by Lisa Stasiulewicz
Just the thought of hitting the mommy track is bound to send any career-minded gal into a minor tailspin. For accessories designer Rachel Nasvik, however, having a little one was just the catalyst to push her to start her own handbag line. "Once my son was born, I couldn't think of working 60 hours a week as a designer anymore," she says.
Instead, Rachel took a year off to start small, putting together her own collection of bags, which debuted in fall 2004 with just three pieces. She started circulating the designs among friends, one of whom, as luck would have it, passed on her denim wallet to an editor at Lucky. The wallet landed on the back page and almost immediately Rachel's sales soared. Soon after, Henri Bendel picked up the line after she showed at an open designer day, and the old-school retailer has since been instrumental in nurturing the designer's craft.
But accessories weren't always her focus. Rachel learned to sew from her mother at the age of 8, and soon began altering patterns to create her own designs (her first piece was a daisy-print shirt with bell-bottom cuffs). The experience served her well during her studies at FIT where she majored in women's knitwear. However, it was the egalitarianism of accessories that drew her to bags. "In terms of production, you don't have to worry about fit or sizing," she says. "You can make something to fit everyone."
From left: Bianca bag, $345, and Patricia bag, $465 the small, both Spring/Summer '06
She still gets inspiration from clothing—mostly vintage coats—honing in on a detail such as a button or welt pocket as the lynchpin for a design. Elbow patches from a man's sport coat became the Bianca bag, a soft hobo with two patches of suede on the sides. The bags come in rich, mostly neutral colors—with the occasional bright hue thrown in for good measure. "A great black or brown bag—that's what you should invest in," she says. "But, I've found that you can wear turquoise with everything, too."
Now, five seasons into her line, her bags are evolving, becoming more detailed and more functional, too (exterior pockets are well-suited for cell-phones or iPods). Now that her son, Liam, will be attending preschool, Rachel will have more time to focus on growing the business. She plans to expand into other leather-goods next, but you'll never find her designing a diaper bag. "I'm kind of the anti-mommy, in that sense. Maybe it's because I have a boy or maybe because we're past the diaper stage, but I just really don't want to go there."
Clockwise, from top left: Jancy clutch, $288, Spring/Summer '06; Tabitha tote, $405; and Cassidy bag, $460, both Fall/Winter '06
The miracle of creation moves beyond just a baby boy for designer, Rachel Nasvik. In her case, it launched a coveted new line of handbags, too.