Last month Vlad and I had the pleasure of meeting with Monica Botkier at a Saks event. I have been wanting to meet Monica for months now (let's make that years but I was not sure it would ever happen). This beautiful designer has made a name for herself in the accessory world, having her handbags seen on the arms of countless celebrities, carried in all of the biggest department stores, and coveted by many. We gave away a Botkier Sasha
and I am still bitter that I did not buy one for myself. We asked Monica some of our own questions along with questions from our forum members. We will be bringing you more information on her fall 2008 bags shortly.
PB: How did you get into the fashion industry, namely handbags?
: You know handbags really choose me. The fashion industry I was in already; I was a photographer and focusing primarily on fashion. I was working with fashion magazines and on advertising shoots. With the handbag it was just a true love of mine. Believe it or not I collected leather and used them for portfolio covers. I thought that one day I might have more of a use for all of the leathers, but not particularly with handbags in mind. And that is what I did; I ended up sketching a bag and having it made. I wore these bags to shoots and I had models and editors asking, "Where can I get one? Oh I want one, can I order one?" So I started taking little orders.
PB: So how would you explain your bags?
: I take pride in the fact that they are sexy and functional at the same time. So it gives you an edge and can really dress you up. I am not one of those people that get decked out from head to toe. I am actually really casual and I let the bag dress me up.
PB: We are the same way! This is why I love bags so much myself, they can easily dress up my outfits.
: Right! And I want my bags to make a statement but I also want them to be comfortable, not too heavy, have lots of exterior pockets, and have a long enough handle drop. One of the best features we have inside is a key chain that is really long so you will never loose your keys. You can just reach in and find them!
PB: One of the readers on our forum noted that you use elephants often. Is there a significance of elephants in your life?
: I love elephants. I think they are a good luck symbol. When I was younger I used to travel a lot, I was an avid traveler. Ganesha, the Hindu elephant deity, is supposed to be protective of travels. But also my background is Russian-Polish and my daughters name is Sloane. When I told that to my grandmother she started laughing because she pronounced it like "slon", which means little elephant in Polish. So it had a little extra specialness to me. I think they are brilliant animals; they have strong family ties, they remember things, they are just a good-vibe animal.
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PB: Do you still speak polish?
: I do, badly, but I do.
: I was born in Prague and I am Czech and still speak Czech to this day with my parents. So we are pretty much neighbors!
: Yes we are! I could tell you have an Eastern European look.
PB: One of the things that many people wanted to know on our Botkier forum; Bot-key-Ã©?
: You can say either way. Bot-key-Ã© or Bot-key-er
PB: Of course. So one of the things that many people wanted to know on our forum was why Target? Why did you go into that?
: It is a great question. At this point I am seeing that the best of the best of young designers are being asked to do these projects. It is quite a challenge. It is not about taking one of my hits and re-doing it in cheaper leather, for me I took it real seriously. I took it on as an artistic project. I was really flattered because so many big designers are doing something similar; Karl Lagerfeld and Stella McCartney doing for H&M.
PB: Why not take the path of Marc Jacobs, similar to how we created Marc by Marc?
: Because I feel like the niche that we are in is just the right niche. We are a designer brand that is very approachable. Everything is like a designer brand. We do custom hardware, designs, leathers, ad campaigns. But you are not paying the thousand-dollar price point. We are really around the $595 to $695 range. I really like the place that we are. With the shoes we are trying to create the same thing. It is not a Louboutin but it is a thong for $225 but it is hand crafted in Italy, same designer approach.
PB: There was a question about your manufacturing locations. First you started off crafting your bags in the US and then moved to Indonesia. Would you ever consider doing a small premium price collection to be based out of New York again?
: Well let me tell you that the quality is superb. We work with a Korean based factory that works with some of the biggest names in the industry. They have 30 years experience. The owner treats everyone like family. The attention that we get, the quality, the on time delivery, well it was not happening in New York. In New York the ability to customize the hardware was lagging along with the quality. I feel very comfortable with what we are doing. I would love to, for more patriotic reasons, to keep this in my hometown. But it just was not working. I want people to feel comfortable because these factories have major experience. It is a real relationship; we see them 2-3 times per season, they come here, we go there. I think the customers are getting better quality.
