Inside the Designer's Studio: Monica Botkier

Reasons we love Botkier bags: 1. Most importantly, we're obsessed with the Sophie, at left. 2. Almost as importantly, they come in every size possible
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Reasons we love Botkier bags: 1. Most importantly, we're obsessed with the Sophie, at left. 2. Almost as importantly, they come in every size possible

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Reasons we love Botkier bags: 1. Most importantly, we're obsessed with the Sophie, at left. 2. Almost as importantly, they come in every size possible, so you can carry one whether you're packing for brunch or an 18-hour workathon. 3. Soon to be important, they're going to look really cute with the new line of Botkier shoes out later this year. So we wanted to chat with the photographer-turned-designer behind the name, Monica Botkier, who leads the pack of designers making a killing on the huge statement bag craze. We've been wondering about her ever since we started seeing her designs sold in what seems like every store possible (Barney's, Harvey Nichols, Neiman Marcus, ShopBop...) and hanging from the elbows of the Angelina/Lindsay/Kate B/Heidi Klum type. But despite the visibility of her bags, it doesn't seem like anyone really knows Monica. So we thought we'd facilitate a little introduction. Monica, Readers. Readers, Monica...

Ok, the basics: where are you from? I'm from here, New York. I've lived in New York my whole life, actually. I grew up in Manhattan Beach, in Brooklyn - it's way out there.

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Did you study to be a designer? No, actually. I did the whole art photography thing at NYU. I always knew I wanted to be a photographer growing up, and at that time I thought I wanted to be a fashion photographer. But you decided to design bags instead? No, I didn't start to design until about five years ago. I worked as a photographer, first as an assistant to many photographers for over three years, actually, then shooting for another 3 1/2 years or so. Which photographers did you assist? Marc Abrahms, Norma Jean Roy, Ellen von Unwerth... Would I have seen your work anywhere? I've had stuff in Surface, Fitness, Seventeen, NYLON; I also shot some of the Triple5Soul campaigns. So how did you start designing bags? One day I just decided that I wanted a certain kind of bag. I knew exactly what I wanted it to be like, so I just drew a little sketch of it and brought it to a little leather bag shop on Bleecker Street - not cool Marc Jacobs Bleecker Street, I mean like past 6th Avenue. It was one of those shops where you pick and choose the details of bag shapes that they already have, and they make the bag for you. But I became kind of cool with the lady there because I started to stop by a lot, and so she made the bag that I designed for me, and that was my very first bag.

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Whatever happened to it? I still have it. Actually, I've tweaked it a couple times for my line, and it's one of the best sellers. It's the Trigger Bag. So just after making that one bag, you decided to drop photography and become a designer? Well I started carrying it around, and on shoots and stuff, people would ask me, you know, "Where did you get that bag?" And I would tell them that I designed it, and then a lot of people started asking me to make bags for them. And I did, while I was still doing photography, but when Barney's placed an order I dropped photography altogether and decided to just focus on the bags. That's quite a sudden change in careers! I know! But really, the bags came very naturally to me. I didn't think it through that much to be honest, it was just like the next logical step. Were you official pretty much overnight? A showroom, publicist, the whole thing? I worked from my home for a while, actually, but I've had a separate office and the whole thing for a couple years. I started Botkier in June 2003. What's your process? First, I just start thinking about what I want the bag to be like. Things like pockets - outside pockets are very important to me - the shape, the look, the color. I'm always thinking about leather. I'm obsessed with leather. Even when I was working as a photographer, I was always so obsessed with the portfolios, and personalizing mine as much as possible with the right leather and little touches - I used to have an all white one with little gold flecks. So, you think about how you want the bag to be... Yeah, then I just sketch it, and of course by now I have a huge team of people that I bat around ideas with, and the bag just sort of comes to life.

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So do you construct the bags yourself? No, we have manufacturers that do that. Even in the beginning? Well, in the very beginning, it was the lady on Bleecker Street that made the bags for me. But when I started to get a lot of orders, I found an actual manufacturer to do the construction. Just curious: How do you name the bags? Ha! Naming the bags has gotten so much harder now that there are so many of them. Honestly, I think of each of my bags as a woman, I envision the woman who would carry the particular bag that I'm designing at the time, and then the bag sort of takes on those characteristics. It's kind of the same way you name a dog or a child, really, you sort of observe them for a little bit, and eventually you just know - like, This bag is named Sasha. So how did you come up with Trigger? Well, it's the name of the type of clasp on the back. But really, I just thought it was a badass name.

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Where do you look for inspiration? Jewelry - my father collected antique jewelry - hardware, leather, photography, history, colors, antiques. Mostly leather. How exactly does leather inspire you? It starts with the details of the particular leather, then I go from there. Interesting... So, you're designing shoes now, too! How did that happen? I couldn't buy bags anymore! So, naturally, I started to buy a lot of shoes, and just started to think about them a lot. Shoes and bags are really similar actually, kind of like sisters. I love shoes, they're perfect. It's a lot of fun, too, because I can experiment in a totally different way now, too.

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When do they come out? I have a line ready for this spring, they'll be sold starting this February, and I already have this fall's line ready, too. Actually, I'm beginning the design process for spring '09 already - crazy! So what comes after shoes? Belts? Leather jackets? God, I have no idea. But I do love leather jackets! One of the things I love about Botkier bags is how classic they tend to be. I would have worn them five years ago, and I don't see any reason not to wear them five years from now. Do you concern yourself with what's happening in fashion, in terms of your designs? Not really. The bags are sometimes classic, sometimes edgy, but never "on trend." That's not the point of them. One of the reasons I love designing in leather is because it ages so well. You can take a leather bag out years after you've retired it, and it's still going to look amazing. But at the same time, we're a part of a collective unconscious, so... I guess it's hard to say! Do you ever regret leaving photography? Definitely not. I know that I am absolutely on the right path, it just feels right. I do still shoot though - in fact, I shoot all the campaigns for Botkier. I guess I wanted to find a cheap photographer! But no, I definitely know I'm doing the right thing. I see my bags on the street all the time, on all kinds of women - and that makes me happy. Ok! Time for the Semi-Proust Questionnaire: WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE WORD? Love. WHAT IS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE WORD? No. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE SOUND/NOISE? When my daughter says "Mommy!" That voice is like little butterscotch. WHAT IS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE SOUND/NOISE? My daughter whining! Or, that screech of a cab suddenly hitting the brakes. WHAT PROFESSION, OTHER THAN YOURS, DO YOU WISH TO ATTEMPT? Archaeologist. I love history, I would love to do a dig in Egypt. WHAT PROFESSION WOULD YOU NEVER WANT? Cop. WHAT MAKES YOU INSPIRED? That question is deep, in a way... I think, life, the urge to go on. WHAT MAKES YOU NEVER WANT TO WORK AGAIN? Actually, I always want to work. I enjoy it. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE SWEAR WORD? I use "shit" the most often. My daughter always tells me that I should say "oopsie daisy" instead. IF HEAVEN EXISTS, WHAT DO YOU WANT GOD TO SAY TO YOU WHEN YOU DIE? Oh my gosh, uhhh, wow. I want him to reunite me with everyone, to say, "Welcome, good job down there, but now you can relax."