Recently, we had the chance to sit down with New York-based designer Kara Ross, discover her collection of exotics and learn more about her background, knowledge and motivation. Enjoy!
Purse Blog: Our first question, which I am sure everyone asks: How did you get into the fashion world and especially, I know you do a lot of jewelery, but why then bags?
Kara Ross: I went to GIA, which is Gemological Institute of America about 16 years ago.
Purse Blog: They are the same ones who do the diamond certificates?
Kara Ross: Well, right, I am a gemologist, it is a 6 month program. The first two months are all diamonds and the last 4 months are colored stones. At the end of the 6 month education you take a test and you become a gemologist. So, I am kind of an expert on stones whether it is diamonds or colored stones. I went to Georgetown for College and then I did this after. With that education I started in the jewelery business; about 13 years ago I sold a collection to Neiman Marcus but the collection was primarily silver with gold, diamonds, with Tahitian props and accents and it was in about 5 different Neiman Marcus stores. I did that for a few years, I pulled it out and then I was working with private clients and started doing custom made really expensive diamond jewelery, ear-rings, I worked directly with the diamond cutters so I had access to really beautiful stones. And then you really, focus, when you are doing those expensive pieces on quality – making sure the wax model is perfect, making sure the setting is perfect, making sure the diamond is perfect. Having had that education, not only the stone education, but training and day to day working on drilling the pearls, setting the stones, things like that, quality becomes really important. While I was doing private clients, it was all generally word of mouth, at the same time, I always had a small collection of my fine jewelery, but because I didn’t have a retail outlet to have it, the collection was much smaller, but I was always designing my own pieces. But, then about 6 years ago I put together a collection and it was mostly rock crystal with diamond accents, very fashion forward, I showed it to Bergdorf Goodman, they bought it, so this collection as it is started about 6 years ago. I did that for a few years, but I’ve always loved handbags and I had been doing jewelery forever and like anything you do for a long time, it doesn’t become a challenge anymore. So, I wanted a new challenge while at the same time I could continue with the jewelery and I love working with gemstones.
Frankly, I thought working with handbags, the whole process, wasn’t going to be as challenging as it was. By that I mean, not only the design, but working with the manufacturers that have the same quality expectations that you do is very challenging; and still to this day, that is the most challenging thing. So, I flew over to Florence, Italy and interviewed hardware manufacturers, bag manufacturers, started with that and now have manufacturers in South Africa as well as New York. In tying in the gemology with the bag line, each of the bags has a hand cut gemstone, whether it is used as a closure on some of the clutches or hanging off the larger bags. The stones come from Brazil where they are hand cut with a specific piece of hardware I had manufactured which is very clean lines, very geometric, and then the gem stones that are fitting in that are the same. So, then the bag line was originally picked up/been in stores for about 14 months, and it has really exploded from there which is great – started with Bergdorf’s went to Neiman’s which are fabulous specialty stores in the States and was recently picked up in London by, Harvey Nichols, Selfridges and Harrod’s and we have appointments with other stores.
Purse Blog: Are your bags made in mostly Italy, are the leathers done in Italy or is some of this done in South Africa?
Kara Ross: I have manufacturers in all of those places, but the majority of the bags are done in the United States.
Purse Blog: There seems to be a large audience that puts a focus on buying locally made goods, especially when it comes to specialty goods. “Made In Italy”, “Made in France” becomes boring at times.
Kara Ross: Attention to quality is extremely important. I love the idea of having these bags manufactured in the United States because then you are supporting your country and supporting your economy. So I try to seek out workers that have the same expectations of quality that I do and then also, you are giving them a job. We don’t mass produce any of the products we have here. First of all, you have to make sure the skins are perfect before you give them to the manufacturer. You have to make sure the stones are perfect, that there’s no color zoning, that they fit the hardware perfectly and then they go to the manufacturer. When you get them back you look them over with a fine tooth comb, so there’s many levels of quality control. As you can see, there could be some bags where you only make two of them. For instance, like this bag, we call the Dea bag. This bag fits everything you need, but each season you can reinterpret this shape with new colors, etc. The winning styles you keep wanting to show again, but reinterpret them differently while adding new styles. The next collection which is going to be resort will feature much larger day bags. I am really excited about them because they are going to be beautiful.