If fashion’s a language, then Swedish-born Anna Maria Sandegren is multilingual in more ways than one. If you see her wearing wine-red stockings with a mustard yellow 1920s dress one day, it doesn’t mean you can’t expect her in leather pants and boots the next. Her closet is like a trip to Narnia, whimsical and vast – and also telling of her passion for working alongside up-and-coming independent designers with a unique point of view. The creator and editor-in-chief of online publication PRECIOUS 7 is dedicated to giving emerging designers a voice by investing her time in a magazine that is entirely self-funded, ad-free and open to all readers. Last year Anna Maria hit pause on the magazine to make time to work on developing P7 PRODUCTIONS, an organic business that blossomed out of her behind-the-scenes work as creative director and producer at many designer shoots. But now PRECIOUS 7 is back in a new format, having recently launched its revival issue. While fashion comes easy to her, Anna Maria admits her business has had growing pains, including long hours, the need to restructure, and finding the right team. Keeping her mission to foster new designers clearly in mind has helped her stay on course, and this Prevailer continues to share stories that move and inspire others. Anna Maria is always on the lookout for exciting designers with a different perspective, and open to collaboratively supporting new talent across the globe.
The pure joy of just watching them be kids
I grew up in the countryside playing in the woods with bow and arrows
I took a chance and started Precious 7 magazine
Self-actualization at a young age
Stop trying to please everyone
At the age of 3 I started to dance. It was the one way I could express myself without using words
A project born out of passion, creativity and intuition
Can you tell me about PRECIOUS 7?
PRECIOUS 7 is an online magazine that serves as a platform for emerging designers. When we started we were a weekly magazine, then going into the second year we became a monthly magazine – that was for about four years – and now we publish quarterly.
I understand the magazine has a unique format - could you explain?
We used to have one designer take over the whole PRECIOUS 7 site for a month; we interviewed them, talked about their brand in a very personal, connected way, and shot all of our editorial in-house. Oh, and we’re also completely advertising-free; that was one thing that was very very important to me and has stayed the same even though the format’s changed now.
What’s the new format?
We just launched our revival issue on March 7th – it’s the art issue. What I discovered during this journey was that it’s very hard to grasp people and get their interest through just presenting a brand – it’s better to describe a lifestyle. So I’m turning PRECIOUS 7 into a lifestyle magazine now. This particular issue is about art and Art Basel and the up-and-coming design district. We also look at particular structures, buildings and architecture that connects to a designer or brand. The next issue will be the travel issue and we’ll incorporate not just destinations but the other parts of travel, like how to travel, who’s travelling, what they’re doing, his and hers essentials – a complete feel for travel kind of thing.
So the switch to the lifestyle focus just recently happened; why was that an important move to make?
Yes, we re-launched it after being silent for one year; this was due to the fact that behind this a production company kind of happened organically. I had to focus on that part of the business for a year, and take a break from PRECIOUS 7. Now we’re back and publishing every quarter on the seventh of the month, like just recently on March 7th. The next issue will be June 7th and so forth – it’s to give meaning to that precious seventh day.
What is it about seven?
I have seven in all of my company names actually – and it’s also my birthday, April 7th; seven’s been around me my whole life – it keeps following me. My jewelry line is called AVRIL 7, which is April 7th in French. It’s become a thing between my husband and I too – there’s a 7 in the address of every place we stay in every country, it’s kind of weird. My husband never really noticed until I came into his life and pointed out that the address of his original house in Tunisia is No. 7; in Paris, there’s a 7 in the address; and in the South of France our apartment is 7 too. For PRECIOUS 7 we used to do e-commerce and for one week – seven precious days – we sold a curated part of the featured designer’s collection at a very exclusive discount, so there’s an origin there too.
What spurred you to start a publication?
There were a couple of things. At the time I was living in Connecticut and pregnant and I didn’t want to be a stay-at-home mom. Then I’d also done a jewelery course and really fell in love with goldsmithing, and I met some really talented people there. I saw so many people who were brilliant designers but maybe didn’t have the money to make a good website, or they didn’t know how to do it. I come from a marketing background and my husband runs a digital agency in New York, so I thought I could try to combine those things to make a platform, something that could be a portfolio for our work, and that promotes emerging designers. I really love the first five years for designers, but a lot of brands don’t stay alive because it’s hard – that’s pretty much why I created PRECIOUS 7.
What is it about emerging designers that you really appreciate?
I think that in every circle of any business, with any artist, there’s a financial aspect to their creative process. For the first five years – or it could be the first eight – I’ve noticed they have so much passion and they might not come out with the perfect fall collection, but it’s something. They might be on the second term of finance but they’re not driven by the investors so much, they’re driven by their passion. Once they get into the big stores – Barneys, Bloomingdale’s and Neiman Marcus – they need to pump up merchandise and the’re also given colours to shape their collection production. The first years have more of a burning – their artistry is what’s really important to them. That’s why I really like emerging designers.
