What’s the big deal about handbags?

MZ Wallace founders Monica Zwirner and Lucy Wallace Eustice were recently in their offices on Crosby Street in Soho. The table in front of them was lined with swatches and samples of the upcoming collection. However, the two set their sights on a lookbook she created over a decade ago.

“It’s scary to watch,” said the 60-year-old Zwirner. “This is very old.”

Wallace Eustice, 57, opened a photo of a shoulder bag.

“That’s fine,” she said cautiously. She turned the page to see another photo of her purse. “And that’s… fine.”

“It’s not bad,” Zwirner admitted. She quickly flipped through her rest and looked relieved. “It actually feels good to revisit something you made a long time ago and realize it’s still okay,” she said.

MZ Wallace — monika is a combination of Zwirner’s initials and Wallace Eustice’s maiden name — is a 22-year-old line of handbags and accessories that offers practical and utilitarian shoulder bags, totes, duffles, backpacks and other carry. We manufacture our oars from sustainable nylon. Cloth.

Pale rose gold metallic bag made from MZ Wallace’s quilted puff nylon fabric, popular at the Crosby Street flagship store in Soho, New York. MZ Wallace has built a successful brand with a practical, timeless and understated approach to accessories. (Leor Miller/The New York Times)

A brand is not a household name. There are no bold, recognizable logos or color schemes like Chanel’s Interlocking C or Gucci stripes. We do not advertise in fashion magazines. It has avoided high-profile endorsements and flashy marketing campaigns.

Nonetheless, it has achieved cult status among stylish urbanites, with Jane Fonda, Jennifer Garner, Anne Hathaway, Blake Lively, Sienna Miller, Julianne Moore, Lupita Nyong’o and Sarah Achieved a long list of celebrities such as Jessica Parker, Reese Witherspoon, Rene. Zellweger.

In August, MZ Wallace opened its flagship store across from its Crosby Street office, designed by architectural firm Charlap Hyman & Herrero. The 1,900-square-foot space is covered with carpets, curtains and wallpaper decorated with an oversized trompe l’oeil marble print inspired by Gio Ponti’s Marble His Rubber Floor in Milan’s Pirelli Tower. The southernmost wall is decorated with works by Wolfgang Tillmans and Christopher Williams. Metal pedestals by artist Shun Kinoshita dot the exhibition floor, along with beige Mario His Bellini chairs.

A second store opened at the same time in Chicago, which also has a strong customer base.

Call it high and low vibes. The brand’s longevity and success is due to its masterful blend of utilitarian design and luxurious details. MZ Wallace’s most popular style of fabric, quilted puff his nylon serves as an understated brand his emblem, as does a small diamond made of Italian his leather sewn into the bottom gusset of each product.

The proportions of each bag are intuitively functional. The large, roomy tote fits perfectly over your carry-on suitcase. A slender crossbody bag comfortably holds a wallet, passport, keys and cell phone. Thoughtful functionalism can be seen in certain features, such as the 18-pocket backpack clip that can be secured to a stroller.

handbags, sustainable fashion, brands MZ Wallace’s flagship store on Crosby Street in SoHo, New York, sells metallic, black lacquer and neon wallets, makeup bags and other small accessories. (Leor Miller/The New York Times)

Their bags also feature Italian leather trimmings and silver hardware. Some are adorned with playful fringes, fashionable chains and beautiful leather-wrapped straps. Black has always been a popular customer color choice, but each season brings new collections in a variety of bright and bold shades and patterns. Peony pink here, muted sapphire blue there, all relatively affordable.

It’s not cheap, but a weekend duffle bag, for example, retails for $295. $185 shoulder bag. (By comparison, today’s designer handbags can start at around $1,500.)

“I’m not against expensive bags,” said Wallace Eustis. “MZ Wallace is either your first bag or his second. are using us.”

“It may sound a little cheesy, but I wanted to create a bag that helps you become a better person,” added Zwirner. “A bag doesn’t wear you. It helps you get through the day, no matter what kind of day you’re on, or what type of person you are.”

Adam Charlap Hyman, 32, co-founder of Charlap Hyman & Herrero, said, “I remember coming to the conclusion that they were, in some ways, America’s answer to Longchamp.” were expressing something that felt elegant with very utilitarian materials.They weren’t trying to be what they weren’t.”

