Designer Q&A: Rebecca Minkoff talks motorcycle jackets and internet fandom

Rebecca Minkoff's Flame bag, $595 at Holt Renfrew

Rebecca Minkoff‘s bags are often seen swinging from the arms of Hollywood’s twenty-something set. Bijou Phillips, Rachel Bilson, Hayden Panettiere and pretty much everyone on Gossip Girl has carried one of the New York-based designer’s creations. (Samantha Jones also brought one of Minkoff’s Market Totes along to Mexico in the first Sex & the City movie.) But Minkoff’s most rabid fans are the denizen’s of web forums who show off their latest acquisitions, discuss what’s their bags and dish about the latest celeb sighting. The designer was in Toronto recently to launch her spring line at Holt Renfrew (holtrenfrew.com) and we caught up with her to talk favourite bags, motorcycle jackets and the benefits of internet fandom.

So you started out in clothing and expanded into bags. What inspired the move?

“It was unexpected; I was at a dinner with Jenna Elfman who was on the TV show Dharma & Greg. She said ‘I’m doing a movie coming up and this bag is an important part of my character’s experience. Will you design a bag for me?’ And I was like ‘Sure, I’d love to!’ I was like ‘I have no idea how I’m gonna do this right now!’ The first bag was canvas and leather and I still have it. FedEx mis-delivered so it did not get into the movie. Then the movie went straight to DVD so it didn’t matter anyways.”

What were your thoughts for your spring collection?

“The theme of it was best friends. The president of my company recently lost her best friend, so when we were coming up with the name, I named it in honour of her. So it’s just fun bags that aren’t too serious, that are playful and have a whimsicalness to them.”

What were some of your inspirations?

“Well for spring there were motorcycle jackets and some pictures of Bali with the tie-dye and those saturated colours. There were some great old photos of a bunch of shoes that were in a circle with the toes pointing at each other and there was a great buckle in that photo that became a buckle that’s in the line now.”

Do you have a personal favourite from your spring line?

“It’s called the Flame [shown above]. It’s covered in studs, but in three different colours, so it goes with any kind of jewellery.”

What are the three essential bags that a woman should have in her wardrobe?

“Definitely a satchel, like the Morning After Bag. A cross-body bag is good, especially if you want to be hands-free. When I travel I always like to just have my hands holding shopping bags, ideally. [Laughs] And then either a minaudiere or a small bag if you want go dancing and you don’t wanto leave your bag on the seat.”

Speaking of travel, which bag to you travel with?

“It’s called the Boyfriend and it fits my passport, it fits my wallet, my phone, and that’s it.”

Do you travel a lot?

“I travel a lot for work, but its not hard to have to go to Italy for work, and Paris for work. I do that twice a year, so those two times, you know, I can’t be like ‘oh god, I have to go to Paris again.’”

You have quite a big following online.

“Yes, there’s a specific group and they’re part of an online community—it’s called The Purse Forum. Some people only talk about Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton, and Kate Spade, and the girls in my forum are the most passionate women I’ve ever met. Some of them have 10 of the same bag.”

How is having that kind of online support?

“I embrace it. Because there’s nothing more important than me being close to my customer and knowing when she loves something. And when she hates something, you know it really fast.”

You also have your own blog [minkette.com]. Do you think having this online presence has helped your business?

“My business grew last year in an economy that shrank–we grew by 40 per cent. And a large part of it is due to me having these relationships with these consumers. They knew they could talk to me, they knew that I’d write back. They liked that I was a real approachable person and that I’m out, I’m meeting them. I’m at my sample sales, I’m at a store, so I think that they were like ‘Wow, someone who cares and is standing behind her brand, and is approachable.”

Is it nice when you go out and see someone carrying one of your bags?

“Yeah. My husband likes to go up to girls and tell them that I’m standing there and embarrass me.”

Click the images below to see some of Rebecca Minkoff’s spring offerings. (All styles are available at Holt Renfrew.)