Prerecorded and posted: September 16th, 2021
Jonathan Joseph 00:01
Hello everyone and welcome to another saucy episode. I can do that part of our Little Red Village initiative here at Little Red Fashion. I of course am your saucey leader Jonathan Joseph, I've been left without adult supervision. Unfortunately the amazing Rachel Elspeth Gross was unable to join us today. But that is okay, if you're not, it is a Thursday and the show must go on. And today it goes on with Alicia Skehan. And she is an amazing handbag consultant and expert. And I will let her take it away. introduce herself.
Alicia Skehan 00:28
Hi, everyone. Thank you, Jonathan, for having me. I'm so excited to have this conversation. My name is Alicia Skehan. And I'm a handbag design consultant. I've been in the industry for 15 years.
Jonathan Joseph 00:39
Amazing. And let me ask, one of the things you know, we love to do here at Little Red Village is inspire those who have a youthful interest in the fashion industry, I think handbags in particular, are so interesting, because they're one of those durable goods that can last for generations. And so there are so many people that say oh, I you know, I had this Birkin given to me by a grandmother or this Louie Vuitton speedy that was given to me by, you know, by an aunt or something like this. And, you know, what is your philosophy on like the handbag in terms of like, what it means to people I know, we've talked offline, about, you know, the stories that I can tell. So let's one bag that had a story for you that you can think of?
Alicia Skehan 01:25
Oh, goodness, I have so many bags, and for so many uses. I mean, I feel that a great bag of problems for you. You're carrying it with you through your day, you need it to be an extension of you not to be a hindrance. So I mean, I've got so many bags to really think of one is.
Jonathan Joseph 01:48
What makes it, I can I can narrow it down to So what makes a bag a classic, you know, in your capacity as a consultant, you've been charged if, you know creating hero styles and things and and obviously every legacy brands have their own house guidelines, but in your mind as a consultant. What? What makes a bag a classic?
Alicia Skehan 02:10
Having a language that really ties into the brand, I think what is key is being able to see a bag from across the street and know who who it's by, you know, Coach, Johnny Cash in style, you see that turnlock across the street, that cowhide leather. You know what it is? So I think that paired with the functionality, being able to work and seeing it out there in use is really what matters and certainly fine construction. Of course. So durable and long lasting, not just something you use once and it goes back in your closet it needs to, you know, live with you.
Jonathan Joseph 02:55
Absolutely. That's why so many people are drawn to and why I love bags as investment pieces because it's the it's in many ways the anti fast fashion by its very nature, at least when you're dealing with a certain quality of good. And I know for me, I like measure my career and my favorite work bags, like at the time like that's my favorite bag. What started you on the path to getting into handbags? What gave you the bag bug?
Alicia Skehan 03:20
Oh, that's a great question. You know, I was in apparel first. And there was maybe just something about that that just didn't resonate with me anymore. And I grew really interested in footwear and handbags. I started looking at the handbags that I had in my closet and I thought about the construction and all the knowledge that I had taken from my time at Parsons studying fashion design, studying pattern making and sewing and figuring out you know, what, what would I like to see in a bag and just also wanting to I think, I mean a big part of it as well, that switch was wanting to tie into a brand that had an identity, which led me to working for Kate Spade, which was a wonderful place to work to have leaders in place that represented the brand. And it was a really wonderful experience. So I think not just so much the changeover But again, it's the problem solving aspect to hand bag design that was also really interesting to me as well, to being able to pair the, the need filling that like void of problem solving for someone but then also being to echo being able to echo the vision of the brand as well through design.
Jonathan Joseph 04:43
You know, I love that you say that a lot of the times on some of our past interviews, especially with museum curating curatorial staff, they talk about the detective factfinding side of what they do in terms of trying to see an extant piece and then figure out what problem was it solving for its time. How is it solving that problem? and I think fashion professionals in general if you are a young person or child and you are just naturally inquisitive and a problem solver and you like to tinker then exploring fashion i think is a great way to do that. And I think you know, bags and pouches and wallet things that are small and accessible, make easy projects would you say for children, you know, to make your first purse is a is a really good entryway into exploring that problem solving side of things?
