by Laura Goode
Angie Keefer recently designed a purse with tree branches on it. The word "bizarre" comes to mind, perhaps pretentious, even silly. But spend an afternoon with Keefer in her studio and one can see how such rustic refuse could deem inspired accents. Engaging, bright, and deeply artistic, the designer's Red Hook studio reflects a fertile mind in motion. Born to two engineers in Huntsville, Alabama, Keefer landed in New York after graduating from Yale in 1999. Since then, stints with the artist Peter Halley, which led to projects with Index magazine and Steven Alan, have transformed the former studio art and architecture student into a bonified contender in bag design.
"I was walking through a park in Paris," Keefer says, detailing the inspiration behind the branch bag. "I saw these tree branches lying around that were so beautiful, and unique, and free, and people thought they were worthless. I felt like I was suddenly surrounded by riches." Understandably, this fascination with the organic lends a whimsical quality to Keefer's bags. Each is its own m—lange of decadent shapes and textures, combining unusual media such as laminated denim, raw canvas, scraps of tweed, and lush lamb suede. "I save everything," admits Keefer with a laugh. As such, seemingly useless scraps become patchwork interiors, zipper details, antiqued buttons—or building blocks for future ideas.
Silk-screened images of scorpions, foxes, Venus flytraps, and octopi comprise another motif that pervades Keefer's 2005 collection. Lifted from an early-20th-century volume of flora and fauna, the designer notes with amusement that she realized the animals were all predators only after she incorporated them into her designs. A bricolage of other oddities—arboreal remains included—seasons the painted fabric of the bags. On her evening purse hangs a peculiar hunk of sterling silver, which reveals itself only upon a closer look as a replica of Keefer's own wisdom tooth.
Is her fascination with the organic a political statement? "Design is a matter of interest that is all political," answers Keefer enigmatically. "We live in a humanocentric world. Sometimes I find plants and animals more interesting."
Organic and found objects pepper Angie Keefer's lushly conceived designs, yielding exquisite, durable, and eclectic bags.