At first, we had only planned to go visit the Sola Showroom in New York City back in April to check out what designers they represented that we could write about and introduce to our readers. What we did not expect was that we’d be crossing paths with a lady that was sitting at the table in the showroom. She was chatting it up with the PR girls while petting her chihuahua. As it turned out, this lady was the successful handbag designer whose bags represented nearly a quarter of the entire showroom floor. We arranged another meeting and a few days later we sat down with Jane August and got to know the confident, business-savvy designer that we had only read about previously in fashion magazines. Jane was a blast, very outspoken and she allowed us to learn intimate insights into the intricate business aspects of what it means to be an independent fashion designer these days. Enjoy!
Purse Blog: Tell us about Jane August’s beginnings.
Jane August: I started at Macy’s, California, in a trading program. It was learning how to do retail map and retail sales. After 5 years, I became a buyer. I was a petite dress buyer, I did a lot of private label and development for them overseas. Taiwan, Korea, Hong-Kong. From there I moved into different areas of wholesale and retail. I worked for Liz Claiborne and Limited, in 1999 I decided I wanted to take a year off and figure out what I wanted to do. I decided that to me clothing was – not boring – but too pedantic and that I wanted to do something much more exciting. I looked in my closet and realized that I had hundreds of vintage bags and shoes. I thought handbags would be a little easier; from my background I developed a lot of relationships in Italy and I wanted to do a luxury business for numerous reasons. What better place? I called a few people, went to Italy and my first order was with an Internet company. They wrote a $70,000 order, I thought ‘this is great, this is easy!’ – phenomenal. It was much more of an artisan project, we worked with a cabinet maker who made the wooden boxes for the bags. On their second order they went bust and left me with their holiday order;
Jane August: I can remember getting robbed… it’s an experience! I can tell you about the King’s Road – which is one of my number one bags. In 1982, I was on a buying trip to London, I had all these bags but no one bag to put them in. So I went into a hardware store on King’s Road and I saw this feeding bag. It was in linen and it had adjustable straps. I loved it from the minute I saw it. I must have left it at my mother’s house. Three years ago, my mother came walking into my house, wearing the bag. I said to her ‘Where’d you get that bag?’ and she said ‘It’s yours! I’ve had it for the past 20 years’. I immediately sent it to Italy, and we did it in a linen version because it was a linen feed bag. It was no handbag! It was in a hardware store on King’s Road. Today I’ve sold thousands of them and I sell them on King’s Road now at a store called Charlie’s and they do well selling them. It became a full circle for me.
PB: How do you sum up the brand Jane August?
Jane August: Chic. Beautiful. I think that, in many ways, I don’t necessarily like to be like other designers. I don’t follow a trend. I don’t copy anybody. I take inspiration from things that have been done in the past. My favorite is mid-20th century design from furniture, to clothing. It is sleek. I think when you sum up my designs, a lot of it is sleek. You don’t see a lot of embellishment, you don’t see a lot of clunky hardware. If there is hardware, it’s very sleek and understated. I think that, for me, when somebody walks in with a bag, although you want your personality to shine, it should show the beauty of it and not so much the trend.