How One Parisian Turned A Local Tradition Into A Global Business
East-meets-West at its finest.
Owning a Vanessa Klat handbag is like acquiring a new stamp on your passport. This Parisian designer was inspired to set up shop when she adopted a local custom that turned into a full-blown business. Klat lives in Beirut, Lebanon, where it is a tradition to give small gifts to friends and family when they come to visit, not just on birthdays – but the linen clutches she made for her guests became so sought-after that Klat created her own eponymous handbag label. Taking inspiration from the effortless, chic Parisian culture that she grew up in, combined with local methods of manufacture, Klat established a unique line of handmade accessories.
Born and raised in the City of Light, it was here that Klat entered the world of fashion, landing a job working for Yves Saint Laurent perfume as well as Georges Hobeika – a designer from Lebanon she met while on vacation there. She told us how her own brand had always been something she wanted to do, and how setting up in Beirut was essential to making her dreams a reality: "[my company] wouldn’t have been the same if it wasn't in Beirut, I feel so close to the factory and the workers, it’s like a huge family." Every one of her bags is made on-site in the factory by craftspeople using traditional techniques, something the designer is very proud of. "The savoir-faire and true expertise of the artisans is essential in the production." But it's not just the physical construction of her bags that benefits from working closely with a team of talents, Klat herself is inspired by the team: "[They bring] a human dimension, it's such a pleasure working in these conditions."
Despite the company's firm roots in Lebanon, Klat chooses to design her collections from Paris – where else? – though her inspirations come from women all around the world, particularly in the Middle East. She draws on their glamor and sensuality to create a union of European and Eastern cultures that "gives birth to something unique without borders." It's an aesthetic that has resonated with a huge following, one that includes French actresses Emmanuelle Beart and Virginie Ledoyen, who Klat is unsurprisingly ecstatic about having adopted her label: “I am proud that such iconic French figures have fallen in love with my collection. They completely embody the spirit of my brand with their elegance and simplicity.”
In terms of her creative contributions to the company, Klat isn't limited to just designing: she also takes charge of the artistic direction. At every photoshoot, you can bet that she will be there, and not just because she's the boss. She is the woman behind the camera. It's through the lens, she told us, that she is able to picture her accessories in everyday life, and envision how her clients might interact with her products.
On one artistic shoot, Klat boldly used a nude model for the campaign. “I don’t make clothes," she laughed. "I do leather [accessories]. It seemed obvious to me to show bare skin in contrast with the material I use.” Did this create any problems for her in conservative Lebanon? It certainly got a reaction from people – and any offense caused was not deliberate. It was all about sparking conversation and highlighting the quality of the materials she works with.
It all ties in to her brand's identity, which is, in four words: playful, sexy, vintage and bespoke. Every customer is able to select what type of leather, color and chain they want their bag to have, making sure that each purchase is truly special to its new owner. “Every woman is different," Klat explained, "that’s why I wanted to give [my customers] the option to transform the handbags [to suit their tastes].” Having lived in and travelled to a number of different countries, Klat has learnt a lot about how a woman's taste can change depending on her culture – though she still sees similarities in her international clients: they all have a touch of creativity and class.
With such a firm following already, what's the next step for this high-spirited, young company? After a recent collaboration with Milan-born, Mexico-based blogger Irene Buffa, the woman behind On To My Wardrobe, Klat has just released her latest summer drop, The Love Collection, along with a dynamic video of dancer and choreographer Lyne Gandour. The collection itself is currently on display in Paris for ten days only on Avenue Victor Hugo – get yours now before it's too late.
All images courtesy of Vanessa Klat unless otherwise credited.