Archives for posts with tag: Project Accessory

I was about to give up.  Those aren’t words I say lightly.  I never given up on anything without a fight, even when giving up may have been the wisest course of action.

But two events happened recently to remind me that what I know about my next step, and what the universe has planned for me, are two entirely different things.

I got an email recently from one of the editors at Workman Publishing.  He wanted me to send images of my handbags for inclusion in the 2014 Handbags Page-a-Day  Calendar.   The 2013 Calendar features everyone from Judith Leiber to Muiccia Prada, and to say that I was overwhelmed by the honor is putting it lightly.

I sent five images, and was told there is a good likelihood they will all be included, including the tiger eye handbag I sent to Aretha Franklin a few months ago.  When I posted about the email on my facebook page, I had another surprise coming; a major handbag “player” (she was a judge on the now defunct Project Accessory) wrote back to say she had  a meeting with Workman  Publishing  about getting unknown handbag designers in the calendar, and that she was impressed that  they had approached me instead….

I also had a pair of experiences recently that are hard to describe, not because of the incredible generosity of the gestures involved, but because its the sort of thing I do for people; not the sort of thing that is done for me.  My friend, Randi Leader Oakes, sent me a handbook on the fashion business (a book that I had been coveting for quite a while.  She didn’t know I wanted it, but somehow this incredible woman always seems to get what I need and then, just as magically, makes it happen for me), while Whitney Peckman sent me one of the best books on writing I have ever read.

I have been told all my life I should be a writer, but since I don’t write like Vladimir Nabokov, and I don’t have a personal story to tell that involves divorce, a lucrative book deal, and travel to exotic lands to eat and pray my way through life, I never bothered to try.

But Whitney was right.  She usually always is.  So I am putting an application in the mail today for the Great Smokies Writing Program.

Thank you Randi, Whitney, and Aaron…for encouraging, supporting and celebrating the me that has yet to be revealed!  Because I can see it now…a wildly beautiful handbag designer who moonlights as a crime solving detective….

When I started my art career twenty years ago, gourds were my choice of medium.  I took a class in Santa Monica from a woman who created gourd art on the side, when she wasn’t working as a prop artist in Hollywood.  I came away from that one day class filled with such an intense passion for gourd art that I decided, right then and there, that I wanted to become the best gourd artist on the planet.  I had no idea how I was going to get there, I just knew that for once in my life, this drive I have to be the best at something might actually have a shot at coming true.  I encountered plenty of obstacles along the way of course, not the least of which was my own naiveté about art.  I had no idea how to get into galleries, how to do an art show, how to even find out to apply for an art show.  I was blissfully unaware of the politics of art, declaring to my boyfriend at the time that I loved art BECAUSE it was so “non political”.

Through a series of events that lead me from a holiday art show in a friend’s garage to my first real art show at the Pasadena Civic Center, I tackled art with the passion of  a religious convert.  I followed up on every art show lead I could find, challenged gallery owners who deemed gourd art a “craft”, and went after the goal of becoming the number one gourd artist in the country as if my life depended on it.  Robert Rivera, who I credit with singlehandedly opening the door to gourds as an art form, was my guidepost for what to do and how to go about achieving it.  Everyone who told me that gourds would never be taken seriously as an art form along the way, unwittingly added fuel to the fire of my unwavering determination, until the day I sold my first piece of gourd art for $20,000.

I still remember standing in line at the bank with the check clutched in my hands so tightly that if an earthquake had hit about then, I would have been found in the rubble, still holding onto it, and probably wouldn’t have let go to grab onto a rescuer.  When I stepped up to the counter to cash it, I had to fight from bursting into tears, and the sense of relief and accomplishment as I walked away from the teller window was overwhelming.  I couldn’t WAIT to tell all those naysayers that they were wrong about gourds as an art form.

I gave up gourd art a few years ago to tackle a new medium and a new way of expressing my artistic talents.  I wanted to create art that wasn’t something you left at home.  I reasoned that since people don’t buy jewelry, or a new outfit, or even a set of golf clubs just to leave them at home, why should art be something that gets left behind every time you leave the house?

Since I consider wood burning my true forte, I settled on wood handbags as the new direction my career would take.  By combining wood burning,  hand painting, and an attention to detail with respect to the linings, the hardware and the fixtures, I could create functional art that would make the women who owned them, stand out in a crowd.  My success at selling these new handbags was instantaneous; I got into every show I applied for, and even some I thought I would never be able to exhibit at, like the Smithsonian Craft Show and the Sausalito Art Festival.

