Lilyan James is a line of leather handbags and accessories based in Nashville, Tennessee. Designer Lindsey Stewart Sherrod creates her collection for "the women that forge their own paths." Crafted by hand using responsibly sourced leathers, each piece is made from the tradition of equestrian leatherwork. She made her popular Leather Swing Bag for Goodwin in an exclusive French blue.
We visited the designer at her new home to chat about style evolution, carving out time for connection and hot chicken.
Photography by Chelsea O'Leary for Goodwin.
Lilyan was your grandmother’s name. How was Lilyan James born, and was she the inspiration behind the line?
Yes, she is the foundation, and everything flowed from there. I have been very lucky to always have the presence of skillful women in my family. The southern woman is often portrayed as one who wears white gloves and sits at garden parties with totes and simple dresses. My grandmother is not that. She is elegant and wise, but her character is not particularly defined by a certain set of fashion rules. It is a quality that isn't necessarily cultural, but more reflective of her values and understanding of the world. Yet, she has a keen awareness of trends. I laughed last season over a conversation that we had in her living room. I looked up and there she was at age 92 wearing a black turtleneck and silver, sculptural earrings. I don't know how she does it but perhaps she is further proof that, like many of our grandmothers, style ages well. I want to explore what that type of enduring style looks like in different seasons of life and break away from the mold or expectation that a woman has to dress or look one way.
What is your process for designing new pieces?
I hate the word, but like many artists it is organic. I try to escape from all that is online. It is too much of the same. I hang out with real people. I listen to what is going on around me. I consider what does and does not work for me personally. I make samples and wear or carry them as part of my everyday life.
Your home is full of beautiful photos that feel really storied and special—did you take most of these yourself?
I sort of had this moment a couple of years ago where I realized that my social accounts were not reflecting memories that I truly valued in my life. I had all of these hidden experiences residing on my phone in the form of photographs. Yet, I couldn't enjoy them every day. They needed to be a part of my life. The images aren't necessarily monumental to anyone else - me and my husband sharing a kiss in front of the Eiffel Tower, the day we got our rescue pup, or when we went on a 4th of July hike with our friends. But, they represent small moments or mark passages in my life.
One of my favorite photos is one that I shot on my iPhone from a cafe in Paris. I looked over and this woman was placing her bike on a bike rack. Very everyday, but to me it was a feeling that I wanted to remember. Being there, sharing a meal with my husband and enjoying life rather than trying to force a moment. From there, it snowballed into finding as many family photos as I could - my grandfather working in Miami and delivering fish to Al Capone's house as a teenager, my great grandmother in a large straw hat on vacation, and me and my sisters dancing on the porch of the blue, A-frame house that my dad built out in the country.
Design, to me, is as much of a feeling as it is a visual image. We can surround ourselves with beautiful things and imagery, but if they don't hold a connection to us, the objects can feel very cold. So in our new place, I decided to simply surround myself with images and things that made me feel like myself.
Where do you seek inspiration?
People. It is often assumed that I am introvert because I tend to be quiet, but I am not. I am an extrovert who grew up in a house with introverts, so I am comfortable with silence. I like to listen. People say such deep things when we really listen. Conversations will often inspire a shape, a silhouette or a texture for me. My friend Cheyenne is one of the deepest people that I know and I love listening to her. Another friend, Juliana, and I started a group here for women who recently moved to Nashville. I simply love talking and listening to people. I guess I create things that try to spark those kinds of conversations and I am really inspired by that. Right now, I am exploring a season of my grandmother's life in Japan. That is where my dad grew up and, through conversations with my grandmother about her life there, I want to honor that in some way.
What is your favorite thing about your home?
The sunlight. My husband jokes that like a flower I wilt without natural light.
What are your top three must-visit spots in Nashville?
I think everyone has to experience Prince's Hot Chicken at least once in your life. One of the creative agencies here compiled an incredibly well-written piece on the cultural and racial history of hot chicken in Nashville. It's worth a read. I also like Big Al's Deli. The sweet tea reminds me of the way my mother made it. Then, there is Epice. Relaxing on their patio is how I would finish a weekend trip here. The hummus is the best I've had outside of the Middle East and their staff is so knowledgeable and kind.
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