Alicia Skehan 05:31
Definitely, I think so with bags, you have to consider what what are you putting in it? What technology is relevant now that you want to carry with you? You know, one of the challenges for me is okay, keeping up with Apple products. What's coming out next? How much bigger? Is that phone? How much thinner is that phone or thicker? And the cases that come with it? So I think it's an excellent exercise. One of the first things I was tasked with when I started working for Kate Spade was designing all of the small leather goods so anything new be mindful of the size of international bills or the size of the next relevant phone actually, when I started maybe iPhone wasn't like the top priority item might have been the iPod. I do remember designing some iPod cases.
Jonathan Joseph 06:20
Oh, yes. The iPod cases. Yeah, I had a Coach Ipod case a while back. I had the iPod Mini I remember that. Was it ths mini?
Alicia Skehan 06:29
Yeah. With the nano or something. or
Jonathan Joseph 06:32
Yeah, no, the nano had to. It was a clip a clip thing. Yeah, but you know, I think I would love to know where your journey in fashion started. But you always drawn to fashion design even as a as a young person as a child. Like what are your early fashion memories in that sense?
Alicia Skehan 06:50
pretty classic story. I would love going into my mom's closet, loved going shopping with her. And sometimes she would utilize a personal shopper just to get you know, just take a lot of the fuss side of things. And I remember just going into a department store with her and seeing outfits on mannequins and just wondering, okay, how did this come to be? What was the decision making process behind it? How are these items made? How are these colors put together? Just really wanting to understand, like, how does this get to here? So I always thought that was fascinating. And certainly I mean, my mother has an amazing closet full of shoes and handbags. I was always in there before she came home from work. Yeah.
Jonathan Joseph 07:41
What? What would you say? Have you ever tried your hand at designing shoes. Since you've been in like leather working and in handbags? Have you ever tried a shoe design? Is that Is there a dialogue between shoes and handbags on the creative front, for a lot of people?
Alicia Skehan 07:55
I handbags. I mean, the thing I love about handbags is while there is a fit process involved to make sure that a crossbody works and a backpack fits on a variety of different bodies shapes and heights and everything. Um, footwear it's kind of a different animal with foot sizing. Yeah. So um, I mean, I was always fascinated with footwear. I love shoes, but I think different lasts and stuff. It sounds like a little bit trickier than bag. So
Jonathan Joseph 08:26
yeah, for sure.
Alicia Skehan 08:27
Yeah. I have an interest in it. And I did have a, a shoe made in in Spain, along with the program at Parsons. So very, very, you know, lucky to have gone through that process to see, you know, what changes need to be made and such. But by far bags is you know, dealing with handbag fits is a little bit easier.
Jonathan Joseph 08:52
For sure. I mean, yeah, the lack of sizing definitely. less less steps in the process. Much easier. Yeah. You know, I'm interested to know, on in terms of your journey through the fashion space, what is the biggest challenge that you had faced and that you overcame in your career that, you know, a young person said, you know, what, one piece of advice would you give me that you wish that you had, had? What would it be?
Alicia Skehan 09:20
That is a great question. I think so many things,
Jonathan Joseph 09:30
Feel free to rattle them off. The audience has time.
Alicia Skehan 09:35
A big part of it is if someone is critiquing your work as a designer, do not take it personally. I think you have to discern the difference between tastes and business needs. I think that's really, really important to sort of be able to detach yourself in that process because everybody on a team while they have different roles are all coming together to meet business goals. So I think that's something to be super conscious of. Another thing I would recommend is if you are going to take on a role at a corporate company, have a side interest, whether that is developing your own handbag, yourself, wallets, what have you, if you want to not do the same category, please explore that. I think having a side hustle or just some other interests outside of your day to day work, keeps you inspired and keeps you learning and keeps you interested, interested?
Jonathan Joseph 10:42
And yeah, I'm definitely the same way. As you know, I like to keep a lot of pots on the stove, as it were. And I think in you know, in these interviews, one of the things that I think is great, is being able to go straight to the source and ask questions like, what, if you wanted to start learning all you could about inhale handbags, so to speak? What resources and what type of books or things are available that you can recommend that someone can look up? You know, or find as much historical information on handbags as they want? Are there any great books on that front? Or any films or any movies or any any media that really would help a budding bag designer? Get her feet wet?
Alicia Skehan 11:36
I haven't very nerdy reference. And I've had it for 12 years, it is called the Encyclopedia of rawhide and leather braiding.
Jonathan Joseph 11:46
I mean, I would I would read it.
