06 Jan A Conversation with Handbag Designer and Artist, Wendy Stevens
Hi Wendy, Welcome to Verte Luxe! You have such an original, unique style. What was the motivation for creating your bags out of stainless steel and the etching technique of your bags?
Throughout two decades of creating and making my handbags, the commitment and passion for my work grows. The concept for making handbags in metal began in 1983 in New York City, where an inner artistic potential was triggered by the variety and use of industrial materials that surrounded me daily in the city. Working intuitively, in an environment of artistic friends, I began to create an original, unique style, resulting in a modern, durable and versatile accessory.
All of your bags are completely handmade in your studio. What is your design process and how do you go about creating a bag from start to finish?
After several years of rudimentary methods of fabricating my bags in stainless steel, a studio fire destroyed my studio and 20 years of work. What was a devastating event actually became an opportunity to begin again and incorporate a more efficient technique for fabricating my handbags.
With no studio or tools to work with, I set about learning how to draw my designs in an Auto Cad program on the computer.
The process now begins with the Auto Cad drawing for the etching process. The drawing, with all of the design elements and details of the handbag part, is plotted to a photo tooling and is transferred to a resist put on the stainless sheet. The sheet then runs through a chemical bath, the resist is removed, and the parts are ready for fabrication. For this part of the process, I work closely with an etcher to ensure the accuracy of all my parts.
The pieces are then de burred to remove sharp edges, sand blasted with a glass media to create a uniform surface and then formed with tools, including bending brakes, slip rolls and a wide variety of small hand tools.
The leather gussets for the bags are cut, glued and punched with an extensive series of cutting dies. Hinges are hand cut and punched for each bag.
Assembly of all of the metal and leather parts then takes place on a large assembly table, consisting of several, unique metal stakes where the rivets are set into the pieces.
All hardware and straps are then attached. Each bag is carefully inspected, cleaned and boxed.
What are your favorite design trends for 2018?
I don’t actually follow trends, except for researching color options for the leathers on the bag. My inspirations come from my travels, cities, architecture, industrial settings and even manhole covers!!
Because my work is unconventional and really doesn’t follow any trends, I find the pieces don’t go “in and out of style” as many fashion items do
You have recently launched a line of bridal accessories and bags. What was your inspiration in designing this line?
The inspiration for the wedding and bridal collection was actually already within my collection. I didn’t really connect those dots until my daughter, with friends getting married, suggested I look into the bridal venue. I really was half way there already with pieces like the lace clutch and the shoulder bag with roses.
You’re work includes magnetic picture frames as well as other accessories. Tell us about those.
The magnetic picture frames have been in the collection for a long time but in the last 5 years or so, have taken a back seat to the handbags. I find it challenging to do both, as the handbags keep me busy enough. I am going to reintroduce them to the bridal market as it seems it could be very relevant.
I love designing other accessories around the bags, and stainless steel lends itself so well to functional, personal items that last forever.
I designed an iPhone holder for the iPhone 4, called the pocket, after getting my first iPhone. I noticed people dropping theirs a lot and realized that hand carrying them in the hand was not always the best solution. So that was the beginning of the stainless pocket series; a small, durable, cross body holder for the iPhone, which has a slim profile and easy access to pull out the phone when needed. I have designed them specifically for each series and am always happy to find out that the next series hasn’t changed in size!!
What are the sustainable elements and working practices that you implement when designing your bags? Tell us about your refurbished production facility, your materials, and the one-of-a-kind artisan element to your bags?
After the fire, and with 20 years of knowledge as to what is needed to produce my bags, I was able to rebuild a much more efficient and consolidated studio. I chose also to continue primarily on the handbags as my focus. The studio is on the main floor of a refurbished barn with radiant heat and just the equipment needed to fabricate the bags. It is tightly organized and runs efficiently now.
The use of stainless steel as the primary material has been effective in the strength, form and longevity of the product. When paired with the leather elements, the handbags become user friendly and ultra functional. Maintaining quality and precision in the fabrication of each piece is crucial.
Are there specific charities that you align with in regards to your work?
Each year, I donate a piece to the organization Aides Center of Queens County for their benefit auction. I also contribute to the Smithsonian Museum and Philadelphia Museum of Art auctions regularly.
You have been featured at numerous museums and galleries, showing that your bags are not only a use of function but also a work of art.
I often hear that many people consider my handbags to be “pieces of art”. My response to this is that the longevity, durability and functionality of my pieces are really what it is about for me. I have been making now for 32 years and when someone sends me a 25-year-old bag back to have the strap lengthened, I am amazed at how well it has held up !!
Another important landmark in my career was the invitation from the curator of the prestigious Tassen Musuem in Amsterdam in 2010 for a solo, comprehensive exhibition of my handbags. The museum then acquired five of my pieces for their per
manent collection. This experience enriched me greatly as it placed my work in a relevant, historical context.