Carlos Falchi is truly living the American Dream. If you meet this man, who is so driven with passion for his craft, you will see in his eyes the joy he has towards his work, his family, and his life. After immigrating to the US in the 60's, Falchi found his way at one of the hippest New York City bars, Max's Kansas City, where he mingled with the A-listers of the time. Eventually he was designing clothing for the likes of Miles Davis, Mick Jagger, Elvis Presley and Tina Turner. It would seem that Falchi had an extensive education in fashion design, and while he indirectly did because of his mother's background in wedding dress design, Falchi came into the scene without traditional schooling but a true love and passion of creating something special. His edgy clothing designs made it on stage in NYC concerts. And his transition into handbags was by chance, but has lead him to where he is today.
Today, you will still find Carlos Falchi in his NYC office working. Every sample is created by his hands and no piece or scrap goes to waste. Falchi works with his wife and raves about his daughters, one who is working with him now. His true love and devotion to his handbags is not only evident in the designs, but shows through after speaking with him for just a few minutes. We spent two hours with Carlos and parts of his team and gained unique insights in an artist's work and life. What caught Vlad and I the most was the undying love and passion for what it is that he does. When you buy a Carlos Falchi bag, rest assured that the amount of time, skill and energy going into your very design is out of this world. And if you are drawn to one of his many hand-painted designs, we will let you in on a little known fact; every hand-painted Falchi design is done by Carlos Falchi himself. A true master, a truly amazing person, and a designer that you will hear much more about on our site.
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Slide 1 / 3
PB: For starters, we just want to know how you got into the industry. We read online that when you came to New York, you were at Max's Kansas City. We'd love to hear a bit about that.
Carlos Falchi: It was a wild and fun place - and a lot of work. But, I was really lucky. When I first came to NY I worked in restaurants, I was a young immigrant. I went to Florida, actually Fort Lauderdale. I was in Brazil and started working when I was 13, and when I turned 18, I wanted to take a vacation. I had a cousin who just came back from Ft. Lauderdale and said "it is wonderful, you have to go there". So, I went to visit my cousin in Florida, I didn't speak a word of English. My cousin had to write down a few lines as to how to get around. I got there in 1965, arrived at the hotel, and worked there for a while. When they closed the hotel, I moved to upstate NY.
Finally, I got to NYC and I decided to work at Max's as a bar boy - I didn't know what that meant, but sure, I'd done it before, I could be a bar boy. So I literally worked my way up through Max's. I made my own clothes, made friends, it was the place to be. When I got the graveyard shift, I was able to meet all sorts of people. People started to ask me where I got my clothes and I said that I made them, so people started to ask me to make them clothes. I started to meet artists, I met Miles Davis and I made a pair of pants for him - he loved them and I got to meet him. Miles was going to open at Carnegie Hall and I got to dress him for that event. I worked with him for 2.5 years. Through Miles I met Tina Turner and all different artists. I became friends with all of them - even Andy Warhol and later he did 2 videos for me. So that's how it all started - right there at Max. I was told I needed to go to Bendel's on 57th st. I brought in my clothes and some bags with me - how I carried my clothes. They looked at everything and loved everything. Then they asked about the tote I was carrying - it was all patchwork from the clothes I made. They asked me to come back and bring my bags. At this point, I didn't know bags at all, but I just put things together - unlined, free formed and hand stitched. They went crazy and they loved it! So, Bendel's was my first store - I had no concept of business. In 1973, they opened a boutique for me.
PB: So, you weren't in handbags before, it was something you came on to?
CF: Yes, it was an accident.
PB: With clothing, were you always making clothing?
CF: I was always making my own stuff from a very young age. My mom did wedding dresses. So we grew up next to wedding dresses and next to fabrics. But, I was in the military so it was very different for me. I never studied design or went to fashion school.
PB: So, it was really all something you came across?
CF: I was always into color. The reason my leathers became quickly known, because when I first started everything was dark, beiges and browns in the summer. But, I would take chlorox, soak the leathers in my bathtub so it would take out some of the color and then I would add ending die. It's something I still do.
Slide 2 / 3
PB: When you paint some of these handbags, how long does it take you?
CF: Well, I am pretty quick - I'm used to it. I pain the skins first and then build the bag. My hope in the beginning was to change every color. Also, I had to use the piece of the skin I had because I didn't have any money. I had to use what I had.
PB: When you started the boutique, were you still doing clothing?