What qualities do you look for when deciding who to feature?
I really like to see their product. I like to know what they’re doing and why they’re passionate about designing. Most of them have the most inspiring stories to tell. I used to be very focused on jewelry because that was my own interest. Rather than seeing other jewelry designers as competitors I saw them as peers; I wanted to see what we could do to help each other, and that’s still how I see it today with both jewelry and fashion. I’ll give you an example: I featured this girl who was self-financed. She was also heartbroken – her husband cheated on her – and she started to do pole dancing, and from there she created this awesome underwear that was elastic for pole dancers and now it’s a huge fashion brand. I love those stories and it makes me just so much more intrigued with my own life and how my story has formed me.
Could you elaborate on your story?
As I mentioned, it started around when I was pregnant. I had all these ideas for an amazing, gorgeous editorial driven platform to promote other people’s lines; again, what was really important to me was seeing other brands not as competitors but rather as peers. I think we can learn from every single person around us: people that did things well and people that didn’t do it so well and people who did a really bad job – everyone. We can learn from it all and support it all in a way. Anyone I’ve asked to be a part of the magazine is really grateful; they like that someone appreciates what they do and wants to do something for their brand and their story. I like to listen to people and I like to retell their stories. It’s been really an emotional journey for me; I mean, I’ve sat in a space with a designer where both of us start crying or laughing so hard we fall on the floor. Those kinds of life moments are something I’m very passionate about. Maybe I should’ve been a psychologist or a therapist because interactions like that really inspire me – it’s incredible.
Where are you from originally?
I was born in Sweden. My biological father is half Japanese and half Serbian but I was born and brought up in Sweden. I speak Swedish of course, but I don’t speak Japanese or Serbian – my parents had a very brief romance I think.
From what you’ve said so far it sounds like you travel quite a bit - is it mostly for work or pleasure?
Yeah, I do. In my current schedule I’m traveling every month now through September. It’s always related to work. I’m meeting with designers all over the world and shooting content for people. I’m leaving for Greece tomorrow and will be shooting a story for PRECIOUS 7 there but I’m also going to play golf for five days with my father, so business and pleasure go hand-in-hand.
Where did you focus your professional energy before PRECIOUS 7?
I was in fashion. I actually came to New York as a dancer; I’ve danced since I was two-and-a-half years old and I had three scholarships here. When I finished school, the person that I was with at the time said ‘dance is not really a real job – why don’t you get a degree in something else to protect yourself?’ I kind of took that advice; in order to transfer my Associate Dance Fine Arts degree I went to the counsellor in the college and asked which program accepted the greatest amount of the credits I’d already earned. It was literally – as they say in Swedish – pulling a banana peel; that’s how I got into fashion. I wasn’t really into it in the beginning as a 22-year-old ex-dancer, but then I’m not sure what it was – if it was the lines or music or what looks good or works on stage – but fashion started to come very easily to me. I was also very interested in the public relations and marketing behind what leads trends, although not so much the business side. One thing led to another and I’m still here in New York after many years in the industry.
So what did you end up studying?
I went into fashion merchandising and management; my bachelor degree is international marketing with fashion as a minor.
What came next?
I was a buyer for a while. I worked showrooms; I did PR, ran digital marketing campaigns; I managed retail stores and worked with high profile celebrities. I’ve literally worn all the hats – everything, including heaving around the garment bags – although I still do that too.
What drew you most to fashion?
I think it was that fashion can be used as a language. There’s a famous quote that goes something like: “The first language everyone speaks is your dress code.” You judge people right off the bat, before they open their mouths, because you see what they’re wearing. I think I really saw the truth in that. Fashion can be used to communicate and it can be positive or negative. You might walk out sometimes in comfortable clothing, just to go down the street to grab a coffee with your sweats on, and then you stop by so-and-so’s store and notice that they don’t give you the same reaction as when you’re in there next time with your hair and makeup done and wearing beautiful clothes. I thought about how I could use that to my benefit, or use it as a marketing tool even; I think understanding and using wardrobe as a form of communication was the most interesting for me.
How do you go about finding the talent you feature?
It’s usually either word-of-mouth or for some random reason or another I’m interested in something and I happen to come across it. Sometimes it’s on social media or it could be I’m walking around in the flea market and I see something that I think is really interesting. It really depends; it comes from all different walks of life. Once I was talking about my magazine with a friend in a taxi and the taxi driver turned around and said ‘my niece does this and here’s her info.’ It could be very natural like that.
What common issues do you see emerging designers deal with?