But then the economy tanked and the prevailing wisdom among handbag buyers and art show producers was that my work was too “niche”, that women, especially wealthy women, would always buy expensive handbags, but they wanted them to be handbags other women would recognize as expensive.  And presumably, exclusive.  I still can’t quite get over standing in front of a panel of judges at my audition for Project Accessory and being told that my one of a kind, handmade, exclusive and very expensive handbags were NOT on the same level as a Birkin Bag, which is also one of a kind, handmade, exclusive and very expensive, but that hardly stopped me from continuing to believe that one day, my bags will be as sought after as those bags are.

A few weeks ago, Pam Eggemeyer, who owns Spirits in the Wind Gallery in Golden, Colorado,  challenged me to create  a handbag based on the design legacy of Yves Saint Laurent, after the Denver Art Museum decided to mount a 40 year retrospective of his work.  I began researching his design ethic and settled on an idea I felt I could really make my own. The handbag itself was easy, but since I ordinarily line each handbag with a matching fabric, I decided I had to pull a rabbit out of a hat to make sure this new bag was a show stopper. I found a way to print original designs on fabric, and had a yard of fabric made from the images on the handbag to line it with.  It has a matching clutch and a matching handmade storage bag, along with a  handbeaded  handle.

I am far from where I want to be with this new venture thanks to preconceived notions about wood handbags, but I know myself well enough to know that telling me it can’t be done is a surefire way to make sure I accomplish my objectives.

I haven’t written anything in the last few months, because quite frankly, I have been embarrassed beyond belief to admit just how hard this economy has hit me.

Then a few months ago, I met a pair of business partners who book celebrity guest speakers, clergy and artists for luxury cruise liners, and within seconds the entrepreneur in me was reborn.   I headed straight into the studio that afternoon to design a handbag that not only highlights their company spirit, I also found a way to print fabric from that image that allowed me to line the bag with their company logo and create a handmade clutch to match!

I am working hard to launch a new corporate gifts link on my website, with humidors, jewelry boxes, decorative boxes – just about anything and everything  made from wood – because corporations will always exist and so will holidays and special occasions.


Three weeks ago, I received an email from a website that profiles handbag designers, regarding a casting call for a new reality show about accessories designers called Project Accessory, a spin off of the hugely popular Project Runway.  The show had four casting sessions; a weekend long casting session in New York, then one day sessions in Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami.  Unlike a lot of casting calls for reality shows, attendance at one of the casting sessions was mandatory, so after considerable debate, I decided to head to New York, figuring that it was best to be there when the process was fresh and I had the best possible chance of making an impact.  I loaded up a box full of handbags and took them all over town to see which bags got the best response,  filled out the 24 page application, selected my wardrobe, and flew to Newark for my debut.

My friend Kim, who lives an hour from Manhattan, graciously agreed to get up at 4:30 in the morning to drive me into the city with my suitcase full of handbags and portfolios, but when we pulled up in front of the hotel where the casting session was going to be held, no one was there.  I thought, well hell, I have the wrong hotel and then I thought “Oh My God…I have the wrong weekend!!!!”  I was immediately disavowed of this notion by a porter who asked if I was there for the casting session, then sent me upstairs to the lobby, which was on the fourth floor of a hotel that looked like a cross between a gynecologists office and left over sets from some recent Star Wars convention.

Clinical didn’t even begin to describe the Japanese inspired futuristic white molded plastic interior with “space age furniture” that would have made the Jetson’s proud.   Three other people were waiting on the gigantic purple ottomans that doubled as couches, looking for all the world like a bunch of overgrown kids on a Romper Room set.  One man came with his mother and brother and another man was frantically filing out all 24 pages of paperwork – paperwork which, by the way, took a practice copy and four hours for me to fill out, but he was whipping through it like it was a Sudoku puzzle he had to finish before his train pulled into the station.

The casting director showed up fresh from her workout in the hotel gym and told us we had to wait in line downstairs, so I headed to the elevators and out the front door, when the same porter who initially directed me upstairs accosted me in a thick Slavic accent to ask why I was back downstairs again. When I  told him the casting director sent me there, he loaded me back into the elevator and off we went again to the lobby, where the casting director loaded us back onto the elevator again and down we went.  By this time it was about 7:00 in the morning and we still had another two hours to wait, so the woman in  line in front of me and I traded life stories until a card table was produced with copies of the application on it, and the judging staff began to arrive.

