After three decades in communications, Julia Winn went back to school at Chicago’s International Academy of Design & Technology. Postgraduation, the aspiring designer, now 52, turned her Uptown bedroom into a handbag design center and moved her bed into the living room.
The outside of the bag is crafted from python skin (1), one of fashion’s extravagances. The hand-painted skin (“It’s painted by some old Italian guy with a paintbrush,” Winn says) costs $35 per square foot; out of roughly one yard purchased for the bag, 15 percent ends up as waste. “The first time I saw the python, I had to have it,” she adds.
The interior is lined with a high-quality Italian Nappa calfskin (2)-no adult cows allowed-that costs $15 per square foot. “It was a very pampered calf,” says Winn, of the supple, blemish-free leather.
Skilled Tuscan seamers piece together Vivian’s ever-so-precise curved envelope fold. It takes the meticulous stitchers about 70 minutes to sew one bag-at a cost of more than $40 per hour. “The inside has to fit perfectly with the outside, like a letter in an envelope,” Winn says.
Winn assembles a muslin mockup, then sends it to Italy. There, more than 20 pairs of hands combine to make a bag like Vivian, from pattern cutters to leather skivers to Italian and domestic freight forwarders. After about a month, a prototype returns to Chicago, where Winn makes minor tweaks. “A lot of major companies do prototypes in Italy, then ship off to China,” says Kirsten Francissen, Winn’s business partner. Because of Vivian’s intricate designs and architectural nature, Winn relies on Italians to produce the final product, which ups the cost.
An Italian logo design house produces the curvaceous brass zipper pull (3) with Winn’s emblem, a phoenix, designed by the Chicago company Grady Campbell.
The road test
Before making Vivian available for purchase, Winn and Francissen “test-drove” it to check for real-life wearability. “I’m all about the urban woman,” Winn says, noting the cell-phone pockets and mini pouches tucked inside the bag. “Carrying what you need should be simple but still stylish.”
To get it
Find Vivian and other handbags (from $550) from the emerging local line Phoenix Rising at 312-493-2065 or p-rising.com.
MAKING THE CUT
When Chicago heard that Ben Mollin, Calumet City hairdresser by day, rocker by night, was competing on Bravo’s new reality show Shear Genius, we decided to test his talents on an amenable intern. Mollin’s signature technique? Ponytail cutting-or tying small, strategically placed ponytails all over the head, then snipping them in half to create short, varying layers. After a few copper highlights, voilà: a modern take on a 1920s flapper bob, which wowed our office. Get on Mollin’s client list now (call 219-513-8858); as of press time, he was still in the running for Bravo’s top stylist-and a cut and color started at a bargain $80.
Photography: (Handbag) Tyllie Barbosa; (Mollin) Mitch Haaseth, Courtesy of Bravo; (Haircut) Megan Lovejoy.