Exclusive: Eddie Borgo debuts a line of bags


Exclusive: Eddie Borgo debuts a line of bags

The designer takes his sculptural oeuvre into handbag territory

By Arati Menon  July 16th, 2015

Back in January, jeweller Eddie Borgo invited every New York-based fashion director and buyer he knew to his Elizabeth Street studio. The occasion: the unveiling of his first handbag collection. If he was looking for immediate affirmation though, he would’ve been disappointed. “I learnt fairly early on that everyone came with a preconceived notion about what to expect from me. And when they realised their assumptions were incorrect, they tried to compare it to other brands they knew — and couldn’t,” he recalls. It wasn’t just the ’50s-style pocketbook and attaché aesthetic that was unexpected: for a designer celebrated for his edgy and fun — but not fine — jewellery, the move into leather goods was a definitive one into the luxury market.

Few would’ve predicted Borgo would feel the compunction to extend his brand quite so soon. It had been just over five successful years: the brand was retailing out of 200 stores across the world, including premier retail outlets Le Bon Marché and Lane Crawford; its signature cone bracelets and chain chokers had come to be considered modern classics by fans and Borgo enjoyed unwavering support from a slew of tastemakers, including Tabitha Simmons, Giovanna Battaglia, Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele and Anna Wintour.

But it was encouragement from further afield in Paris — the global headquarters of one of France’s top haute couture houses — that first presented Borgo with the opportunity to get into the handbag game.

Borgo talks of Maureen Chiquet’s influence in his brand’s journey with both gratitude and modesty. When Borgo won the CDFA Tiffany & Co development grant in 2011 (he was a CDFA runner-up in 2010), he was awarded $1,00,000 in development funds and a mentorship with Chiquet, the global CEO of Chanel. “I was overwhelmed by the idea because Maureen has a reputation for being very tough... but we broke the ice over time,” he says. It was Chiquet who eventually introduced Borgo to Dirk Bosteels, a handbag veteran who had worked with Karl Lagerfeld, Christian Lacroix and Sonia Rykiel. The introduction was strategic — not long after, Bosteels was appointed director of Eddie Borgo’s new leather goods division.

By then, Borgo knew exactly who he wanted as creative head for the new business. The trouble was that she, Sapna Shah, was pursuing non-profit work on a farm in Swaziland, and was far more concerned with sending him “photographs of purple sunsets” than engaging in shop talk. Luckily for him, Shah eventually agreed to the move back to familiar territory — and New York.

A handbag designer who cut her teeth on brands like Rag & Bone and Calvin Klein, Shah seems very much like Borgo’s Rorschach split half. They finish each other’s sentences, have a shared proclivity for dressing in monochrome, are obsessed with engineering and functionality, and as it turned out when it came time to determine the mood board for the handbag collection, both veered towards icons from the Industrial Revolution. “When we brought our visuals inspirations together, we noticed all these threads of connectivity, and it was uncanny,” recalls Shah.

The result of that kinship is a collection inspired by the ’50s and ’60s, with a nod to the innovations of the Industrial Revolution. Even the names of the styles — a playful take on androgynous American nicknames like Colt and Vic, as well as the colours — green from an automobile chassis and blush from a make-up palette, are very much of the time. Think ’50s Americana with its freeways and space rockets, modernist architecture, the seamless interiors of a Cadillac and strong lines of mid-century furniture — all combined with modern functionality. Interior pockets are designed for specific needs: lipstick tubes, credit, metro cards and cell phone and closures can be opened with one hand — designed for a woman on the go. “Women today who are buying into this type of craftsmanship will love these bags as much as objects of art as they will a functioning handbag,” explains Borgo. “And that’s why it’s about so much more that sticking my jewellery on to a clutch and adding a strap.”

There’s visible pride when he takes apart each bag, explaining the mechanisation behind the aluminum flap and its custom metal slats, the construction of the accordion gusset and arc handles. “I’m pretty sure we’re the only ones who use aluminum to lighten the totes — traditional brass or white metal can be quite heavy,” he says, adding that it is space shuttle-grade aluminum.

Shah takes over to explain the craftsmanship behind the leatherwork: the complicated truncated pyramid shapes; the seamless fluidity between leather and hardware; the way each bag is designed to be carried three different ways. “It’s about her expertise in leather and engineering and my expertise in metal and hardware,” Borgo interjects, “A marriage between the two that you don’t typically see in handbag construction.”

It’s an interesting time in the life of the brand. On the one hand, Borgo is valuing up with high-end handbags, and on the other, he just announced a collaboration with Target on a collection of highly customisable fashion jewellery all purchased separately and mixed-and-matched to the user’s content with prices as low as $8. “All this only means that there’s room to grow up with jewellery division, and with leather goods, space to come down.” 

Does that mean there’s more to come from the leather goods division? Yes, he confirms, small leather goods are definitely on the anvil: “My vision has always been about so much more than designer jewellery. Handbags were an opportunity I couldn’t turn down and now I know we can be a full-fledged legacy accessories brand. That’s in our future now.” 

