Bags of Style

A handbag is so much more than just a fashion accessory – it holds really important stuff. That’s why Adrian Furstenburg designs his to be functional and stylish.

There’s nothing gracious about the term ‘bag lady’. Footwear fiends have all the luck: ‘shoe lover’ is a far sexier moniker. So what do you call yourself if you’re handbag-obsessed? And who isn’t?

A bag is a practical, everyday essential, and it protects of some of your most treasured assets. Find us a woman who claims it’s possible to leave the house without one – even just a tiny one – and we’ll prove her wrong.

Men, too, have joined the fray. Even the more conservative gentleman is surprisingly on track when it comes to the purchase of a bag, says South African handbag designer Adrian Furstenburg. Whereas men buy a bag as more of an investment piece (usually in classic brown or black) mostly for business use, like a laptop satchel, women purchase a bag to put all and sundry in, he says. ‘One purchases a bag because it not only looks great but also because it is essential for the invaluable, day-to-day items that make your life possible – your survival kit,’ says Furstenburg.

It’s the style, however, that sets the good bags apart from the sacks. Here’s where Furstenburg really knows his stuff. As winner of the Guess category at the Independent Handbag Designer Awards in New York City 2016, his Johannesburg-based atelier specialises in bespoke handbag design and limited-edition collections. But before he designed and crafted his chic ‘#7’ (from his SEVEN collection), also known as The Jacquie, his relationship with bags was like many a young frustrated fashionista: a bit of a wretched affair. ‘The first bag I ever bought was at the age of 14,’ he says. ‘It was one of those free gifts that you received when buying Calvin Klein CK One fragrance (it was very popular back then) and was a black messenger cross-body bag. I literally bought the perfume just because of the bag with my saved-up pocket money. It was made from black canvas and had nylon straps. I was devastated when the lining tore after three months. This stuck with me, because I now make sure that the lining I use in my collection is one of the strongest fabrics available!’

Furstenburg is a qualified textile designer, so it’s no wonder that his lining is his calling card. ‘When you design a handbag you can’t redesign the wheel, so to speak, but I wanted to get my spirit into the bags and explain who I was on a piece of fabric,’ he says. He turned to friend Peter du Plessis to help with the project. The result is a lining that works for all seasons and is used in his entire collection as his signature.

As for the handbags themselves, there are seven in the collection that cater for work, travel and, of course, play. When pressed to name a favourite – and a good investment piece – Furstenburg says he adores The Jacquie bag (a valued client was the inspiration behind it). It’s a classic shape with classic shades available in the range, he explains. ‘The game changer is the built-in sunglasses case holder. Apart from being the bestseller in my collection, the fact that it was designed for Jacquie makes it very special to me because there’s magic involved when you design something specific for someone. It’s a love thing and love is essential for design.’

Another matter close to this South African designer’s heart is helping to change how the world perceives local design. ‘A main focus is to help change how the world views South African design. Its reputation is often linked to touristy curios or bad-quality goods. But in the case of South African fine jewellery the perception is a good one, so we need that same energy.’

Original article by Helen Clemson shortened for online publication


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