“My husband calls them the most expensive place cards in history.”
Brett Heyman, the American handbag designer, is perched on a sofa in Holt Renfrew’s offices in downtown Toronto. She is referring to the bespoke clutches that her company, Edie Parker, makes for the likes of actresses (Jessica Alba, Sofia Vergara), fashion editors (Anna Dello Russo, Giovanna Battaglia) and Hilton sisters (Paris and Nicky). Typically, clients personalize their purchases with their initials, first name or catchphrase of choice, making the bags the ultimate seat savers at galas and dinner parties. They also signal that the owners of her confection-like creations are among those “in the know” about the uniquely innovative brand.
The bags, which can cost as much as $1,800 (U.S.), are innovative not in the sense of futuristic manufacturing – each one, whether ready-to-wear or custom, is meticulously handmade in a factory in Illinois. Rather, an Edie Parker bag is novel because it’s a labour of love in an era of fast fashion, the craftsmanship an “homage to the mid-century predecessors who came before” and to a “time when America was setting fashion trends globally,” as Heyman describes it. That isn’t to say that her designs are antiquated. Recently, Heyman’s Instagram account featured shots of purses she created as part of a collaboration with shoe brand Del Toro for Moda Operandi, the online retailer; bearing hashtag inscriptions in gold confetti and pearlescent plastic (#DaBomb, #Tipsy), they were tongue-in-cheek done in the toniest way.
“Not all acrylic is created equal,” the designer has said, suggesting how humble plastic can, after her labour-intensive machinations, become a “phenomenally luxurious material.” High-end retailers from Holts to Barneys New York to Net-a-Porter agree; all have snapped up stock. Such success would be a dream scenario for any designer, but it’s all the more special for Heyman because her brand has its origins in one of her long-time passions: the collection of vintage acrylic, wicker and magazine bags. (Heyman doesn’t have a formal design background; she was Gucci’s director of public relations for years.)
“As I got older, I weeded out the [bags] that seemed cumbersome or overly retro and now I have this amazing collection of acrylic clutches that are really hard to find,” she says, referring to the seeds of her design inspiration. Hoping to introduce a new generation to the pleasures of a petite evening clutch, Heyman, who was raised in Los Angeles and is a fan of old Hollywood, launched Edie Parker in 2010. The brand was named after her daughter but also nods to history’s many “stylish Edies,” from Beale to Sedgwick.
After she called what seemed like every plastic maker in America, Heyman, who is currently based in New York, found a “mom and pop” manufacturer in the Midwest to realize her designs. Each bag, she says, is “put together like a little puzzle,” starting with hand-drawn designs and ending with portable works of art. (In the case of one watermelon design, all of the “seeds” were applied one by one.)
Besides their craftsmanship, the clutches have struck a chord, Heyman feels, because of the nostalgia they inspire. “People will say, ‘Oh, my mom had a bag like that’ or ‘My grandma had a bag like that,’” she says of her pieces, which also feature mirrored interiors. “It adds to the timelessness because people recognize it.”
To be sure, nostalgic fantasy has figured prominently on the red carpet over the past few years, with stars and stylists favouring vintage shops such as Decades (www.decadesinc.com) for their supply of rare finery. For her part, Heyman feels that the appeal of bygone design is related to a desire to “claim some individuality” when it comes to fashion and beauty, a desire that, with its wink at the past and eye on the future, Edie Parker is well poised to satisfy. You might in fact say it’s in the bag.
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