Hot Seams: An interview with exotic handbag designer Carlos Falchi

Monica Mendal | Scene Fashion Columnist
Brazilian native Carlos Falchi has been designing handbags for major, upscale department stores for more than three decades. (Chuck Fadley | Miami Herald | MCT)

Brazilian native Carlos Falchi has been designing handbags for major, upscale department stores for more than three decades. (Chuck Fadley | Miami Herald | MCT)

While in New York City, I took some time to catch up with Carlos Falchi, a leading international handbag designer since the 1970s. If you happen to walk by Falchi on the street, you would instantly detect that he upholds a certain level of fame judging by his aura alone.

His presence could never go unnoticed: The cool untamed hair, the dozen silver bracelets and the giant rings on each of his fingers would lead you to believe that this must be a character of interest. And in fact, you would be right. Falchi’s talent and passion have landed his handbags on mannequins in window displays at high-end stores like Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. Though Falchi’s life wasn’t always a golden ticket to luxury fashion, he has certainly earned his recognition through hard work and fearlessness.

Student Life: Clichés first. When did you realize that you wanted to become a handbag designer?
Carlos Falchi: Basically the way it started was that I did my own clothing for myself, and when people asked me, “Where did you get that?” it made me realize, “Wait a minute, this has become a business here.” In the very beginning, people were inquiring, and I didn’t even realize I could begin selling these things, moreover, making this a business, so it was a great surprise.

SL: Why bags?
CF: Well, I went to Henri Bendels, a specialty store in New York in the early ’70s. I brought in some of my products and these bags that I had made. They told me that there were a lot of people making clothing, but not many making handbags, so they told me to focus on that. Jerry Spatz, the president of Bendels at the time, said to me, “You should really pursue handbags. They look great.” It was a good thing. You know, I was a downtown guy so I didn’t know anything about the 57th Street scene—it was all new to me.

SL: Where did you go to school? What did you study?
CF: I went to military school. I never studied design! My mom was a dress designer, she made wedding dresses, and as a little kid, I used to hang around her atelier.

SL: That must have been so fun! So what does your typical day look like as a handbag designer today?
CF: I do a lot of drawings. I love to paint. I love watercolors. I draw funny sketches. I’m always challenging myself to learn a new stitch, a new way of cutting. From day one, I was never afraid of cutting things.

SL: In terms of inspiration, who or what would you say inspires your designs?
CF: I love museums and paintings. I love art and history. I like to travel, so that’s where my inspiration comes from.

SL: I’ve seen your shopping tote around campus—girls are wearing them as book bags! Does it surprise you that your bags have even made it to college campuses?
CF: No, it’s great! That bag is practical, light, strong and recyclable! It’s wonderful, and the price is right! It’s right for the audience. I think it’s a terrific thing. That bag has been very successful.

SL: Besides that one, what type of bag would you say is the must-have bag for college students?
CF: Well, university students have a very active life, so I think they need a great tote and a nice bag to go to parties—a nice cross-body bag so that they don’t have to hold on to it all night.

SL: The fashion industry has gotten really involved in social media, have you gotten involved with Twitter or Facebook at all?
CF: Well, we’re getting more involved. We have a Facebook now, and we’re going to make a Twitter soon.

SL: Do you have any advice for young, aspiring fashionistas?
CF: I think the main thing that they have to do is stay with it. Believe in your dream. Keep doing it. The main thing with any art or business is repetition. You need to keep doing it to achieve perfection. Have fun with it! Really keep doing it. People don’t realize that there are no rules in fashion. You should wake up in the morning and tell yourself, “I can do anything.”

SL: What about career advice in general?
CF: I think if you have an opportunity to have an internship, it’s very important. It’s good to learn about business even if it isn’t the particular business you want to go into, because you can accumulate knowledge and then you can eventually apply it. Don’t wait for people to tell you what to do. Just go do it.

SL: What quality do you think one has to possess to pursue a career in the fashion industry?
CF: I think you need a passion and the ability to be fearless. Be adventurous! Have an open mind, and don’t be lazy!

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