It's a rare catalog that is so deeply personal—and deeply felt—as Sacred Silks, the creation of Californian Angela Joy Coppola. Her product: reproductions on silk of stained glass windows and other designs from sacred sites around the world.
Born to a Jewish mother and an Italian father, Coppola had two uncles in the garment business who manufactured high-end women's coats and suits and a third uncle who sold fabric. As a girl, she spent hours watching the designers at work, the cutters, the fitters and the models.
At age 17, she was the best-dressed secretary in the purchasing department at Revlon, making $73 a week and wearing $500 suits and dresses — all given to her at cost by her uncles.
At age 21, she went to work for Fabergé as assistant director of advertising and promotion and was put in charge of buying all print production — from brochures to shipping boxes. In a succession of promotions, Coppola went on to become a brand manager, director of marketing for the Xanadu Division and, finally, at the ripe old age of 28, creative director.
Two years later, she moved to San Francisco where she was hired as vice president and creative director for Holiday Magic, a company that sold health and beauty aids direct to consumers.
On Her Own
Figuring she had learned everything needed to run a business, Coppola started her own skincare company, Secrets of the Earth.
"At big corporations, other people ran the business and coped with the finances," she says. "I got my MBA at Secrets of Earth. I learned how not to run a company." She adds ruefully, "It didn't make it."
After taking a year off, Coppola decided the best kind of business was one with no inventory. So she started an advertising agency and quickly landed a number of big-name accounts including Levi's, Jordache men's swimwear, and Celine and Galanos perfumes. After 16 years, she had socked away a stash of cash.
"Working under constant deadlines in a business where other people, such as clients, make decisions and change everything was debilitating," she says. "I was burned out, so I simply closed up shop and spent the next five years getting to know myself and trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life."
At a social gathering in San Francisco, the wife of the dean of Grace Cathedral asked Coppola to volunteer some time to help generate revenue for the church gift shop. Since she lived two blocks from the cathedral, she agreed and thought no more about it.
Late one evening, Coppola was walking by Grace Cathedral and glanced up. One of the stained glass windows was lighted from behind, the colors glittering like jewels against the inky night sky. It suddenly hit her that the window would make a fabulous silk scarf.
"It was a little voice deep within me," she says. "I wasn't thinking about starting a new business. I had not even been to the gift shop to see what they were selling. I feel I was divinely inspired. It was the first of a series of small miracles in my life."
The next day she called the dean's wife who loved the idea at once. Coppola called a contact, someone whom she knew had made a scarf for the city of San Francisco. The photograph was taken and as she was watching the strike-off — the first raw silk print of the scarf — that same little voice told her she could do the same thing for sacred sites of all religions around the world. She crafted a business plan and booked a trip to Europe to look at stained glass windows and artworks.
One window she wanted to include in the burgeoning collection was the Southern Rose Window of Notre Dame de Paris. Designed in 1260, and known for the radiant pink and crimson tones developed in Paris' famous glass workshops, the window depicts Christ of the Apocalypse, the Twelve Apostles, 24 Martyrs and Martyr Virgins with angels completing the design's outer edge. Coppola called the French consulate in San Francisco, the French embassy in Washington, even the French government in France and got a runaround. France was only interested in promoting French products abroad, not the other way around, she was told.
"But Notre Dame makes money on it from sales in the cathedral," she explained, "and gets a royalty on every scarf sold. Can't you help me?"
"Pas du tout," was the response. "Not at all."
Coppola recounts her next moves: A couple of weeks before she was to leave on the trip, she got an e-mail from an old friend who was coming to town, a man she had not seen in three years. It turned out his godmother worked in the mayor's office in Paris. Two days later Coppola was in touch with the right person at Notre Dame.