Small Brand Spotlight: Meet The Dynamic Duo Behind Millennial-Beloved MONTSERRAT New York

by Freya Drohan

We love a brand where the fun behind the scenes feels palpable—and that can definitely be said for MONTSERRAT New York. By now, if you’re usually found running around the downtown scene, you’ve probably seen their signature pieces on your Instagram feed, if not in real life on your coolest friends in the city. Having now launched their first lab-grown diamond offering, we needed to know more about who was behind the buzz. Without further ado, meet founders and friends Carolina Cordón-Bouzán and Gayle Yelon! 

Backstories, please!
Carolina: I was born and raised in Manhattan to Spanish parents. English is actually my second language. Growing up, I was fortunate enough to spend the school year in Manhattan, and split my summers between Costa Brava and the Hamptons. I believe the fashion I was exposed to in Spain and New York are reflected in MONTSERRAT’s DNA.

Gayle: I grew up in Long Island and spent a lot of time during high school escaping to the city. I was really hungry to be a part of it all from a young age, I was enthralled with young New York nightlife. I was really creative as early as I can remember. I had one wall in my room that I made this massive collage, from floor to ceiling, covered in magazine cut outs, concert tickets, pictures of friends, cool clothing tags, and even this Hello Kitty store window display I begged them to give me. It was my first mood board!

What else has influenced you?
Carolina: My mother, who unfortunately passed away from breast cancer, introduced me to fashion. She had great style—I have memories of shopping with her, and absorbing the fabrics and trends. I have so many sketches of clothes and jewelry from when I was little, and I would even price them! I think I also had a fascination with fashion because I felt constricted wearing a uniform throughout the week. I could not wait for the weekends to express my personal style! By the time I was in high school I started exploring nightlife in New York and Spain. I adored seeing the fabulous outfits at Pacha Madrid. My outfits were always bold in color and very Studio 54 inspired—elements that are still evident in a lot of my MONTSERRAT designs and collection inspirations today.

 

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What’s your earliest jewelry memory?
Carolina: Getting my ears pierced at my grandfather’s jewelry atelier when I was in kindergarten!

Gayle: My Grandmother taking me in Brooklyn to get a Nomination bracelet. They were super popular in the very early 2000s and maybe even late ’90s, there was a charm aspect to it and I loved how fun it was to customize. Which is clearly reiterated in our Jet Sets now with the charms that we include.

What’s the weirdest job you’ve ever had?
Carolina: One summer I interned at the Molecular Pathology lab at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center where I had to extract bone marrow from mice. It was not glamorous, but it helped me learn that I did not want to pursue a career in science or medicine.

Gayle: I can think of a weird task. One time I had to find and go pick up a Flemish rabbit for my old boss, he became fascinated with them and wanted one as a pet! Google what a Flemish rabbit is, and then you’ll understand.

Tell us about launching MONTSERRAT…when, why, how!
Carolina: Upon graduating college, I worked at a CFDA-incubator brand in the Garment District. We were a small team of three, including the designer and founder herself, so we all did a little bit of everything. I loved running from our office to the factory, working sales at trade shows, and watching the collections come to life from the moodboard to the NYFW presentation. Through this job I realized that my dream of having my own brand, which at times felt like a crazy goal,
could actually become a reality. I began designing clothes under the brand name MILLENNIAL NYC that were more of a streetwear vibe. Things were going well with the brand, and I had even been accepted into a showroom. I eventually parted ways with the showroom at a time when I felt the brand was ready to evolve. I knew that I had to put more of myself into the brand, which felt scary at first, but was really the impetus for MONTSERRAT New York.

 

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What’s the goal with the brand?
Gayle:
Our goal is really to create a brand that represents what we believe to be the modern day hustler, someone who wants pieces that can take them from the office to the hottest party downtown. We want to give our customer products that aren’t fast fashion but are at an attainable price point. There’s a pretty big gap between brands like Zara and Bottega!
Another big pillar for us goals wise is to build an Earth-conscious brand, keep packaging light, waste to a minimum and also bring in materials that do little harm to our planet.

Carolina: I wanted to design pieces that would merge the aesthetics and characteristics of my two worlds of Manhattan and Barcelona. It was around that time that Gayle and I were becoming friends. She was excited about MONTSERRAT and we began working together on the rebrand! We started focusing on The Jet Sets, and began the expansion into jewelry. In our
first month, we sold out of our first Safety Pin Earring in one weekend. And one month later, that same design caught the eye of Baublebar founder Amy Jain, who brought us in for a meeting, which led to our first capsule collection partnership. The rest is history from there!

What have people come to know you for?
Carolina: At the beginning, people definitely knew us for our fun Safety Pin Earrings, and as we grew our jewelry selection people came to know us for our pearl chokers and pearl earrings. Since this summer, I think people are recognizing the brand for our colorful and customizable Jet Sets! Our goal is to be the go-to brand for effortlessly elevated pieces that can take you from the plane to the party, all while keeping sustainable luxury with attainable price points at the forefront.

 

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Carolina, you did a masters at NYU in data and consumerism—how does that help you in your current day to day?
Carolina: Fundamentally, my masters taught me to keep the customer at the core of every decision. We listen to their feedback, and what pieces they want to see from us, and we make it happen for them!

What has the last 18 months been like for the business?
Carolina: A whirlwind! We’re growing quickly, which comes with a few growing pains and life lessons, but it’s all very exciting. We’ve set goals for our business, and I’m so proud of the team for working together to exceed those goals over and over again. We’re a very small team, so it really does feel like a tight-knit family working together to make this dream become a reality. We feel lucky to be working with each other on this brand.