There were three people in line ahead of me; a woman who looked like Rachel Zoe, and who’s participation in the series appeared to be a foregone conclusion.  She knew everyone in the place and had ten times as many samples as any of the rest of us, plus she was assigned a rather attractive young man to help her carry all her crap into the casting room.  She was supposed to be in the casting room for three to five minutes. Fifteen minutes later she came out with an envelope, which was the sign that you had been invited to the next round of casting.  Natasha, the jeweler I had been waiting in line with all morning, was next, and she came out with a very odd look on her face. She asked me if I wanted her to stick around so we could talk after my audition, and I said sure, if for no other reason than to find out what that look meant.  Well the design student who went in next, the one with recently dyed red air that was not a color  found in nature, dressed in yellow and black with a flap on her skirt that had a tendency to stick straight out and who showed up with her mother and fiancee, came out crying, and then I was up.

The door opened and I was ushered into a dimly lit room where eight or so people were lined up on folding chairs against one wall who never said a word.  There was a small folding table under a single beam of light in the middle of the room, and four women at the other end of the room in front of a draped wall with their names on a placard on front of each woman.  I recognized one name from the website that had originally sent out the casting call, but I went ahead and addressed the entire room, as if I were a hostess who was late to her own party.

Now before I go any further, I feel it incumbent upon me to describe the women on the judging panel, at least half of whom appeared to have divorced VERY well, once, if not twice, and they were certain by their appearance and their demeanor to let you know they were someone we were all privileged to be in the presence of.  Between the pilates instructors, manicurists, pedicurists, massage therapists, facialists, stylists, hairdressers, therapists, personal assistants, housekeepers, personal shoppers, drivers, clothing and jewelry budget, and expense report, I would guess that the collective budget for that day’s appearance was in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, a fact that was later confirmed by the $150,000 Birkin bag that was burnished in my direction, but more on that little tidbit in a moment.

I set my bags down on the table and was immediately asked if they were cigar boxes.  I thought to myself, this is the perfect lead in, so I launched into my well rehearsed explanation about how they were made, when the sound man said he wasn’t ready….awkward pause, followed by a brief salutation to the one woman on the panel I actually sort of “knew”.  The sound man said he was ready, and the entire interview took a nose dive followed by a right turn.  All four women started asking me questions at the same time, and not one of them let me answer until the scrawny little one the second from the left said, “do you compare yourself to Timmy Woods”, a handbag designer who also works with wood because her last name is, well, Woods.  That is kind of like asking an F16 mechanic if he compares himself to a Volkswagon mechanic.  Just because both work with engines doesn’t mean the two are even remotely related, so I said, no, I actually think of myself as the next Birkin bag.

Well I might  have well as been a maitre’d at Manhattan’s hot new restaurant who turned them away at the door, because the scrawny one absolutely imploded.  For the uninitiated, a Birkin bag is handmade in France by Hermes, and because they are handmade one at a time, and delivered on a somewhat unreliable schedule, it can take years to procure one, which makes them the most expensive – and most exclusive – handbag  on the planet.  They cost between $75,000 and $280,000. Victoria Beckham has two.

The woman in the middle, who looked just like Patty, the Millionaire Matchmaker, reached behind her chair, and waved HER Birkin bag over her head while the scrawny woman on her right launched into a lecture about the Birkin bag and why there was absolutely no comparison between MY exclusive, handmade bags and THOSE  exclusive handmade bags and finally Miss Matchmaker said that my line was too “niche”, but she would keep my information on file in case they thought they could ever use me.

There was a moment when I thought, I didn’t crash this casting call to SELL my handbag line to you, I answered a call for one of a kind accessories,  and anyway, you didn’t ask me to produce a pair of shoes I’d made or a piece of jewelry I had fabricated either, so if by niche you mean “one of a kind” as long as it looks like everything else on the planet, this clearly isn’t the reality show for me anyway.

As I hit the door to pack up my stuff in the lobby, a woman who showed up about an hour after the line started, and who looked liked she’d woken up that morning face down in stale beer after a particularly hard night as a cocktail waitress in the Tenderloin District, tottered up to me on her eight inch heels and said, “Your bags are beautiful….how did it go in there”.  I looked at her, smiled sweetly, and said…”it was tough” then had breakfast with Natasha, scored a rush ticket to see a matinee performance of Spiderman,  took in the Alexander McQueen show at the Met, and walked back to Port Authority through Central Park on an absolutely gorgeous afternoon.

With any luck this new show will be at least as dreadful as EXPEDITION IMPOSSIBLE, which is another reality series I tried out for this year.  We got as far as the third round before being cut.  That casting call called for “ordinary people” but if you’ve ever watched it, these “ordinary people” look like they were genetically produced in a laboratory to exacting specifications based on a rigid set of blueprints regarding what specific types SHOULD look like if those types were going to be featured in a magazine spread in Vanity Fair  shot by Annie Leibowitz.