Jennifer Paccione’s West Village apartment is a little slice of Italy in New York City. Her furniture is a mish-mash of beautiful mid-century modern pieces and things that her Italian architect husband, Alberto, made for her. A bottle of Aperol perches on top of her fridge, and a tin with the word ‘pasta’ emblazoned on the front in cursive writing sits on her kitchen bench. If that’s not enough, she has little mementoes from her years living in Italy pinned on her walls, and her coffee table holds dishes of gummies and cookies, patiently waiting to welcome the next guest.
Jen runs all creative for By Babba, a creative marketing company. In her spare time, she’s a freelance fashion writer/editor, and is the founder of Mediterraneo Studio, an adorable ‘shoppable creative studio’ that is known for tiny chilli and shell earrings that beg to be worn to take the wearer on a mental vacation to Southern Italy. She sources all her charms from an old lady in Italy, and her gold from an old man in Chinatown.
Her company is calming, her sense of style is playful and the ease that she balances all these different things in her life is inspiring. We sat down for happy hour at Caffe Dante in the West Village amongst the sound of wine glasses and Thursday post-work chatter to chat about Mediterraneo.
West Village, NYC. Edited for clarity.
JT: What’s your full time job and what do you do on the side?
JP: I’m the Creative Manager at By Babba, a brand marketing agency based in New York. My day to day is overseeing all things creative with the agency and our clients. No two days are the same, so it’s very interactive. On the side, I have Mediterraneo Studio, a shoppable creative studio. Right now we sell products.
JT: Why ‘shoppable project studio’ to describe Mediterraneo?
JP: I do a lot of things on the side. I’m currently a writer, a freelance fashion editor, I’m writing my own book and I’m interested in photography. The way that Mediterraneo is described came out of a conversation with my husband, an architect who is super super creative. It was like, “How do we merge all of our talents together and make a brand?” It started as a service brand and then it spiraled into products. I love creating jewelry, so we took the most broad name and description we could to avoid limiting ourselves to just being product based or service based.
If you could shop a portfolio of us, that’s what it is. Anything we can do - we will sell. [laughs]
JT: Is there a line you would draw for what you would not sell? Something you would want to protect as an interest rather than monetize?
JP: I’m really picky when it comes to design. I currently design everything myself, and it has to suit me. If it doesn’t, it’s not a natural fit and it’s immediately off the table. There have been different design iterations of earrings that maybe didn’t look good on me, but I was told oh, they may look good on someone else. I immediately tabled that. If it doesn’t look good on me and I can’t even walk around in my own design, then I absolutely won’t sell it. I think it really needs to feel very authentic.
JT: A lot of newer, Instagram-based jewellery brands are based on what will sell or what is trendy. It’s interesting to put a line in the sand regarding what your taste is and what you believe in.
JP: Yeah, exactly. The beauty behind a side hustle is that you’re not quite dependent on it and the creativity is really there first and foremost. I was just speaking to someone the other day about how I don’t really believe in the natural format of things at all, like anything in life, but in particular with this, I’ve been told you need to come out with the next product - what’s the next design, what’s the next earring. I don’t know when that will be, it’ll just be when I’m inspired. I don’t put deadlines on myself, I will create when I feel inspired, rather than chase the fashion calendar or sales.
JT: And that’s the beauty of having it as a side thing, right? You can invest as much time as you want, it's really up to you. Why did you start in the first place? Was there something missing in your day to day life?
JP: It started when I was living in Italy. I was working as a freelance fashion editor and I had a lot of free time because I was remote on a lot of my projects, and I just had the idea that I wanted to create my own brand. From when I was little, I always wanted something of my own, my dad was like, “What do you wanna be when you grow up?” and when I respond with anything he’d say, “That’s wonderful, but you’re going to be your own boss first and foremost; you’re going to work for yourself”, so I always knew that was my priority. When the name Mediterraneo came up, I knew that was it.
I have family from Southern Italy and I’ve always felt connected to that area, to the way it’s portrayed, the imagery surrounding it, the films that are made there. I’ve been always so connected there and felt so much inspiration that it just seemed like the perfect fit to embody everything I was trying to portray. Originally, it was going to be skincare, and I was really sitting on it for a while. I went to visit my husband in Portugal, he had a dream about it and he woke up the next morning, “I had a dream about Mediterraneo last night. Today is the day you’re finally going to go for it.” And he dragged me to the jewelry store in Portugal and said, “Go for it.”
