees to take risks and be bold. Before joining Zeus Jones, Ms. Nelli wore many hats—one of them being the founder of her highly successful handbag line, Nelle. Created in 2004, Nelle’s beautiful clutches have since been featured in everything from O Magazine to Martha Stewart Weddings. Ms. Nelli’s latest venture, Ms. Made explores the in-betweens of life while heralding in a new chapter of her own. We sat down with Laura to talk creative exploration, enjoying the moment, and why a cucumber press just can’t be beat.
S&TF: Hi Laura! Okay let’s start off talking about these drinks. Why is a cucumber press your drink of choice? How would you say it matches your personality?
L: The Cucumber Press contains gin, which I think is crisp and refreshing – a lot like me. I know that there’s something sensual and seductive about bourbon, whiskey, and scotch and I’ve tried so hard to enjoy those liquors, but at the end of the day I always find my way back to gin! This drink in particular is my fav because it’s not sweet or super tart, and goes down like a glass of water. What more could you want?
L: Cheers! Lay the questions on me, let’s do this.
S&TF: What five words would you use to describe yourself?
L: I’m a fun-maker and with that I guess you could say I’m a little silly—people give silly such a bad rap, but I say forget that, the world needs more silly. I’m also curious, resourceful, and loving.
S&TF: What have been the biggest obstacles you’ve faced in terms of personal growth?
L: I would say overcoming belief structures that were handed down to me— this has been incredibly challenging—And also being okay with yourself. When I was younger a lot of what drove my passion for Nelle was a sense of proving worth and ability to those around me. What I came to realize is that even when people were surprised and amazed by my achievements I didn’t feel better inside. That realization was a major lesson for me, and I think a great lesson for anyone that thinks they’ll find fulfillment and wholeness in achievement and success. You really, really have to learn who you are with open eyes, and when you discover this information you’ll need to love all of those icky and amazing parts. It’s no surprise that I am still on this journey, one I’ll probably be on the rest of my life.
S&TF: Do you consider yourself more of an introvert or extrovert?
L: I am a total introvert, but I get my energy from people. A total contradiction—I know, but I like being around people for awhile and then I need my all by myself down time to think, create, and renew.
S&TF: What’s your favorite thing about Minneapolis?
L: Everyone is so supportive in the creative community. You can really try new things here and find support. I think Minneapolis is a really hopeful city and that’s a nice thing to be around.
S&TF: How did you meet your husband?
L: I met him my sophomore year of college; he was a freshman and the super smart guy in the class. At the time, I was too busy being wild and crazy to have a quality relationship with him, much less anyone else. But then my “super senior year”—because I transferred and switched majors—he was in the labs all the time and I was in the labs all the time…I had to introduce him the first day of our photography class so I bombarded him with questions and the whole class giggled. It was just right. I like to say he courted me because we were friends for like 3 months first. He held my hand once, and warmed it up with his hand, before we even kissed or anything. How often does that happen in college? He’s amazing.
S&TF: What advice would you have given yourself 5 years ago?
L: About five years ago, things were really exploding for Nelle, my work had appeared in Oprah and I knew it was awesome but it just didn’t mean anything to me— I mean it meant something to me because I realized what an accomplishment it was and how good it was for the business, but because I was so stressed and working so hard, I couldn’t feel joy about it. So, I guess five years ago I would have said STOP the worry and just be present. Enjoy what’s going on because it’ll all be okay. My grandma always used to say to me “everything changes,” which is kind of a morbid thought but it’s also pretty freeing because the things that are plaguing you today won’t plague you a year from now. It makes it easier to say, meh, it’ll work itself out.
S&TF: How do you think your life has changed since that time?
L: I’m going through a huge period of reinvention and renewal right now, and I have to say I went through this same sort of thing coming right out of school—except I was a lot more optimistic, strong-willed and hopeful, and not as scared as I am now. When I came out of school, nobody was watching, so I could try anything and if I failed it wasn’t a big deal. But trying new things now is a little different. Some people are watching, people know who I am, and if I try things and I fail, people are going to know. So right now, releasing that fear is something I have to actively do, almost to a point of being reckless and trying new ideas. Because things have had to be perfect for a while now, and I don’t know if people have those expectations of me, but I sure do. I was talking to a girlfriend last night about Ms. Made…
S&TF: Your new site!
L: Yes! It’s my new social identity. We were talking about it, and it’s a concept I’ve been tossing around for almost two years. And we were talking about it in this conversation, and we were saying that Ms. Made is not about the destination—it’s about the in between. So I’m really in this period of creative exploration right now and Ms. Made is all about that.
S&TF: It’s an exciting time!
L: It is! But it’s also scary. Nelle was never scary, because it was always about possibility. When I was dreaming about Bendels and Anthropologie and fashion week when I was collating papers, I didn’t actually think they would happen. I just needed the fantasy to keep me going.
S&TF: What was it like working with Anthropologie?
L: They were great. People want to help you and see you succeed. I’ve found that if you do good work, people want to help you do even better work, it’s as simple as that.
S&TF: What’s playing on your iPod right now?
L: I made a Ms. Made playlist to launch my site—called Ms. Made Can Dance—and it’s in the spirit of kicking off the site. It’s filled with Chromeo and the Ting Tings and a little Biggie, because “Juicy” was basically the theme song to Nelle.
S&TF: What’s on your bucket list?
L: I don’t have a bucket list. My goal when I left Nelle was to go out and eat and drink more with friends, spend more time with my husband, hold down a job…
S&TF: Live the in-between.
L: Yeah. Living like a normal person is kind of my goal. Since launching Ms. Made, people have wanted to know what it is and what it serves but it really is just about exploration and questioning and not really knowing. I don’t know what the next chapter of life will provide me, but I know it will be something and I know there will be something else after that. I’m in a state of ambiguity and I like that.
S&TF: What’s on your pizza, Ms. Made?
L: I love Chicago-style pizza. Lou Malnati’s is my favorite pizza place, it’s in Chicago. They ship frozen! Get it girl.