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On Leadership publishes a weekly video series with prominent national and international leaders. Complete archives available here.

Transcript: Wendy Brandes on why fashion 'torments' women leaders

Before switching career paths into jewelry design, Wendy Brandes spent 15 years in media and marketing, working at People.com, the Wall Street Journal and investment banking firm Lehman Brothers. In 2004, after designing her own engagement and wedding rings, Brandes became a full-time entrepreneur, drawing on her affinity for strong, powerful women leaders to fuel her own collection. Her website-store offers a mix of whimsical pendants, bold statement rings and eye-catching earrings, some inspired by iconic figures such as Cleopatra and Anne Boleyn, and others taking their story from more obscure sources, such as Marie-Thérèse Charlotte, the eldest daughter of Marie Antoinette. Her latest achievement?

Getting a pair of her earrings into the recently released "Sex and the City" sequel.

For Brandes, the allure of these luxury items - some cost as much as $15,000 - lies in the backstory of the women who have inspired them. Like so many successful entrepreneurs, Brandes has an eye for detail: Many of her items have a mechanical element, allowing them to open and close, unscrew or twist to reveal some hidden detail, such as a tiny silver chicken tucked inside a gold egg. As she steers her small company and attempts to grow its presence through social media, she draws on her own experiences with good and bad leadership and takes notes from the success and failures of famous women around the world. -- Holly Thomas, Washington Post Magazine fashion writer

WATCH THE VIDEO: Wendy Brandes on why fashion torments women leaders

Wendy Brandes:
It can be dangerous in some positions to change your look too much because people will get distracted by that and it's much more an issue for women as it is for men.

Holly Thomas: I'm Holly Thomas, and this is On Leadership, and I am a fashion writer for the Washington Post Magazine, and I am here today with Windy Brandes, a New York-based jewelry designer.

Your current collection deal with important women leaders from the past, and I am wondering how those leaders have given you a background that puts today's leaders into context?

Brandes: There are definitely cautionary tales among the women who inspire me -- they inspire the art, and they don't necessarily inspire you to go down their path. One that comes to mind is Empress Matilda of the 1100s, who was supposed to inherit the throne of England, and her cousin Steven stole it from her, saying primarily that she was a woman and shouldn't hold the throne, and they fought a civil war that lasted 19 years, and she won at one point she has Steven locked up. She had all the technique to get herself to that point of success and then was not able to come through after you get to that level. And that, oddly, makes me think of Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, he's not really the day to day operations guy, and Facebook has taken huge hits. And I feel as with Empress Matilda, you have to know what you are not good at, and you have to know when to have other people step in or you might lose everything.

Thomas: So since you are a figure in the fashion and jewelry industry, what kind of role does fashion and jewelry and self presentation play in politics and popular culture?

Brandes: In politics and business, you want one kind of presentation, and you need it to be very consistent, but it's hard for women to win because if you dress too fashionably people will complain about that, and if you dress too unfashionably people are going to complain about that too. I think Hillary Clinton has just been tormented by fashion over the years, and I think we all need to accept she does not have a stylish bone in her body. It is okay, she is focused on other things.

Thomas: In terms of Michelle Obama, she is very fashionable, and do you feel that helps her or does it work against her?

Brandes: I feel like the fashion buzz about her has died down a bit, there is not a one hundred percent focus on her [fashion], which is great. She is kind of doing the Elizabeth the First thing of walking the fine line and getting recognized without becoming that she's 100 percent about fashion; I think that she is doing a good job of that.

Thomas: Do you think that Sarah Palin's fashion sense, what role did that have in her story?

Brandes: I thought it was a little funny about when people complained about her styling costs and so on, because I think now people have such a high standard in what they expect to see in front of the camera, they do, and if you look like Hillary then you get slammed, so then you want someone to look better, but then you get slammed for that too. It is expensive to have that kind of image.

Brandes: The first piece of advice I always give people, and people ask me all the time, when they say, "What should I do to start my jewelry or fashion company?" I always say don't do it, and if they get upset from that, then they are not cut out for this. People will pour negativity on you, it's just relentless, if you do anything different, if you do anything the same, there are always going to be people criticizing you, and that's the hardest thing. You are your own leader, there is no one to follow, and it's a tough thing to do.

By On Leadership video transcripts

 |  June 23, 2010; 12:27 PM ET
Category:  Video transcript , Women in Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Wouldn't it be great if we could read about how certain men have a 5 o'clock shadow, pick the wrong ties have ill fitting suits seem to have gained too much weight,etc!?!this is a boring, trashy article.... why is it in a newspaper?

Posted by: lsf07 | June 25, 2010 3:10 PM
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Between the two of these "fashionistas," I'm not sure who has the worst hair cut and color, boring black shapeless drape, or non-complimentary lipstick. Next!

Posted by: achamblee | June 25, 2010 2:38 PM
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The media makes such a fuss about this that it becomes an issue. And I find it is women who are kicking up the most fuss. For shame.

Posted by: poppysue85 | June 25, 2010 11:20 AM
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#1) i've never heard of her
#2) i went to her website and saw her 'stunning' rendition of the mudflap grrrl with ruby nipples
#3) so i'm to trust someone's opinion about women in power that designs jewelry objectifying women?
#3) wapo, you should be embarrassed by this one
#4) garbage

Posted by: msstrez | June 25, 2010 1:28 AM
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