So I started picking out designs and getting creative, but he’s really the one who pushed me to do it. It really took off with jewelry, and it was what I could make myself with my own hands, and I really enjoyed it.
JT: I was interested in your husband and his involvement. How do you split the responsibilities?
JP: He will say that it’s completely mine; it came from my idea, the designs are mine, I control all of the creative direction around it, but he really is such a huge help. He really was the one who pushed me, inspired me and gave me the courage to go for it. He’s the biggest possible believer in it. Currently, he likes to say he helps with all the logistics, he knows how to make all the styles himself; last night he was sitting there making them, so he’s the biggest fan. He’s always trying to come up with new ideas and create different things for it.
JT: Where do you get all the charms from?
JP: The peppers are sourced from Naples, Italy. I actually buy them myself. I was really inspired there, and Naples’s symbol is the peperoncino. And this [gestures to her ear] is from the Mediterranean, and the shells are actually from Germany.
JT: When you source more charms, are they just going to be from all over the world?
JP: There’s something about the feeling that you brought something from another country to a person that can’t travel there or hasn’t visited, so there’s a little bit of wanderlust behind the piece when it comes from another place.
JT: I read on Tictail your store is described as “The taste of an Italian Summer.” It evokes a feeling of being on vacation. Is that what the jewelry is meant to feel like?
JP: When it officially started, it was just turning into Summer in Portugal, and me and Albe moved to his father’s home just outside of Venice, and it was this big house in a farm town. It your typical film Italian summer, and there was nothing to do. It was just relaxing or bike riding, and we had so much time, and that’s when Mediterraneo really really grew and we were working on it every day, and we had orders coming through. I think it always comes back to that Summer and I always want to portray that Summer.
JT: You’re two people. In the West Village apartment. That’s awesome. This is a really big endeavour, it’s a lot for two people. What keeps you going?
JP: I think the idea of having something to call your own is extremely motivating. I think I’ve always been the type to take on as much as I can. I rarely say no to opportunities and I always take on more than I can even handle myself, so it’s a natural evolution of that. I think there’s a different kind of passion associated behind a project that’s yours. I think that’s really what keeps me going. I think there are moments when I’m tired, and there are moments when I’m like, “Mediterraneo is closed tonight.” I come home from work, and I can’t talk about it, but apart from that, there are also nights that I’m up until 2AM because I am so creatively energized. It’s up to me to work on this.
JT: I love the idea that there is a different kind of passion that comes from doing something for yourself. It reminds me of the thing about cows having seven stomachs.
JP: Different concepts, but I was speaking with a friend who’s a new mother and she was saying she didn’t know that she carried the energy that she now has. You think you’re tired but then you get a second wind and you keep going. I think your body can tap into energy when needed, and when you have a side project, it’s entirely dependent on you and there’s a different sense of stamina that can keep you going.
JT: Are there little wins you celebrate?
JP: Something I celebrated recently, which may be a mini celebration for others but for me was a big one, was about my husband’s family in Italy. They’re very talented at sewing and creating garments and reupholstering things. They saw the momentum that our brand is having and called us one weekend and said, “We want to be part of Mediterraneo. What can we sew for you? What can we make? What can we design? We’ll go to the vintage markets here in Italy and we’ll pick up stuff and source things, we just want to be part of it.”
To me, that was such a win, more than a sale or any acknowledgement on social media. People are believing in the brand, and to get a message from family who want to be part of something because they see it from the outside view and really believe in it, that to me was a beautiful moment. We’re creating something that people are reacting to.
JT: That is the dopest backstory in the world.
JP: Yeah! This little factory called my husband’s aunt, uncle, grandmother.
JT: Do you think part of it your joy with Mediterraneo is because it’s supplemental, not your main source of income?
JP: I wonder, but also to the same extent I’m a bit stubborn, so I like things a certain ways and I’ve never really done anything by the norm.
It’s kind of like my move to Italy, I wasn’t prepared, but when it happened, I just packed up all my things and made it happen. I became a fashion editor and was printed in magazines in Italy in both English and Italian without a journalism degree. I don’t think I’ve ever played by the rules. Even if I was dependent on Mediterraneo as my main source of income, there’s still that element of stubbornness. If it isn’t true and genuine and really authentic, I wouldn’t be interested.
JT: It’s such a beautiful capsule of your soul, that’s why people want to buy it! Cause without soul, what’s the point really?
JP: As a writer, I’m more a sucker for a story than anything else but there’s definitely a story behind any brand, and if it’s not authentic, people pick up on that. And I think if it is, people really react to it.