I think the one thing I see in all of them is that they struggle a lot to stay alive, but some of them grow very very strong from this. A lot of brands have the same problems; some of these people are making this stuff in their living room or in their one little studio or something. To see what a handful of them have become today – not just alive but thriving in this short four or five years since I’ve met them – is really really interesting. I also think there’s a learning curve. I’ve watched brands and listened to their stories and very often I see them have a big turning point that directed them to something like design. A lot of them have or had other jobs; maybe they’re not only designers but actually went from finance to this and that, and then something in their life happened to turn them towards a more artistic outlet. I think those things are what I see in most of them.
So in your experience there's often something that happens in their lives that acts a turning point or catalyst for them to switch career paths?
Exactly. Even with the fear they may have of losing security, like ‘my job gives me insurance and money and I can pay for my nice apartment,’ they follow their passion. They feel rewarded making something, using their creativity, even if they have to move into a studio and struggle everyday.
What kinds of resources or support do you think they need?
I think what I do helps: calling them up and saying, ‘Wow, I love your brand. Can I interview you?’ I think that any little encouragement is a benefit. In the early part – the first two, three, or five years – people are just super happy that somebody’s posted on Instagram: ‘I bought so-and-so’s t-shirt or so-and-so’s bracelet and I love it.’ It’s such a little thing but that gratefulness can be what they really feed off of. Big brands don’t feel the same way – they don’t even know who their customers are.
What are you wearing today?
I’m wearing wine red Miu Miu shoes with wine red stockings – it sounds horrible but it actually works – and a See By Chloé dress that’s mustard yellow with purplish flowers on it that’s very 1920s/30s. When my husband saw me this morning he was like, ‘Wow, you are definitely the only one with that outfit on today.’ A wool cape that my friend designed is the finishing touch. It’s basically my dress code to always wear at least one piece from an emerging designer – always. That’s the way I speak to my followers or whatever; it’s my thing on the red carpet especially. I mix it up with accessories too, like jewelry from my designer friends – I always promote my friends.
As someone very entrenched in fashion, can you tell me about some of the upcoming styles or things to watch for?
I don’t go after trends. That’s my one key thing – that, and featuring emerging designers. I think that if you like something, you can wear it. That’s always been my philosophy. I love looking like a little country girl from the ‘20s today, but tomorrow I might wear leather pants and boots. Deciding for yourself whether something looks good and you feel good in it is the most important, because that’s going to shine a lot better than me telling you to wear tye-dye jeans and a Gucci belt because that’s what everyone else is wearing. Follow your heart is my fashion advice.
Let’s jump back to the early days of the magazine. Was the first issue published in 2013?
Yes, the first issue came out in 2013, but I started collecting the content in 2012 – it was July, August or September – somewhere around then. The year we went live was also the year my son was born so it was like two babies at the same time.
Do you have just the one child or did you have more children after that?
My husband came with two, so I have two step daughters – they’re turning 17 and 12 – and then I have my little guy who just turned 5.
Are they little fashionistas?
Of course they are! I actually just called the girls to borrow something the other day. They’re coming into the same size as me now so it’s marvelous; but 99 per cent of the time it’s them borrowing my stuff.
Were there any struggles in the early stages of PRECIOUS 7? If so, how did you overcome them?
Oh, of course. First we wanted to be in e-commerce but since we are a completely self-funded project I couldn’t get enough money together to do that properly. Even if we sold a few pieces it wasn’t enough to sustain the full editorial team. So after about a year of struggling – my husband and I were pulling all-nighters every Wednesday to finish the magazine because we both had other jobs – we dropped the commerce idea completely and changed from being a weekly magazine to monthly instead. That let us focus more and collect better content. I learned to be smarter about choosing my staff, my copywriters and so forth, and also to use part of my travel and vacation time to meet designers to get a broader global perspective. It’s been a long journey but I learned something every day and I think we’re there now.
How’s the reception changed from the early days compared with today, especially with your new lifestyle-centred format?
When we ended our big run in 2016 we did a big December issue; we put a curvy girl on the cover and did a printed retrospect of the four years of the magazine’s life. It was a really beautiful 240-something pages. I actually call that kind of thing a bookazine because it’s somewhere between a book and a magazine. I was determined to do it very well if it was going to be in print. At that time there were around 6,200 unique visitors to our site from all over the world – although mostly centered in the U.S. – and we also have a big following in Sweden, Italy and France because that’s where we travel the most and have the most connections and so forth. When we sent out the newsletter announcing we were back on March 7th I got so many emails; it was really rewarding to hear people say how much they’d missed us. Everybody was really enthusiastic and happy about the new issue.
What was it like to come back after a year off?