Photographs: Emilio Madrid-Kuser; Styling: Jenny Haapala; Make-up and hair: Eric Vosburg/ABTP; Model: Nidhi Sunil/Wilhelmina Models

Back in January, jeweller Eddie Borgo invited every New York-based fashion director and buyer he knew to his Elizabeth Street studio. The occasion: the unveiling of his first handbag collection. If he was looking for immediate affirmation though, he would’ve been disappointed. “I learnt fairly early on that everyone came with a preconceived notion about what to expect from me. And when they realised their assumptions were incorrect, they tried to compare it to other brands they knew — and couldn’t,” he recalls. It wasn’t just the ’50s-style pocketbook and attaché aesthetic that was unexpected: for a designer celebrated for his edgy and fun — but not fine — jewellery, the move into leather goods was a definitive one into the luxury market.

Few would’ve predicted Borgo would feel the compunction to extend his brand quite so soon. It had been just over five successful years: the brand was retailing out of 200 stores across the world, including premier retail outlets Le Bon Marché and Lane Crawford; its signature cone bracelets and chain chokers had come to be considered modern classics by fans and Borgo enjoyed unwavering support from a slew of tastemakers, including Tabitha Simmons, Giovanna Battaglia, Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele and Anna Wintour.

But it was encouragement from further afield in Paris — the global headquarters of one of France’s top haute couture houses — that first presented Borgo with the opportunity to get into the handbag game.

Borgo talks of Maureen Chiquet’s influence in his brand’s journey with both gratitude and modesty. When Borgo won the CDFA Tiffany & Co development grant in 2011 (he was a CDFA runner-up in 2010), he was awarded $1,00,000 in development funds and a mentorship with Chiquet, the global CEO of Chanel. “I was overwhelmed by the idea because Maureen has a reputation for being very tough... but we broke the ice over time,” he says. It was Chiquet who eventually introduced Borgo to Dirk Bosteels, a handbag veteran who had worked with Karl Lagerfeld, Christian Lacroix and Sonia Rykiel. The introduction was strategic — not long after, Bosteels was appointed director of Eddie Borgo’s new leather goods division.

By then, Borgo knew exactly who he wanted as creative head for the new business. The trouble was that she, Sapna Shah, was pursuing non-profit work on a farm in Swaziland, and was far more concerned with sending him “photographs of purple sunsets” than engaging in shop talk. Luckily for him, Shah eventually agreed to the move back to familiar territory — and New York.

A handbag designer who cut her teeth on brands like Rag & Bone and Calvin Klein, Shah seems very much like Borgo’s Rorschach split half. They finish each other’s sentences, have a shared proclivity for dressing in monochrome, are obsessed with engineering and functionality, and as it turned out when it came time to determine the mood board for the handbag collection, both veered towards icons from the Industrial Revolution. “When we brought our visuals inspirations together, we noticed all these threads of connectivity, and it was uncanny,” recalls Shah.

The result of that kinship is a collection inspired by the ’50s and ’60s, with a nod to the innovations of the Industrial Revolution. Even the names of the styles — a playful take on androgynous American nicknames like Colt and Vic, as well as the colours — green from an automobile chassis and blush from a make-up palette, are very much of the time. Think ’50s Americana with its freeways and space rockets, modernist architecture, the seamless interiors of a Cadillac and strong lines of mid-century furniture — all combined with modern functionality. Interior pockets are designed for specific needs: lipstick tubes, credit, metro cards and cell phone and closures can be opened with one hand — designed for a woman on the go. “Women today who are buying into this type of craftsmanship will love these bags as much as objects of art as they will a functioning handbag,” explains Borgo. “And that’s why it’s about so much more that sticking my jewellery on to a clutch and adding a strap.”

There’s visible pride when he takes apart each bag, explaining the mechanisation behind the aluminum flap and its custom metal slats, the construction of the accordion gusset and arc handles. “I’m pretty sure we’re the only ones who use aluminum to lighten the totes — traditional brass or white metal can be quite heavy,” he says, adding that it is space shuttle-grade aluminum.

Shah takes over to explain the craftsmanship behind the leatherwork: the complicated truncated pyramid shapes; the seamless fluidity between leather and hardware; the way each bag is designed to be carried three different ways. “It’s about her expertise in leather and engineering and my expertise in metal and hardware,” Borgo interjects, “A marriage between the two that you don’t typically see in handbag construction.”

It’s an interesting time in the life of the brand. On the one hand, Borgo is valuing up with high-end handbags, and on the other, he just announced a collaboration with Target on a collection of highly customisable fashion jewellery all purchased separately and mixed-and-matched to the user’s content with prices as low as $8. “All this only means that there’s room to grow up with jewellery division, and with leather goods, space to come down.” 

Does that mean there’s more to come from the leather goods division? Yes, he confirms, small leather goods are definitely on the anvil: “My vision has always been about so much more than designer jewellery. Handbags were an opportunity I couldn’t turn down and now I know we can be a full-fledged legacy accessories brand. That’s in our future now.” 

Photographs: Emilio Madrid-Kuser; Styling: Jenny Haapala; Make-up and hair: Eric Vosburg/ABTP; Model: Nidhi Sunil/Wilhelmina Models