After departing New York City for St. Louis, a creative couple finds new energy in the local design scene

Natasha Chekoudjian will never forget her first experience with the design scene in St. Louis. A middle school student living in Webster Groves, Chekoudjian had an obsession with fashion, and would regularly walk down to her local Straub’s grocery store to buy candy and Vogue, which she’d read cover to cover and dream that, one day, she’d have her work featured in the iconic magazine. When career day came around at school, Chekoudjian thought she was about to take the first step toward that goal and assumed that, surely, she would meet a real-life fashion designer who’d help her set her course. It went much differently than she’d anticipated.

“There was not one fashion designer there,” Chekoudjian recalls with a laugh. “It was all bankers and people like that. I was pretty upset, but I didn’t let it stop me. I figured, I’d just have to make it happen.”

To say that Chekoudjian, together with her partner in life and business, Jason Ross, made it happen is quite the understatement. For the last 14 years, husband and wife have been at the pinnacle of the fashion industry with their leather and accessories company, Artemas Quibble. Now operating out of their studio space in Webster Groves, the brand’s belts have been featured in publications such as GQ, Vanity Fair, Vogue Mexico and Harper’s Bazaar, and have been worn by celebrities like Bad Bunny, Cardi B, Gisele Bündchen and America Ferrera. Jason Mamoa and Kylie Jenner have bought their belts. So has Brad Pitt.

Chekoudjian and Ross founded Artemas Quibble in New York City in 2012, though their collaborations in the accessories space began four years earlier, not long after the two met in Philadelphia. Chekoudjian had moved to the city following her graduation from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, and was preparing to leave for a job with Elie Tahari in New York City; Ross, a Boston University graduate and self-taught accessories designer who worked in the modeling industry, met Chokoudjian the night before she was set to depart. The two stayed in touch, and when they would regularly meet up, they’d connect over their shared love of fashion by making pieces together that Chokoudjian would wear to her job.

Ross dove even further into accessories and leather design, creating stunning pieces made from reclaimed antique materials, such as leather book bindings dating back to the 15th century. His big break came when a friend who owned the then single-unit Blackstones Collective invited him to sell his accessories at his hair salon in New York City.

“I wasn’t really selling anything at this point and I thought, what could be worse than having my jewelry at a hair salon?” says Ross. “But I was at this period in my life where I started saying yes to everything and just trying to open up opportunities. It turned out, his salon was fashion central. Vogue editors went there. Michelle [Kessler] Sanders went there. At the time, she was senior vice president of accessories at Donna Karan. She saw my stuff, bought a bunch of it and then took me under her wing.”

Ross’ relationship with Kessler Sanders led to a working relationship and friendship with Karan that continues today. Not long after they met, Ross began developing products for her Urban Zen Foundation and eventually started designing accessories for her collection. This led Chekoudjian and Ross to found Artemas Quibble, which operated out of their Red Hook [Brooklyn] loft for roughly a decade. During that time, the brand worked with Karan and her creative director, Peter Speliopoulos, as well as other esteemed labels such as Hemult Lang, Calvin Klein, Tory Burch, Jonathan Simkhai, and St. John. Chekoudjian and Ross also developed a strong working relationship with stylist George Cortina, who featured Artemas Quibble’s accessories on a variety of high-profile figures.

Chekoudjian and Ross might have continued this trajectory had the pandemic not upended life as they knew it. Like many of their fellow New Yorkers, the pair felt pulled to leave the city and considered moving upstate. However, because of all the upheaval and uncertainty, they decided to move with their young children to St. Louis, Chekoudjian’s hometown, where they could lean on a family support network. They arrived in October of 2020 unsure how long they would stay. Three-plus years later, they don’t know why they would leave.

“It’s been really nice because the people here are more of a community and want to help others,” says Chekoudjian. “New York is much more of a cutthroat, sink-or-swim environment. You don’t have a connection to other people as much as you have here. It’s been nice and refreshing.”

Now with their roots firmly planted in St. Louis, Chekoudjian continues to work as design director for Free People–a position she’s held since 2015–while she and Ross prepare to relaunch Artemas Quibble. Though they continue to maintain their connections with their current networks of stylists and designers, the pair hope to pivot to more of a direct-to- consumer brand, with a handful of strategic wholesale partnerships. 

“What we want to do is build a vertically integrated, European style luxury leather brand here in St. Louis,” says Ross. “We will design, develop, manufacture and have a team here. There’s a huge amount of energy in the design world in St. Louis, and we just got lucky to be swept up in the swirl of all the great things that are happening here.”

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