I really missed it but I knew I had to change something about it. My husband considered it a great product but also more of a hobby until I could use what I’d learned in my journey to monetize it. Now when I’m creating content and producing for other people it’s really interesting and new but PRECIOUS 7 is where my passion is. Writers and photographers who’ve worked with the magazine in the past were always emailing me during our break, telling me that even though they’re on whatever big project they’re missing PRECIOUS 7; for the whole year I had people wanting to know what we had in the works and if there was anything they could help with. I think that means we’re doing something really good and we’ve got people being creative on a completely different level and mixing it up with other creatives – I think that’s very very important.
So you were able to restructure your business to make it profitable?
Yes, but not directly through PRECIOUS 7, partly because I’m devoted to keeping the magazine free for the designers that we’re featuring and for the readers. What I’ve done is started using it for a completely different purpose. It’s serving as a portfolio of my collective work and showing how creative I can be. I have a portfolio that changes every quarter and generates work for my production company and other ventures.
Why is it important to leave advertising out of PRECIOUS 7?
When I go to a site I really like, to shop for brands or look at a blog and I see all these ads splashed all over my screen it really disturbs me; it takes away from the value and the work the people put into their project or brand or editorial. That’s my personal opinion, and that’s why I want to maintain it as advertising-free.
So you direct the photography and design the creative look of PRECIOUS 7?
Yeah, I’m the creative director and producer 99 per cent of the time. Then sometimes I use my best friend Gregory Wein, who’s a very important stylist here in New York. In the beginning I was unknown, but I wanted to work with the best agencies here in the city – so he’s helped me a lot. The more my little magazine grew, the more really great agencies and photographers I got to know and so it’s kind of interlinked now, and I can do what I do today with my production company.
What's the name of your production company?
Could you clarify how using the magazine as a portfolio has resulted in paid work?
People see that I’m a really great producer and creative director when they see the magazine. Then I’m asked to produce photoshoots, develop social media concepts, whatever it is. So that’s how in the back way I’m making money indirectly.
Browsing your site I’m specifically drawn to THE SEVENTH STYLE section, where you’re featured. Can you tell me about the importance of this component and how it fits into the magazine?
It’s a style blog of my personal style. It’s actually a separate site that’s linked; I didn’t want it to overshadow the magazine because it has nothing to do with it. It came about because a lot of our Instagram followers were asking how I was wearing the designer we featured – like how would I style the pieces? I didn’t want it to be mixed – I wanted it to be an entity unto itself. Every time I do a photoshoot or something I can upload that content there.
How did you handle the transitional times and deal with failure along the way while building PRECIOUS 7?
One thing is I grew very close with a lot of the designers who had struggles; we’d discuss these and I recognized that I’m not the only one struggling – they’re struggling too. We’d share our experiences and figure out how to help each other. Maybe it’s about small goals, like instead of saying ‘I want to be the next Vogue’ right away it’s about learning how to digest your yearning. The support of my husband, who’s a really great, creative human being, has been key too. We’ve been able to recognize those moments in each other’s lives and help one another where we could.
Can you tell me about any other projects you have besides PRECIOUS 7? Are you still in the jewelry business?
Oh yeah, I do a lot of private collections. I might make you something and then come back in six months and say ‘by the way I made this because I was thinking about you.’ I do that all the time, like when a friend has a baby. I actually had a really strange request the other day from somebody who lost their child – they wanted a commemorative bracelet for some of the surviving family members. People come to me for those types of personal things, so they get bespoke, one-of-a-kind pieces; I don’t put those on my website though. I also sometimes make jewelry for certain photoshoots I do, because I always have a look and feel to the brand that I’m shooting for, but maybe I can’t find the perfect piece.
Can you tell me what your closet looks like?
A big mess! Obviously I get a lot of perks with this job because one thing that designers always give me afterwards is one of their pieces. I’m really honoured when I’m gifted something to wear. I’m actually at the point where I have to say no to people sending me things because yes, I like to dress differently every day, but I’d rather pass fashion forward than keep it because I don’t have any more space. We live in a five-bedroom house and my closet is basically a whole bedroom. I’m a merchandiser though – I use a lot of things that I’ve worn before to shoot with. I wear a lot of vintage things mixed with pieces from newly emerging designers. I have fun!
What’s next for you?
My shooting season for the bathing suit companies I work with is just starting – I shoot now until the end of the summer. I travel a lot for that and I’m really excited to shoot my first part of the PRECIOUS 7 travel issue in Greece.
What’s the overall message you're trying to send to people through PRECIOUS 7 and your other work?
Support each other; we’ve got to support each other. Don’t see your peers as competition, instead learn from them. I think that is a very valuable lesson. It becomes less about style and it becomes much more about families and growing communities. Let’s grow together. Any cause where women help women I support. I think we should help each other however we can – be friends, hold hands and give each other a hug.