Vanessa Cornell is the founder of the NUSHU, a community of women on spiritual journeys to find deeper connections and meaning, which has events and courses that promote wellness. She attended Harvard University and currently owns Cornell Vineyards, where she and her husband create exquisite wines. She is also on the Leadership Council of the Mt. Sinai Children’s Health and Development Institute and is very involved in womens’ initiatives at her alma maters. In her spare time, she loves to surf, rock climb and enjoy contemporary Japanese ceramics and wine.
Hannah: It’s so nice to have you today. How are you doing?
Vanessa: I’m great, thank you. I’m so happy to be here.
Hannah: Amazing. So first, I want to just jump right into it and ask what your favorite guilty pleasure purchase is.
Vanessa: [00:00:14] So when I saw guilty pleasure, the only thing I could think of was chocolate, frankly. And I love all sorts of chocolate, but I do have some favorites. First, Maison du Chocolat, which is a couple of blocks from my home, is definitely a favorite. And then I’ve discovered this new brand called Honey Mama’s Chocolate, which is based on coconut and honey and cocoa. And it’s absolutely delicious.
Hannah: [00:00:41] With the holidays coming up, what gift do you most like to give?
Vanessa: [00:01:00] I absolutely love giving gifts. Part of what I love is introducing people to brands I love with beautiful people behind them. But the other thing I really love is to give gifts that people can’t buy for themselves. So one of my personal passions is blending fragrances. And I have a signature fragrance called the NUSHU Blend, which I’ve had for quite some time. And it’s one of my favorite things to give because it’s so personal to me. And the second thing I love to give is the Kate McLeod body stone. It’s a solid lotion stone and it’s just remarkable. Kate and I did a collaboration for a limited edition, NUSHU Stone, which has the fragrance in the body stone. And so I love giving that because it’s not really available for purchase, but possibly it could be in the future as well as the NUSHU blend. It just feels so personal to me.
Hannah: [00:01:57] That’s a really, really thoughtful gift. So along those lines, what gift do you most like to receive?
Vanessa: [00:02:04] I’ve really lately decided that I’m so much more interested in experiences and not stuff. So the things that I love to receive are consumables, things that give me a beautiful experience. One of my favorite things to do is take a bath. And I found that there are so many bath salts on the market. But my favorite by far are the ones from Pursoma and they have a whole range of body oils and bath salts. To receive that as a gift is just such a treat because I can anticipate the beautiful times I’ll have by myself taking care of myself in the bath. And then the second thing that’s just delicious to receive and I recently got from a friend are gardenias from High Camp Gardenias. They come in a box and the smell is transporting and the packaging is beautiful. And again, it’s that experience of having that joy smelling the scents that is so much more important to me than any kind of stuff. And lastly, a friend of mine just sent me some home baked banana bread that made my day. So you see the theme here. It’s just about feeling the love from other people and having moments of real pleasure, joy and connection during the day from those gifts.
Hannah: [00:03:33] I think that those are all beautiful ideas for gifts, and I totally understand what you said about how you want it to be more of a personal experience. So I know we aren’t traveling as much these days, but when we were, what items made it into your carry on?
Vanessa: [00:03:58] Yeah, so I’m a real uniform person. If you look in my wardrobe, there’s only a couple of colors. I’m pretty consistent and loyal to the things that I love. And when I travel, I try to keep what I wear really basic and then I accessorize with scarves. And my favorite scarves are from a dear friend, Dianora Salviati. She just has the most extraordinary eye and she can make any plain black outfit that’s great for if you’re traveling for a long time and you just need the basics. I love scarves in general, I love to feel warm. And so I always have at least two scarves in my carry on. The other thing I love to take on trips are these Everlane slippers. They are really packable and they feel like ballet slippers. I always have a pair of those with me. The third thing that I have in my carry on and I wear most days, frankly, are Ninety Percent T-shirts. They’re the perfect cut. They’re beautifully made cotton shirts. And that’s my layer for absolutely everything. And I have them for them and every color and they always travel with me.
Hannah: [00:05:26] Amazing. What would you say is the best design product in your home or office?
Vanessa: [00:05:33] I like to keep my space really simple and clean. The space I work in is really important to me, and I can’t really work with clutter around, so I don’t have a lot of objects. But the ones I do have are from the Cristalline, which sells crystals and crystal objects. And so I’m really intentional about what I do bring into my space and the energy behind it. My desk will be completely bare except for my laptop and I will have some of my favorite scents, sometimes incense and always one or two objects from the Cristalline.
Hannah: [00:06:11] What items would you say are on the top of your holiday wish list this year?
