What qualifies as Couture—custom-made, exquisite fabrics, embellishment, and artisanal craftsmanship—is not just limited to gowns and dresses. This season, handbags are also getting in on the action as demonstrated last week during the Spring/Summer 2018 Haute Couture in Paris. For the first time during the week, three accessories designers showed their handcrafted approach to bags that offer an alternative to “on-the-shelf” RTW bags.
Down a short passageway off the trendy Rue Bonaparte in the 6th arrondissement of Paris, lies a stylish maison that is home to Iris Noble. Opened by Jennifer Noble about a year ago, the former model and Moncler accessories maker hoped to offer something more to a handbag purchase: personal involvement. The designer now offers six core bag shapes—from a minaudière to a simple shoulder bag to a shopper style—each named after a family member. But her clients, who come mostly word of mouth and luxury tourists, make it their own by choosing the skins and details themselves.
The atmosphere is chic yet practical much like the bags themselves. Chrome 1970s shelving units by Romeo Rega display the pieces next to velvet couches beside an R&Y Augousti shagreen coffee table, where clients can explore the various bag models. Once a shape is decided upon, the client is brought to the open-air mezzanine level atelier, where Noble talks specifics—skin, color, size, linings, and initials—at a 19th century walnut design table draped with a large American alligator skin and equally-big Python Reticulatus skin. On display is a rack of available on-hand skins as well as a book of additional skins ranging from simple calfskin leather to matte or glossy crocodile to shagreen as well as more Python Reticulatus, all in about every color of the rainbow.
Noble’s approach to the skins she uses is unique—she sources skins are small quantity pre-existing hides that are a bit more Peta-friendly. “I love mixing materials together,” the designer tells CR. “I’ve designed six different models and by combining python and suede, calfskin and crocodile, or working with stingray, pony hair, feathers or fur results in an incredible palette of colors and textures creating ‘pièces uniques.’”
The bags are constructed just outside of Paris at the studio of master leathersmith Robert Mercier. The design and the construction are meant to last for generations–for instance, skins are used for the inner non-visible lining, which adds years to the life of the bag. Creating one’s own bag isn’t for the faint of pocket book. Depending on the skin, prices start at approximately 2,500 euros and can go as high as more than 18,000 euros. They also aren’t for the impatient; depending on skins used it can take from one to four months to receive the finished product.
After years of making bags for the likes of luxury household name designers companies, Mabiani owner Mario Biasutti is returning to his roots. Biasutti opened his company in 1979 with a then-buzzy brand called Andrea Mabiani, but by 1986 he was using his know-how to produce bags for a slew of European ready-to-wear brands that were beginning to add leather goods to their offerings. Three factories in the north of Italy near San Daniele del Fruili and 32 years later, the Italian business man decided to relaunch the Disco-era brand once more.
Biasutti puts the decision to get back into the creative side of handbags this way: “The market is ultra-competitive but still I think it is possible for small exclusive luxury brands to grow and evolve at a different speed. This is what I aim to do—to introduce a collection that brings together the know-how I garnered all this time.”
After testing the water last season, Biasutti dove in head first for his first full Fall/Winter 2018 collection. In a video produced by Fury and directed by Antoine Poulet and Giorgio Martinoli, his approach was even more elevated this time around as he enlisted Atelier Montex, one of Chanel’s Metier des Arts, to create a custom beading pattern for the bags. Montex took cues from sister design firm MTX, known for creating embroideries used in architectural components (think embellished screens used in a home, office or retail space), and designed a geometric pattern inspired by their work. The pattern appears on two iconic Mabiani styles, the Panino shoulder bag and the Goccio, a bucket bag style. The bags, which retail for 2,500 and 4,000 euros respectively will be made-to-order exclusively and will take about two months from placing order to receiving the final product.
As the expression goes, it takes a village. But in the case of Magnetic Midnight’s new collection of box bags, titled Irachnae, it takes several. The brand started by Lucia Echavarria in 2015, has gained a following with their elaborately woven headbands or “crowns,” The name comes from the alignment of magnetic poles on the Earth at midnight that allow for optimum aurora viewing. It’s presumably also the best time to wear one of these enticing headpieces. Echavarria now applies the woven technique from her native Colombia onto a select range of bags.
Made entirely by artisanal craftsmen, these pieces never touch a machine. The process starts in a small village outside of Bogotá, where a family of lamp makers creates the wire frames of the bags. The wire structure is then taken to Usiacurí, a town known for its weaving technique of the Iraca, the palm plant material form which the bags are made. The Iraca leaves are carefully separated into fine fibers, which are dried into threads that are knotted and braided around wire and woven to create intricate patterns. Styles that are finished in gold are then taken to another town outside Bogotá to an artisanal jeweler who uses a multi-phase process that involves varnishing, hand painting each detail individually, and then dipping in gold. From the frame to the finished product, each bag takes around three weeks.
Echavarria limits quantities of the bags, which are available for purchase on her website only. With just 16 styles, there will be no more than 15 made of each. She explains it this way: “The idea behind this is to honor and respect the artisanal techniques and complex workmanship that goes into each piece. It’s important to dedicate the time and attention required, to every part of the process. It’s creating something that is more than just an accessory but truly a work of art with soul and character.”END
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