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The Globe and Mail

Jessica Jensen and Alexander Berardi: a powerful pair in fashion

As Toronto handbag designer Jessica Jensen tells it, Alexander Berardi had a thing for her classic box satchel. "Every time he'd see the bag, he'd want to play with it," she recalls.

Berardi, a New York-based ready-to-wear designer (not to be confused with Italian Antonio Berardi), suggested interlacing fabric into her signature woven leather handbags.

And so began a collaboration, as well suited as Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo, the stars of Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless and Berardi's inspiration for his Spring 2011 collection. Her understated It bags paired with his understated It girl clothing. Really, as far as these things go, it was a breath of fresh air.

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After years of working in accessory design, Jensen launched her namesake label in 2008. While her signature woven technique is oh-so-Bottega Veneta (in Italian, it's called "intrecciato"), her interpretation feels less precious, more everyday.

For this limited edition series, the duo, who met a year ago, sourced tribal-inspired embellishments and played around with fabrics.

A Lilliputian coin purse (is there any other kind?) gets adorned with chiffon blossoms and a row of square wood pieces adds focus to a clutch.

The strongest in the series featured the craft-on-craft crosshatching of leather and fabric in contrasting hues, ends left intentionally unfinished and exposed.

Berardi, vibrant and eager and all of 24-years-old, certainly succeeded in offering a fresh take on Godard's New Wave classic.

There was sheerness to the nauticial stripes. Layered dresses in shades of mocha and midnight blue begged for a gentle breeze, all the better to express the soft, breezy beauty of the chiffon. The standout slinky, cowl-neck gown glimmered like sun hitting sand. Paired with flats, it was effortless glamour.

"It's so nice to collaborate with a ready-to-wear designer; you get a whole story," Jensen says, adding that she always imagines clothing when she conceives her collections. "You know what it looks like in your head."

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Jensen's handbags are a natural extension for his brand, Berardi explains. "You're designing for a woman and you want to build a whole world around her."

The models - 11 in total - gathered into a tableau vivant, positioned on stepladders and stools. Together, they represented a well-edited, well-rounded wardrobe, from khaki shorts to slouchy satchel, tuxedo blazers, to oversized totes in "sueded goatskin."

"I had planned some other collaborations but he and I might just stick together another few seasons," Jensen says.

"Break up? No way!" declares Berardi.

Translation: To be continued.

For more Toronto Fashion Week coverage, visit FASHION Magazine and Globe Style.

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