Alicia Skehan 11:48
Yeah, I mean, you know, it's by Bruce grant, it's a very old encyclopedia. And for me, it's been great when I've needed to need to, to reference design details, or if I want to work on a braid as part of a handle, like, how would I construct that? And then how would I explain to a sample maker how to make it um, I will say, for me, honestly, my start was looking in my own closet at the bags that I had and looking at, you know, where did the stitch line go? What's happening at the top of the lining? Is the bag lined? Is it is the edge folded or painted? Like all of those really, technical details just give you that much more knowledge? I think it's so important to be looking at product out there. And I mean, if if a child can, you know, take a sewing class or have some exposure to gain some construction knowledge, I think that just puts you a little bit further ahead. I mean, there's so much to learn.
Jonathan Joseph 12:55
Yeah, when you started, did you when you started did you start by like just taking back part that you had that you didn't want anymore just to get that facility or was the dissect cuz I we've had a couple people recommend just just start taking stuff apart. Um Nafisa Tosh, a phenomenal seamstress. Her thing was, you know, if you want to learn how to sew a dress, take half the dress apart and then leave the other half the way it's supposed to be. So you can reconstruct it to look like that.
Alicia Skehan 13:20
Yes, I am a huge fan of cutting apart bags. Not in a wasteful way I try and be very mindful I have I have a little sewing kit here I have a seam ripper. And I will go into the lining of a bag and I will start to gently cut open the seams so I could look in and see what's happening on the inside. For handbags, I learned so much. Um, so I worked at many brands, I've worked for MC Wallace, Coach Kate Spade, and when I was at Coach, they had a factory in house. So amazing because that's what I learned about all of the pattern pieces that go into making hand bags . It's not just the exterior and the lining. There's the underside of the flap, there's all of the inner fillers inside of the bag and there could be 100 pattern pieces that go into a bag. So definitely like like, like talking about okay, cutting open half a dress or cutting apart half a dress like get inside the bag, see what the fillers are. See if there's glue inside, is there. Something that's fixed glued to the other side of the outer fabric or the outer leather because all of those things really helped to form the shape of a bag and how it drapes how stiff it is. If it's able to stand up on its own, all of those things and hardware backings as well. I mean you really have to consider weight distribution. The list goes on.
Jonathan Joseph 14:49
If a kid watching right now wanted to start dissecting subjects what are the like essential tools that they would need to go out and get or their parents would need to go out and get
Alicia Skehan 14:59
A seam ripper 1,000% some good fabric sheers. I think as well. Definitely have. I mean, I like to track measurements and even see the differences of things. So I would get some sort of, you know, um
Jonathan Joseph 15:18
Alicia Skehan 15:19
Or like, you know, fabric tape.
Jonathan Joseph 15:23
Well a wesome. Easy, easy peasy, easy peasy. With just a few tools you can be the next Alicia Skehan? No, I love that, though. I think, you know, I've been in number of conversations where it's like, if you want to know how to sew, take apart a pair of jeans, we've heard that before. If you you know, if you want to learn how to make a dress, take How to Dress apart, and you can start based on the other half. And if you want to get the bags and learn how they work, get into the lining and get into the guts. Because it's true, I don't usually give a lot of thought really, into the innards of my bag, I just use my bag. But you know, I've had bags that I've gotten vintage where there's like damage, and then you go into there and then you're like, wow, there's a lot of stuff under the hood. And so I think, you know, I think one of the things that always is on the back of my mind, in a lot of conversations that I have through the work that we're doing at Little Red Fashion is so many of the small handicrafts are becoming lost arts where there's not necessarily someone to, you know, apprentice with or it's not as accessible. We're all about democratization and access here at Little Red Fashion. So would you say for at least most of the things that someone might be doing or need it, you know, with a handbag, its YouTubeable and or easy, relatively easy to find? Or is it still very like niche?
Alicia Skehan 16:46
I think YouTube is a good resource. Yes, I definitely think so. Um, yeah, I think so. I mean, you really don't need much, you know, and if you don't want to take apart something that you own, or no one's willing to give you something like, go to a thrift store and find something for like, 5 or 10 dollars, that looks substantial that that you think might be interesting. Hey, I wonder what's going on in here.
