Michelle Vale is a New York-based handbag designer with a passion for great craftsmanship and local manufacturing. One of her line’s signatures is interchangeable hardware. Need a black and gold bag to be black and silver for a night? Hope it’s a Michelle Vale, because then it’s totally possible.
I was able to ask Michelle Vale a few questions about her line. Read on for more about design, what makes a quality bag, and the benefits and drawbacks of manufacturing here in the U.S.
Who is the Michelle Vale woman?
She is a sophisticated woman who lives a modern lifestyle. She seeks out and appreciates strong design.
What does she do, where does she go on the weekend, etc.?
She’s a mom and a professional woman. She lives an active life and is up for anything. Weekends see her at the gym, shopping with a little lunch and cocktails. She’s on the go and always chic.
Can you describe the general process you go through when designing a new product? Where do you start?
I start by looking at which styles my clients have gravitated towards the prior season. I listen to their needs and wants and add new shapes based on this feedback. Then I shop the market for the most innovative leathers and fabrics available. My collections are heavily influenced by textural facades. I design from my heart but in the end, it has to be something I would wear.
How is designing for accessories with interchangeable hardware different than designing accessories that will have only one hardware finish?
The hardware needs to be well thought out and able to be removed with ease. We often have to use custom made, unique pieces that are created just for us. We use the finest quality metal available so that the woman wearing a Michelle Vale handbag has more than one bag when she can change the hardware. If you are longing for black with gold one season, but are pining for silver the next, all you have to do is buy a new set of hardware and…voila, you have a new bag!
What do you believe makes a quality handbag?
Great leather and luxe details outside and in. There are many great bags out there that look expensive on the outside, but are not on the inside. Our customer is very sophisticated and appreciates the handwork that goes into both the outside and the inside. I want her to see and know that she is getting a timeless yet modern bag that she will be able to wear for years to come.
How do you select the materials that you work with?
I really just gravitate towards what piques my interest and then evaluate whether it will be strong enough for the specific silhouette I am imagining it for.
What are your favorite ones to use?
I love them all – fine leather, exotic skins, and beautiful fabrics. I am textile crazy and need to always narrow down my choices significantly. It’s extremely hard!
Tell me more about your decision to manufacture in the U.S. Why is it important to you?
Making my collection in New York is something I am wildly passionate about. We work in a global fashion capitol. Most individuals do not know that New York is the only capitol with a centuries old garment center, where everything you need to produce a collection is within a few block radius. There is a real need to educate consumers on the economic benefits to bringing manufacturing back home. It will create a wealth of jobs and it’s also a green friendly way of doing business. In an effort to make this happen I co-founded the “Make it in Manhattan & the USA” business initiative to celebrate and support New York and American made. This initiative includes a documentary, blog and networking events.
What are the benefits and drawbacks?
Designers can ensure greater quality control while overseeing the new collections. This also creates jobs for production designers and their teams.
The drawbacks are that there are fewer factories here to choose from due to volume manufacturing being sent overseas. We need to reinvest in New York and American factories with new technology and innovation.
Where do you want the Michelle Vale brand to go in 2014? Are there any goals or aspirations you’d like to share?
We are currently considering a Michelle Vale store where consumers will be able to have a wider array of hardware choices. We are moving towards offering additional finish colors including gunmetal and made-to-measure chain options so your cross body will hit you right wear it should instead of being too long or short. That is a real pet peeve of mine!