Colombian handbag designer Nancy Gonzalez made a special appearance in St. Louis recently at Neiman Marcus. The petite, personable designer was wearing a black leather Junya Watanabe jacket and black pants, and carrying one of her own bags in black suede and crocodile. LN spoke with the designer and learned all about what it takes to run her 12-year-old business, one that has her designing some of the most coveted handbags in the world.
LN: What prompted you to design handbags?
NG: I was really looking for something that I felt came from inside me, something that would give me the opportunity to express myself.
LN: How did you begin?
NG: I started by making belts because I love belts and I had so many! I realized I had to find the right materials, the right inspiration, and I started traveling. And then my customers in Colombia started asking me why don’t I do bags? They wanted something different, like the belts. That’s why I started making bags. It was a natural thing; it wasn’t really planned.
LN: Did you begin by sketching designs or talking to people about what they were looking for in a bag?
NG: No, I just wanted to do something different. I love beautiful things, but you need to be able to use them and they have to be functional. I knew, for example, that I wanted a lightweight bag with the right proportions. But I wanted to design something original.
LN: Is that where using the precious skins came into play?
NG: Yes. They are so different and they pose more of a challenge. They already have their own design by nature, and you have to respect that.
LN: What are the challenges in working with skins?
NG: Well, I started by doing the prototypes in denim, to see the shape of the bag. It would look great but when I tried to apply the skin, something would be wrong. I learned that I had to respect the design of the skins because they already have their own personality. So I adapted the designs to the skins instead of the other way around.
LN: Talk to me about the colors you use.
NG: I love color, I think in color! It’s probably because I am from Colombia and the tropical climate. We have so many flowers and birds and fruit—and everything is so colorful. When I started making bags there were not many colors of precious skins—most of them were brown and black.
LN: Is it a difficult process, coloring the skins?
NG: It is. If you want this blue exactly, for example, it’s very difficult and a long process. But I love the idea that color is infinite: I can get another blue, another red all the time.
LN: How do you feel when you see a celebrity wearing of your pieces?
NG: It’s incredible. But I enjoy it even better when I’m someplace and see someone carrying my bag. I remember once in Korea I saw a very stylish woman with one of my bags. That was exciting, but it’s also great to open up Hello! magazine and see Victoria Beckham or Nicole Kidman with them, too.
LN: You are the mother of two. Was it difficult for you to manage motherhood while running your own business?
NG: Well, they were already 10 and 12 when I started. But I think as a woman we all need to learn how to develop ourselves, within the priority of being a mother.
LN: Do you think it made you a better mother, being able to follow your own creativity?
NG: Yes. You can’t give what you don’t have. The happier I am, the more happiness I can give to my family.
LN: What trends are you seeing today in handbags?
NG: There are so many options. People are free to express their ideas through their clothes, and it seems very relaxed right now. I love that the same two women can have the same bag but it ends up looking totally different. For that reason I don’t use strong hardware on my bags.
LN: Do you have a favorite design?
NG: I have designed over 4,000 styles—too many to choose just one!
LN: What are your own shopping weaknesses?
NG: Shoes and jewelry—like many women.