Recently I had the exciting opportunity to have a little email chat with up and coming fashion designer Catherine Meyer – the designer behind the new handbag line, Follis. Catherine happens to be the sister of a good friend of mine and she graciously agreed to share some of her thoughts with me on her handbags, life as a designer, and some tips on fashion and style from her point of view. Catherine currently lives in New York City and has a lot to be excited about these days. She was recently named the winner for overall style and design in the 2010 InStyle Independent Handbag Designer Awards – quite an accomplishment considering there were more than 900 applicants! As a result of this amazing win, she now is working on two extremely exciting design projects – a limited edition handbag with Kate Spade and a capsule collection for Saks Fifth Avenue (!!!). Meanwhile, her own handbag line, Follis, is taking off with an ever-expanding list of retailers and has been featured in outlets like InStyle Magazine, Fitness Magazine, Time Out New York, and Accessories Magazine. Clearly, Catherine is doing something right and I’m so excited that she took time out of her busy schedule to have a chat with me. Thanks so much, Catherine. I know I’ll be continuing to watch for lots more news on Follis and future collections! To learn more about Catherine and her work, read on.
M: So, Catherine, you grew up in a small-ish town in southeast Michigan – seemingly a world away from the fashion industry in New York City. When did you become interested in fashion design, and how did you make the decision to leave your hometown and move to New York?
C: I fell in love with fashion around the age of 12 when I bought my first Vogue magazine. Though I was interested in pursuing a career in design, I didn’t seriously consider working in fashion until half way through my first year of college at the University of Michigan. I was studying industrial design, but I just couldn’t get into designing chairs and lamps and things. I loved my textile course and my costume design course, though neither majors seemed quite right to pursue. So I thought, if I’m going to jump to study something I like more, I might as well leap into something I know I’ll love. I checked out schools offering fashion design, and New York seemed the most exciting and of course it’s THE place to be for fashion in the U.S .
M: You studied fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. What inspired you to focus on designing handbags?
C: I actually studied apparel design and worked in apparel for a few years. But my friend asked me if I was interested in starting an accessories line with him, and I said yes. I didn’t hesitate; it seemed like a great opportunity.
M: I completed my MBA last year and I can definitely appreciate the entrepreneurial spirit behind Follis. When did Follis (Latin for “leather bag”) officially launch and what has your experience been as you’ve worked to start this business from scratch?
C: Follis launched in 2008. We’ve been slowly building a following but it seems we’re just now starting to ‘take off’. Starting your own business really is just as hard as everyone says. At the beginning, we were progressing so slowly–it can be frustrating! But we studied the market and modeled Follis after companies we liked that are successful. The key to the success of Follis is offering chic designs at affordable price points.
M: What do you think makes Follis bags unique from other handbag lines?
C: A Follis bag offers ‘a lot of bag for the buck.’ I use really nice leathers and trims, we work with great factories to ensure quality construction, and I offer unique yet understated design elements all while staying on budget so I can be sure that I can offer a bag at a great price.
M: One of your handbags, the Laced Julia, was recently recognized as the winner of the Overall Style and Design category in the 2010 InStyle Independent Handbag Designer Awards. This is a huge honor and because of this win you now have the opportunity to design a limited edition bag for Kate Spade and a capsule collection for Saks. Are you working on these now? When will we see these bags in stores? Also, if you’ve started work on these already, what has it been like to work with such well-known names in fashion?
C: I admit I was a little intimidated at first to be working with Saks and Kate Spade. But both teams have been wonderful and very encouraging. The Collection for Saks is complete and will be carried in the Saks Fifth Avenue flagship store in New York this spring. Check our Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/follisny) starting in February for availability. The Saks team has been wonderful and very encouraging. I’m currently working with the design team at Kate Spade to create a Follis/Kate Spade bag. The collaborative bag is scheduled to make its debut in December 2011 as part of the Kate Spade Resort Collection. I love going to the Kate Spade offices to work. They are so charmingly decorated–it’s like working in a Kate Spade store!
M: I see on the Follis web site that you also offer some belts. In the future, do you plan to expand and design and sell other items as well?
C: I plan to expand the belt offering and add a small leather goods category when the time is right. I would like to expand beyond that, but no plans have been made yet.
M: Now, when it comes to your own style, who and what inspire you? How would you describe your style?
C: There are so many people who inspire me, and New York is a great place to find inspiration! One of my favorite looks is one that Japanese men—and sometimes women– seem to easily achieve. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it consists of great pieces with interesting details layered together yet well edited to create a look that’s effortless, yet extremely chic. I could never achieve this level of cool, so I go in the opposite direction and am a little silly in the way I dress, never taking myself too seriously. My favorite way to dress right now is to “play dress-up.” I mix prints, layers, and proportions and pile on jewelry and accessories (think of a 5-year-old playing dress up in her grandmother’s closet). But above all else, it has to be comfortable and easy.
M: Besides yourself of course, who are some of your favorite designers and why?
C: Marc Jacobs is a favorite of mine for handbags, I always have an eye on what he’s doing. I also love Chloe. For accessories, Marni is a favorite. For clothes, I drool over Lanvin and Balenciaga. A little more accessible: Elizabeth and James is great and I’m loving the new line by Mike Gonzalez (of Mike & Chris). I wear a lot of vintage and second hand. I think it’s the result of wearing a lot of hand-me-downs as a kid.
M: And last but not least, in your opinion, what are the “it” items that every fashionable gal should have in her closet this season?
C: A great bag, of course! As the weather gets colder, we’re forced to be more practical with our clothing choices (down coats and galoshes—ick!), but there’s still room for fun with our bags! But aside from the perfect satchel/tote/clutch/etc, it’s all about the socks right now, have you noticed? Socks with heels, socks with loafers, high socks, low socks, colored socks–anything that shows the sock is great, just don’t let those pant legs cover them up!