Vanessa: [00:06:18] All I want for Christmas is a surf trip with my girlfriends, and I know that’s not realistic this year, but in other years, that’s really the thing I value most. The place I would go to is Surf Simply in Costa Rica, in a surf town called Nosara. I’ve been there several times, and there are some of the most beautiful memories I have with my girlfriends. Along the lines of I don’t need any more stuff, I just want to experience life to the fullest. That would be at the very top of my list. That sounds like so much fun. I’m a really passionate surfer. It’s my favorite thing to do in the world by a wide margin.
Hannah: [00:07:04] Wow. I’ve never been surfing, but I’d love to try. What is your favorite fashion find?
Vanessa: [00:07:11] So, as I mentioned, I really have a uniform and I love everything by the Row, I could probably only wear the Row for the rest of my life and be perfectly happy. So anything by the Row. And then, of course, the signature Sidney Garber rolling bracelets are a staple and something that is timeless. You can wear them when you’re young and wear when you’re old and they always make you feel dressed. My daughter, who’s 11, introduced me to Brandy Melville’s sweatpants. And so I guess I would say, ‘don’t tell anyone.’ But now I’m telling everyone: I’m forty three years old and I love Brandy Melville’s sweatpants. They are the warmest, most comfortable, flattering sweatpants I’ve ever had.
Hannah: [00:08:00] I’m a big Brandy Melville fan as well, and I own the sweatpants and I live in them. I’m literally wearing them right now. What beauty products do you always try to keep in your purse?
Vanessa: [00:08:22] So I’m not really a big makeup person, but I have a big scents person and I really focus my makeup routine on lip balm and mascara. The first thing I always have with me, especially when I’m traveling, is an Annee de Mamiel altitude oil. It’s the most extraordinary blend, and it really serves to keep me supported throughout the day. I just love it. The second thing I always keep is a lip balm by Kosasport. It’s the closest sport baseline lip balm and it’s got a great minty flavor and is really moisturizing. And it’s always in my bag. I also always have a bag full of my own scent blends. I’m always trying things out and labeling them and making different formulas. I probably have eight to 10 things on me at all times. The other scent that I love that I don’t make myself is from Intelligent Nutrients. They do a jasmine scent that I will layer on top of my own scents often. And I’m reapplying these, you know, for five, six, 10 times a day. It really helps to reset me in the middle of the day when I just need a moment to sort of bring my nervous system down and have a moment of sort of sensory pause for myself. And then I mentioned mascaras. Maybe the one makeup I wear and the one I love is mascara from ILIA.
Hannah: [00:09:55] Amazing. In the last year, what item did you discover was indispensable?
Vanessa: [00:10:01] So true story before covid, I had cooked one meal for my family ever. I was just not a cook. It’s just not the way I show my love. I have other ways that I show my love. But during covid, I started cooking and I was so surprised that I actually liked it. I loved putting food on the table for my kids. And so the thing that saved me was the Instant Pot. I was able to actually put things on the table and my husband was like, ‘did you really cook that?’ And I was pretty proud. So I probably couldn’t have gotten through the last nine months of covid without the instant pot. So definitely the most important thing I discovered.
Hannah: [00:10:43] I’m also trying to learn to cook myself and I’m not that good at it, so I’ll definitely try the Instant Pot! Is there a particular product that inspires you?
Vanessa: [00:10:59] I know I mentioned it so many times, but I’m really interested in scent and fragrance formulations and there’s a beautiful brand called Perfumera Curandera. Their oils are sourced beautifully, blended by hand. You can really feel the energy behind the scents. And to me, they’re the most extraordinary expression of botanicals and words, and they’re my inspiration behind how I might put together fragrances.
Hannah: [00:11:31] So what brand you most admire?
Vanessa: [00:11:35] You know, I gave this a lot of thought and what kept springing to mind where to organizations that are actually nonprofits. The reason I admire them is not only because of the way they present themselves, but the work that they do. And the first one is Every Mother Counts, which is really focused on maternal care, founded by Christy Turlington Burns. And I feel so passionate about their mission and what they do and admire so much the way they go about their work in the world. And the second is the David Lynch Foundation, which is focused on spreading transcendental meditation to at-risk communities. And again, it’s just I feel so passionate about the impact that their work has that those are really the two that came to mind.
Hannah: [00:12:21] What is a product or brand that you like that has a positive initiative such as sustainability or a social initiative?
Vanessa: [00:12:29] Yeah, I’ve been really impressed with Fekkai, the hair care brands spearheaded by the founder Frederic Fekkai. What I’ve been really impressed with is that they’ve really worked to create sustainable, clean products and support environmental causes. So many small independents are doing this, but Fekkai is really leading the charge for bigger salon brands. I’m really excited about what they’re doing and their commitment to clean products and their commitment to sustainability on a big scale, not just on a sort of small founder scale.
Hannah: [00:13:06] I agree, I think that’s super important. Thank you so much. I have really enjoyed hearing about all of your products!
Vanessa: [00:13:27] Perfect! Thank you so much.