Gayle: We’re a small team so every win feels like the biggest which is awesome. With that being said we carry a lot
on our shoulders, everything is a reflection of us and the brand so we want things to be perfect, but it’s happy stress because we love our jobs! And growing pains are natural…a baby brand has to grow up someday!

Any pinch me moments to highlight?
Gayle:
The party we threw in July, seeing everyone in our Jet Sets was surreal. It helped me envision the future of the brand and really what the Jet Set could be to our generation. The next day there was an article covering the event, the headline was “Who Wasn’t at Montserrat’s Summer Soiree Last Night”. I couldn’t believe it. I am such a planner, on every level, and to have this written about something I planned was really validating.

What styles are proving popular right now? How do you notice or predict a trend ahead of designing?
Carolina: I’m seeing our customers excited to wear pieces that are sexy and make a statement, but that also hold a timeless design that can be worn for years to come. I think our lab-grown diamond pieces are a good example of that, as we’re seeing our Floater Choker, Granada Set, and Faro Earrings quickly becoming best sellers. And I couldn’t even tell you which of our new rich Fall hues for the Jet Sets (Bordeaux, Champagne and Ultraviolet) are the most popular because each bold color is selling so well!

How do you notice or predict a trend ahead of designing?
Carolina:
When I’m designing a collection, I do a lot of research into current trends, the economy, and historical patterns in order to predict how people will want to dress themselves. This is then mixed with instincts I feel into what our customers will resonate with. Our pavé mushroom earrings and necklace are a good example—people on the team thought I was crazy, but the Seta Huggies are constantly sold out! Similarly, I just had a strong feeling that our customer would gravitate to the Jet Set in Fuchsia  and our peachy Apricot colors. I’m trying to keep my head down and not look at what other brands are doing, but rather trust my gut more when it comes to design.

Tell us about the latest launch, the lab-grown diamonds. What do we need to know?
Carolina: Lab-grown diamonds are fabulous! They are 100% exactly the same as mined diamonds—their chemical makeup and properties are identical! The only difference is that one is grown with temperatures and pressures that mimic the sun and the earth, while the other is excavated from our planet. When I first learned about lab-grown diamonds, I couldn’t believe that they were not being used more widely in fashion. When introducing lab-grown diamonds, my goal was to create exciting diamond pieces that couldn’t be found anywhere else, while having attainable price points, as I’m acutely aware that our customers are entrusting us with their investment in diamonds. I wanted these pieces to be versatile in wear and styling, and maintain an air of timelessness. For example, our Barcelona Earrings are 3 earrings in 1, as you can remove part of the earring to create different looks, and feature 32 diamonds at the price of $320…it’s a style that could be worn with jeans and a t-shirt, just as easily as an evening gown.

What’s your own personal jewelry philosophy?
Carolina: Until I got engaged this summer, I was definitely known for all of the gold rings I wore. It was always the same four rings on my left hand, and two on my right hand—all pieces that my grandfather had made. Now, I’ve pared it down to just one ring on my right hand by my grandfather, and my beautiful engagement ring on my left—and yes, she’s a lab-grown
diamond!

What’s your own style like, how would you define it?
Carolina: I would say my own style is a mix of late ’70s glam and streetwear. I wear a lot of my mom’s clothes mixed with trends of today. And if you ask anyone who knows me about my style, I think the first thing they would mention is that I can always be found in my Air Force 1s. I wear them with everything from jeans to dresses.

Gayle: My mom always makes fun of me, every time I buy something I say, ‘I feel like it will be cute with a jean and a kitten heel” and that is really my style. A cute jacket or top, a jean, and a bootie or kitten heel. Or you will find me in a black turtleneck and jeans October through February!

 

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What’s your favorite thing about having the brand based in NYC?
Carolina: Working with local production. I also feed off of the NYC energy a lot when it comes to designing. The hustle and bustle of New York are magical elements that no other city can replicate. I always aim to capture that energy and emulate it in our designs.

Gayle: New York is my first love. Building the brand here is just the ultimate dream. We have access to work with some of the most amazing, creative, and beautiful people. I can’t imagine doing this anywhere else in the world.

Apart from jewelry, and the brand, what else are you passionate about?
Carolina: My family. Having gone through the hardship of losing my mom, I’m very close with my dad and younger brother. My brother and I talk multiple times a day, and my dad lives a few blocks away from me so we do weekly dinners at his place or mine over Negronis and red wine. I also feel so lucky to start building my own family and home with my fiancé Peter— who is my rock, my best friend, and the person who makes me laugh the most.

Gayle: I am a big fitness person! Right now I am training for the New York Marathon which is exciting. I also love to learn about trends in wellness, like what ingredients people are obsessing over or flavor trends. Most recently I’ve been amazed watching everyone obsess over this Emily Mariko salmon rice trend! My Whole Foods was out of frozen white rice and I swear it is because of her.

What’s next?
Gayle: We’re really focusing on our fundraising. We want to grow our brands in a real way and in order to do this we’ll need to scale and fuel this scale with an injection of cash. I am excited to see what strategic investors we bring on and leverage their backgrounds to help us succeed.

Carolina: We’re expanding all of our categories, from jewelry, to our L’objets offerings, to our clothing. Our goal is to keep our website fresh with new products as often as we can so that there’s always something new and exciting when you come to shop on our site. There’s a lot on the horizon, and I can’t wait for you guys to see it all!

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