“It always, I think, starts for me with a pretty idea, and then we work backwards, how do we make this practical,” confesses handbag designer Rebecca Minkoff in an interview with Metro.
“Sometimes honestly, I’ll admit, I’m not the most practical.”
We’re talking about her first bag, the Morning After, her signature, designed at the request of friend Jenna Elfman, and the one that launched Minkoff as a handbag designer of celebrity note. Still the best-seller, and one of an assortment now available at Holt Renfrew, it’s actually her most practical, with several tidy pockets, room for sleepover essentials, and a style esthetically appropriate for office and out-of-office hours.
As an example of her design whimsy when she’d first created the Morning After, she points out the shiny D-rings she’d added only as details to the sides just because she liked the shape. “I had stores calling saying ‘you shipped it without the shoulder strap,’” she recalls. There was no strap because Minkoff doesn’t like the look of one with the bag, but she had to concede. “It became ‘if you want this bag to sell, it needs to have a shoulder strap.’”
Minkoff’s work adorns the arms of the pretty-and-famous such as Rachel McAdams, Hilary Duff and Sarah Jessica Parker and many, many more. She’s had no formal training in bag design; it all began with sewing when she was eight. At 13 she made her bat mitzvah dress, and prom and graduation dresses followed.
Her label debuted with clothing in 2001 and has expanded to include her oft-photographed bag collection as well as bracelets and wallets, and an intense schedule of merchandise deliveries that includes several retailer exclusives.
“Almost every store is asking for an exclusive, even Saks, as a way of getting people in the door,” she explains. “If you’re carried in all these places, the only way to do it is to cater to each store. So now I have exclusives with every store.”
Her material of choice is Italian leather for its “magic,” but an eye-catching blue — another signature — Ethiopian tie-dyed-by-hand leather has found its way into her summer 2010 collection. So has microfibre, in response to customer requests for something at a lower price point. “I was able to create the look of a faux python that looks real, but it’s fabric, and brought the price down almost $150 to $200 at retail. I think my customers really appreciated that,” she says.
Inspiration comes from a variety of sources: vintage bags, flea markets, and old photos. Several in her current collection sprang from the details in motorcycle jackets, such as metal pyramid studs and bold zippers. “That led me to motorcycles and the bags that people have on motorcycles, that are attached to them,” she says. “There’s a whole group that’s coming up later that came from that.”
Alexander Wang and Balenciaga are the two designers she names when asked which by-others bags she admires. “I don’t wear any of them,” she admits. “But I’m always like ‘MAN, they did it AGAIN!’”