PB: Are there any particular designers that you admire or take inspiration from?
: Probably my favorite designer label right now is Miu Miu and it has been for a while. I love what they do.
PB: I find myself drawn to Miu Miu more than Prada lately.
: It is very special line and has a very strong direction. It is edgy and feminine at the same time.
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PB: There is a rumor going around that the Botkier Bianca is going to be discontinued;
: Actually, we were going to discontinue it. We thought it had a great run. But now what we are doing is continuing it. Some of the major stores and specialty stores are not really picking it up, but Botkier.com will be carrying it.
PB: People were really worried!
: It is going to be limited. You won't have the 15 colors, but it will still be there. We are probably just going to go forward with the medium size.
PB: Well you had many of the ladies on our forum worried. They kept asking if the bag is going to be gone.
: Your forum is a group of very passionate people!
PB: What bag do you carry on a daily basis?
: Right now I am carrying the Stevie Convertible in bright yellow. I love this bag. It is a light structure but has some casual aspects to it in terms of the ruching. The outside pocket is number 1 for my Blackberry, because I am addicted to it! I also love this bag because of the cross-body. Cross-body bags are some of the ugliest bags made unless they are done right and I really feel like this is a successful one. There is another bag in June coming out called the Morgan, it is a fringed bag and I just love it.
PB: There are a few who are inquiring about suede lining in your bags?
: Oh yes, well we gave suede lining to the Bianca. We really thought it was a super-luxe bag. But suede really does make bags heavier. The Bianca is made of light leathers so it can handle the weight, but we did not want to give it to every bag so that it weighs the bag down.
PB: Do you have plans to expand your line beyond handbags and shoes?
: I think right now we are going to stick with this. We have a great wallet collection and may add a few more small accessories. The shoes are a huge endeavor. They are made in Italy and it has been quite a bit of work. But I got a great compliment from my mom! My mom is a high-heeled shoe diva. She had foot surgery recently and was so bummed. I gave her one of our 100 mm and she was able to wear them on a recently trip and said they were so comfortable. So I think we are going to concentrate on what we have now.
PB: Where do you see your brand in five years?
: I don't see us as a real lifestyle brand; like dresses, sneakers, etc. I see us as an accessory lifestyle brand. So have some stores and flush out some more leather accessories. We still have room to grow.
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PB: How do you determine your future colors?
: Colors are tough. Right now we look at some of the forecasting information. We go to the leather shows in Italy to see what they are coming up with. It is really a gut thing. With bags you can't do bags in all these fantastic colors because people don't buy them, so we have to edit them down. Based on my mood and inspiration for the season we pull all these palettes together.
PB: What is your typical night out?
: Well I am a mom, so this might be a boring answer. I have a 3 year old who has a lot to say and loves shoes and handbags! She goes in my closet and tries on my shoes and handbags.
PB: That is what we were going to ask, if she loved shoes and handbags!
: She totally does. But about 5 months ago I did go out one night and stayed out until 4 or 5 am, and it was amazing!! Every 5 months I love to do this, but other than that I just go out to dinner typically.
PB: Where is your favorite place to eat in New York?
: Well my husband just opened a restaurant. So I am going to that very often. It is called Spur Tree; it is really nice Jamaican food. He is Jamaican. It is light but stick to your rib good. Great drinks, it is really fun!
PB: You mentioned that you traveled a lot when you were younger. What was your favorite trip so far?
: I would say Cambodia. I visited Cambodia in 1997. I actually did a whole South East Asia tour. I started in Hong Kong and then I flew down to Malaysia, then to Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and then Thailand. That region really impressed me incredibly.
PB: Is New York the place that you want to settle?
: I am a born and bred New Yorker. I really love this city. Sometimes I think I would love a country back porch lifestyle, but I think I would go crazy. Or maybe Jamaica!
PB: Do you drink Starbucks?
: I actually drink coffee from Le Pan. The caffeine from Starbucks makes me so jittery!
PB: We are really glad this could work out. We have wanted to meet you for a while!
: We do pay attention and love to hear what our customers have to say, so thank you too!