Today we met Angela Buttolph to talk to her about our brand. Angela has worked as a fashion writer for over twenty years, contributing to every major magazine from Vogue to Elle, iD and InStyle, as well as presenting a number of fashion shows for BBC2, ITV and Channel 4. She is currently Editor at Large at Grazia, and contributes regularly to The Sunday Telegraph’s Stella Magazine. Angela is also author of Kate Moss: Style, a 'style biography' about the fashion icon of a generation.
Here is what we chatted about:
Let’s start with fashion…what are you wearing today?
Black leggings, a white T-shirt, a Joseph grey cashmere sweater, and some trainers by a Swedish brand I’ve just discovered called Axel Arigato.
What was the last fashion item you bought?
Last week I bought a pair of black Gucci ankle boots with a little gold bumble bee on the side. They’re beautiful.
Do you have a daily uniform when you’re in your studio?
I’m always in jeans - the glue gets everywhere! I like J.Brand, Paige, Rag & Bone. Then I’ll either be wearing a white shirt or a cashmere sweater (it’s usually freezing in Scotland, so you need extra layers). My go-to daytime shoes are a pair of Stella McCartney brogue-trainers with chunky soles; they give you an extra five inches in height, and I’m short so I appreciate that, plus they’re very comfortable, but people either love them or hate them. Otherwise it’s trainers. The days of skyscraper heels are over!
You were previously working in IT, what were you doing and has that had any influence on what you do now?
Yes, I was Chief Operations Office at iomart [a Listed Cloud Computing computing company]. I was travelling all the time as part of my work and I realised I couldn’t find a multi-functional handbag. I’ve always made clothes in my spare time so I decided to make my own bag, a two-in-one design that became the Dahlia.
How did you decide to start a handbag and accessory brand?
My friends started asking me to make bags for them too. I wanted to make sure they would be properly constructed and stitched, so I ended up enrolling on some courses, and even had a mini apprenticeship with a former creative director of Mulberry, which was amazing. I learned so much and it made me realise I did want to produce my own designs. I started the label in 2013.
What does a typical design process look like for you? What comes first, beauty or function?
I don’t have a design background, I make my own patterns driven by the function that I think I need in a handbag. I sketch them, then make a pattern. I try things out in the studio making the bag first in paper form, then in a cheaper leather. I’ll use the bag for a month or so and continue to refine the design - I might create four or five times different versions of it until I’m happy. I’m a perfectionist and want to create the best handbag that I can so I find it’s a good method. I’m not sure how often that happens at other accessory labels.
And what’s your favourite part of the process?
I really like the first bit when I’m trying to figure out if it will work, it’s problem solving – the first bag, the Dahlia, was really was about not being able to take two handbags on the plane, but needing a bag that would go from day to night, that’s how the detachable Ivy front pocket came about.
How have your designs changed since starting your label?
As I’ve moved away from my corporate job, I realised I needed a larger bag that was not so formal. But I still wanted a pocket to take out on holiday or in the evenings, and that became the Daisy.
What kind of person has a Sarah Haran bag ?
Somebody who likes quality, but wants function. They’re not likely to buy the tiniest handbag - they have stuff they need to carry around with them! And they’re constantly on the move, too busy to be endlessly changing bags.
Also I think our customers are concerned about responsible production, they don’t want to buy into something that’s hurting the environment.
What’s on the mood-board in your studio?
Winter colours; khaki, teal, berry, they’re quite Moroccan in the deepness of the colours. As a child I lived in the Middle East, and I’ve been thinking a lot about that recently, about Arabic culture, Moroccan tiles and souks. And then, I always keep an eye on the collections from Stella McCartney, Victoria Beckham, Chanel. It’s what I like to wear so they definitely inspire my designs. I also have a few photos of women with great timeless style, Julianne Moore, Amal Clooney…
In my study at the moment, we’re already thinking about next summer, so there are lots of scenes of more colourful things, oranges and lemons and waterfalls, duck-egg blues….
What kinds of materials do you use and what’s your preferred leather?
On the Dahlia we’ve been using full grain leather, which is heavier and really hardwearing, and it was a conscious decision to have that beautiful grainy effect. The Daisy is also in a very high-end leather, but it’s smoother, and because the style is a shopper we wanted a lighter leather, because it can’t start out too heavy weight. And with that leather, you can also fold it really flat, or roll it in your suitcase, or travel with it. The Iris has slightly more grain, I just wanted to add some different textures to the collection. I love the smell of leather. I don’t always smell it now, when I’m in the studio continually day after day, but after a spell of designing in the study I can smell the leather again.
What makes your designs different (compared to other labels)?
I think it’s the versatility, the fact you can change them up and style them how you like with new straps, or a different front pocket. I like seeing the changes customers make to their bags. It allows the customer to be a little bit more creative, and that’s not regularly available. Also, I think the functionality of our bags is really empowering for women, there are so many pockets inside, lots of space and clever detailing that is missing on most bags, like having a key chain that can actually go up to the door. I’ve tried to give the bags an intelligent design, as well as a timeless style that will last.
Which handbags did you own before you started your own label?
I’ve always had quite a lot of Mulberry and Prada and I love Moschino bags. But since I started making them myself, I’ve really been inspired more by vintage bags – I love hunting round Portobello market - and my mother’s collection of bags, which she had to match all of her Manolo Blahniks. You realise the quality of construction was so much better back then, the stiffening etc, I try to replicate that in my own bags.
What are the favourite labels in your wardrobe?
For evening: Chanel, Alaia, and Victoria Beckham dresses. Or if I’m looking for something more quirky, I do like Moschino. Oh, and Christian Louboutin.
For day: I like Stella McCartney, her trousers, shoes, jumpers, blouses, everything. There’s an element of timelessness running through all her clothes, they’re all pieces that will last.
How do you define luxury?
I think, for me, what defines a luxury brand is not just quality, but a luxury experience; something I can’t get somewhere else, that makes it a little bit different. Of course you should know a handbag is going to last. But I also want to make sure it’s not so expensive that you’re terrified to ever use it. I really want my handbags to be used.
And after care is a big part of luxury now, too. We have a strong after sales support culture. I’d always rather you were happy using the bag - even if you’ve just have a change of heart and want to swap it. And I will always fix any problems that arise with a bag, although we’ve only ever had two handbags returned that needed some minor work due to customer wear and tear.
What’s next for your label?
I’m currently working on a hobo style, which I’m trialling in different leathers… And I’m testing the Daisy at the moment, in Santa Claus red! Red is everywhere right now, but I’ve always carried red as a neutral colour, I think it enables anyone with quite classic style to push their look a little more without being too out-there.
Interview by Angela Buttolph