Nothing looks or feels quite like a Carlos Falchi handbag. His luxurious clutches and totes, adorned with his signature collages of exotic skins, have earned him a place in the fashion world’s pantheon of style makers. (Some of his pieces are part of the permanent collection of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.) His bags have been carried by many of the world’s best-dressed women, including Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Nancy Reagan and Cate Blanchett. The tireless designer shared his views on fashion, luxury and his love of the Florida lifestyle.
The word "luxury" means a great many things to different people. What does it mean to you?
I have an old-fashioned idea of luxury. I develop my materials with the help of the most experienced tanneries from Italy to Spain. My factory is in New York, which I oversee. My bags are made by hand, by people who have worked for me for years. They know "my hand," so the products have a feel and look that I have developed over my career. I want my bags to give lasting satisfaction to my clients. Luxury to me is defined by rich materials, unique and lasting design, and limited production. Just because something is expensive does not mean that it is a luxury product.
What is it about Florida that inspires you? How would you characterize the style of your clients who live here?
Well, my first memories of America are from Florida. When I saw the movie Where the Boys Are while living in Brazil, I dreamed Florida would be like that. My Florida clients are experienced shoppers, and they know what they want. They are well-traveled and want only the most exciting colors in the most exotic materials. I also have ladies here who want the simplest, most classic bags. The challenge is to make them all happy.
What has been your inspiration for your recent collections? What are the key pieces a woman needs in her wardrobe this fall?
I was interested in reinterpreting my classics. Color blocking has been very important. What has been liberating about the colors this year is the chance to mix it up in unconventional ways, like bright jewel tones with earth tones. I believe that every woman needs a clutch—especially the new, oversized kind—and a tote.
What’s the best way to personalize a woman’s style with accessories?
I would encourage women to make one bold choice a season; to get out of their comfort zone and buy something completely new and utterly current. Surprise yourself.
Did you always know you wanted to be a designer? Who were the designers you admired growing up?
No. It never entered my mind, but I was always creative. From a very early age, I had businesses selling things I made—toy trucks, macramé handbags. My mother had a wedding dress company, and I helped her with the production. I also designed stamps in Brazil. When I was in America designing costumes for musicians, I made a large tote for myself to carry my samples. Clients liked it and asked me if I could make totes for them. That was the beginning of my life in handbags. That is when I started selling at Bendel’s in New York.
My life in fashion really started here in America. I loved the designers who were innovators when I was in my 20s, like Halston, Yves Saint Laurent, Geoffrey Beene, Bill Blass and Jean Muir. I was lucky to be able to work with many of my heroes.
Where do you see your label going in the future? Is the line planning to extend into other areas? If so, which ones?
Right now, the collection I show in New York includes not only exotic skins (pythons, caimans and anacondas), but leathers, as well. We have developed an evening collection with Swarovski jewel pins that I design with my wife, Missy. The microfiber totes, which were a fun item one season, have continued to be a success after four years. I am introducing my luggage collection this fall.
I have always made time to paint and make collages. For me, that has always been the foundation of all my work. I am now dedicating more time to my art, which gives me great personal satisfaction.
Led by Denise Cobb, the members include Patty Baker, Mary Susan Clinton, Shirlene Elkins, Heather Fitzenhagen, Susie McCurry, Amy Oshier, Connie Rosellini and Cynthia Sherman.
WHERE TO BUY CARLOS FALCHISaks Fifth Avenue
5395 Tamiami Trail N., Naples; (239) 592-5900.