Zwirner started thinking about starting a handbag company when she was a young mother in the late ’90s. Barbara Dente’s former fashion stylist and her interior designer at Selldorf Architects loved her Prada nylon bags, but found them too expensive. Kate Spade launched her popular Nylon Box line of her bags in 1993, but Zwirner felt the aesthetic was too girly and decided that more traditional brands such as LeSportsac and Herbe Chapelier would make his bags. It has been around since the 70s and left room for innovation.

handbags, sustainable fashion, brands A sequin bag at the MZ Wallace flagship store on Crosby Street in Soho, New York. (Leor Miller/The New York Times)

“I remember thinking there wasn’t a great American nylon handbag company that focused on style and design in a way that appealed to me.” With three small children, it was impossible for me to build anything.”

In the spring of 1999, when I ran into my friend Wallace Eustice at the Farmer’s Market in New York’s Union Square (she put her youngest in a stroller and put Wallace Eustice and the newborn in a carrier) , Zwirner asked her if she was interested in discussing the idea. .

Former accessories director Wallace Eustice, who has worked at Mirabella, Harper’s Bazaar and Elle, immediately loved the concept. But she added that a store would be needed. With a store, you can build relationships with your customers. This is very important in knowing what to sell. They are not subject to the whims of department stores.

“Before DTC, it was direct-to-consumer selling,” said Wallace Eustice, referring to today’s online practice of selling to customers without middlemen.

MZ Wallace debuted in May 2000 on Crosby Street, just one block north of its current flagship store. They sourced their nylon from Brookwood, a textile company known for producing high-tech military and medical fabrics. To achieve the coveted quilting effect, they ran nylon bolts through a mattress quilting machine in Brooklyn and shipped it to Manhattan’s clothing district for manufacturing.

Initially, it offered totes, satchels and shoulder bags. Word of mouth quickly generated interest, as did reports from Wallace Eustis’ friends and colleagues at various fashion magazines. But Zwirner says their bags were also popular with “local customers—downtown moms who heard about us, playground finders.”

They quickly gained enthusiastic support from Japanese customers. “At the time, we were bigger in Japan than here,” said Wallace Eustis.

“By the way, they were actually only selling three bags,” said 61-year-old fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi, an early customer. I couldn’t get it, there were 3 styles, and that was it.Goodbye!They were great and everyone wanted them, but they just couldn’t keep up.

As Wallace Eustice predicted, early department store buyers didn’t understand the brand. They were told to change the price and raise the price. But the two stuck to their vision.

handbags, sustainable fashion, brands Vibrant sequined fuchsia totes and crossbody bags from the MZ Wallace flagship store. (Leor Miller/The New York Times)

It has never changed the simplicity and practicality of design like trendy early 2000s bags like Botkier, Kooba and Rafe.

“Accessories often change with consumer needs as times change,” says Debbi Hartley-Triesch, 54, executive vice of beauty, accessories and home at Nordstrom. President and General Merchandise Manager. For over ten years, she wrote in an e-mail. “Bags are often an extension of ourselves, both in self-identity and utility,” she says.

As MZ Wallace grew, so did his sense of purpose. Zwirner is married to her German art dealer and gallerist David Herzwirner, and in 2011 she and Wallace her Eustice launched a special her edition bag designed by artist Raymond Pettibon. Did. and actor Ben Stiller. Since then, they have worked with organizations and artists such as Kelly James Marshall, Nideka Akuniri Crosby, and Glenn Lygon to create special edition bags, donating 100% of the proceeds to specific non-profit organizations. doing.

“I love carrying the Glenn Lygon bag because it often encourages conversations about what matters most to me: art and artists,” says MZ Wallace, the Harlem studio that raised nearly $100,000. said Thelma Golden, 57, director of the museum. In 2014 she joined Ligon’s art education program. “It gives me a chance to become a museum curator.”

handbags, sustainable fashion, brands The Cloud Print Packable Tote unfolds from a small pouch at the MZ Wallace flagship store. (Leor Miller/The New York Times)

“For me, the bag is my canvas,” said artist Nick Cave, 64. He recently designed his colorful MZ Wallace his tote, and all proceeds went to support educational programs at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and the Facility Foundation. “This is an extension of the art practice. And I love the idea of ​​it coming out into the world and being seen and recognized.”

Today, MZ Wallace employs 40 people and offers over 400 styles. Today, much of its manufacturing takes place in China and Vietnam. 60% of his sales come from the website he launched in 2004. Zwirner and Wallace Eustice say the brand has grown by 20% over the past three years, year-over-year, except for the year it opened.

Business partners have been approached several times to sell their still privately held companies. They are open to the idea. But they also like where they are. The two have lunch at the office every day. they remain close friends.

“We laughed,” said Wallace Eustis. “You have to have fun on the road. Otherwise what’s the point?”

This article was originally published in The New York Times.

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