Jonathan Joseph 17:18
Speaking of what's in here, what do you find to be the most challenging material to work with with a handbag like what's the most, if a client says I want this bag and you're like, oh, boy. What is the hardest material to work with for you as a handbag designer? Just in terms of like, it's a process and or there's a lot of back and forth.
Alicia Skehan 17:42
I find leathers that don't have good coverage on the skin. So one of the interesting things about leather is I mean, you're working with an animal so this is the hide um, and sometimes you can get a lot of imperfections which a lot of customers are not really interested in having they want like a nice clean finish. So if you're working with something that doesn't really have as much pigment in it, then you can see skin stretching, holes, all sorts of things like that. Also the skin size if you know if you're working with something really fine, like a baby calf, I mean beautiful hand but small skins so you could deal with a lot of wastage there. That can be difficult and for me personally my probably my least favorite fabrication to work with is surely I just find it to be kind of maybe just not as interesting like either it looks fine, like completely covered shearling, but like if you are depending on how you cut it, it might just kind of look a little awkward. It's just one of my least favorite.
Jonathan Joseph 18:49
So we probably won't see you at UGG again anytime soon.
Alicia Skehan 18:55
Not for their hand bags, no. Or you never know. I won't say never
Jonathan Joseph 19:02
Fair enough. Fair enough.
Alicia Skehan 19:04
It's my job to solve these problems. Yeah.
Jonathan Joseph 19:08
That's true. That's very true. You know I really think handbags are something that we Little Red Fashion haven't even gone into like the history really of handbags and how they you know progressed from like reticules and Chateau Lane's, fashion history moment. What is your favorite that handbag from fashion history so not one that like is like an iconic one from a major brand, but a fashion historical one that comes to mind that has inspired you?
Alicia Skehan 19:40
know, it's hard to think of just one but whenever I've gone to exhibit so for example, FIT they have a wonderful museum and several years ago they had an exhibit that was dedicated just to the handbag and the things that fascinate me the most is seeing the insides like the pockets the change purse, Is the spaces for lipstick. Even if it comes with a mirror, I love seeing that because it just indicates what was important at that time. What kind of usage like, you know, you didn't have cell phones back in the 1940s and stuff. So you know, women carrying their bag and like a little, little cute frame.
Jonathan Joseph 20:21
Alicia Skehan 20:22
Events, even just seeing seeing that just some ribbon echo back in time, I think is really, really cool and interesting. And I just love to see how people think about, you know, thought about functionality back then.
Jonathan Joseph 20:37
Yeah, absolutely. I'm gonna round out our questioning with one last one because you mentioned leather and we also love teaching about sustainability, for leather alternatives or vegan leathers and I put that in air quotes because a lot of people refer to plastic, PVC and PVA materials as vegan leather when they're actually horrible for the environment. Which of the alt leathers as I'll guess I'll call it do you find the most promising?
Alicia Skehan 21:00
I think cactus leather appears to be the most promising. I've received some swatches of it. So it definitely has a nice hand feel to me and I have worked with PU and leather. So I think that would hold up nicely. I'm really interested to see Lulu Lemon is offering I believe it's Lulu Lemon. No, wait, maybe they're doing pineapple. Sonra they're doing cactus leather. I'm really curious to see how it will execute. Versus regular, just no standard leather. So that that is what I find to be most promising. But I'm really interested to see how mushroom leather is going to work out Apple leather. Some things that are.
Jonathan Joseph 21:43
I mean, there's so many now that are coming to the fore in the past like two, three years especially. So it's definitely exciting to watch. It's definitely something we will talk about on another episode, I'm sure in the future because we are to get some more sustainability folks on here too. But I just want to take a moment. Thank you so much, Alicia, for really sharing a slice of your experience as a handbag consultant and expert. And really giving some really great tips for young people who want to get into the bad game, get bitten by the bag bug and start eviscerating all the bags at Goodwill and Salvation Army.
Alicia Skehan 22:16
You are so welcome and I am happy to share my story and thank you for having me on.
Jonathan Joseph 22:22
Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I'm so thrilled. It's like I say many, many times it takes a village to raise the next generation of fashion leaders and creatives and this sort of direct engagement from industry professionals is so so important and I just don't feel like enough young people get that. So thank you for being a part of that. Thank you everyone for joining us for this episode of I can do that. Make sure you tune in next week at 330. Eastern for our next guest and I should be back with my partner in crime Rachel Elspeth Gross so you're not gonna want to miss it.