CF: I did clothing, but Bendel's really pushed me into the handbag business. At that time, there really wasn't such a thing as a new handbag designer. To everyone else, it was like I was doing something that was completely nuts.
PB: Now you stick to bags. I heard you were getting back to shoes, are you going to do that again?
CF: Yeah, shoes and gloves. I've been doing gloves for a while.
PB: You've been at this location for a while?
CF: I have close to 7 years. But I have factories all over the place - all New York.
PB: When you were talking about your clothing, you mentioned patchwork. What was the style of clothing?
CF: Everything was pretty free form. At first, I didn't even know how to put zippers in the pants. I would lace everything up, it was very rock-n-roll. I've not big into hardware. Even with the handbags, I very rarely use hardware.
PB: Right, I very rarely see hardware on your bags. You really utilize the skins.
CF: In the olden days, we really never used hardware - I wanted the focus to be on the skins.
PB: How many pieces do you have in the Metropolitan Museum of Art?
CF: Five. Basically bags. This is another place where America gives such great opportunity - to evolve.
PB: You have your own niche. Do you have a favorite exotic skin to use?
CF: I am a product of the 60s so I am always very aware of the environment and animals. Everything that I use here is farmed, nothing is wild. I am very involved with the farms. The ecological part of the business is something i am very interested and involved in. The species I use is based on how available they are.
PB: Working with the material, do you have a favorite or least favorite?
CF: No, not really. I like everything. At this point, if there is something I want to use or work with, I will make it work. The skins tell me a lot. I look at it, I see it, I talk to it. My kids make fun of me because I talk to the skins.
PB: Are all of the skins easy to absorb the color?
CF: It has been a long process to learn how to use and work with color. I don't use any harsh chemicals or dyes. It is important to touch and use the bags. The more you use it, the softer it will feel. Don't be afraid to touch the bags and really use the bags!
Slide 3 / 3
PB: You've really established yourself as a designer of our time who really is known for exotics. People go to you when they are looking for a great exotic bag.
CF: Right. I started with leather, and when I used to go to look for leathers, I would buy a bunch of pieces at a time. One time, I was going through the leather I just bought and at the bottom I found a folded up piece of snakeskin and thought, "Oh my god!" - that's really how I got turned onto exotic skins. I hand-painted them, turned it into belts. But my leather guy didn't have snakeskin scraps, he had to give me a name of someone else who cut boots out of crocodile and ostrich. So I would grab pieces and start my collage - all from pieces left over from the boots. Absolutely my treasure! And to this day, people make fun of me because I still hold onto all the scraps and try to use each piece.
PB: You use everything, nothing goes to waste?
CF: That's right - nothing goes to waste. That is all how this became a business.
PB: This is your American Dream?
CF: Absolutely! Only in America. I thought I was only coming for one year, but I came to stay.
PB: Do you have a particular philosophy you use when it comes to your creations?
CF: I love art, I paint, but I think the main thing is to be able to transform everything into something else. I look at everything and see something else. All along it has been that way - the colors, the textures - the evolution of the materials. We like to push to the limit - constantly working to turn something into something else. I still make my own patterns and bags - I still do all that. I sit and stitch, hammer, work with the material. That is my pleasure I love doing it.
PB: Could you imagine yourself doing anything else?
CF: No. Here's the thing, leather gets in your blood. Talk to anyone who works with leather, a shoemaker, whoever, leather gets into your system. I feel like it goes back to when man used to cloth himself. I guess I am prehistoric.
PB: NYC is also part of your blood?
CF: Yes, I love the energy that is here. Everything, the walking, the things there are to see, everything can be an inspiration. You don't need to go too far.
PB: Do you still get to get home to Brazil?
CF: Not as much as I'd like, but I do go whenever I can. But, I have to go to Europe a lot. But NYC is my home.
PB: Your connection to Bendel's is still thriving?
CF: Yes, it is still very strong. It is a different Bendel now, but still very involved.
PB: What are three things you can't live without?
CF: Pair of scissors. I don't need much, my colors, my dyes. It would be my work for sure, but obviously my babies, my daughters - 22 and 24. I guess they aren't quite babies, but they are still my babies.
PB: Are they following a similar path?
CF: Yes, one of them is here with me - doing painting - doing her Masters at Parsons
. I didn't force, I didn't ask, it just happened. And the other one works for EstÃ©e Lauder
, she is a colorist and really loves it.
PB: Thank you very much Carlos, we really appreciate you taking your time to chat and show us around!