Handbag and accessories designer Lauren Merkin creates the kind of handbags that celebs and their stylists love to trot out on the red carpet, but mere mortals can still afford. We know. Sounds almost too good to be true. Her clutches, in particular, are adored by both Hollywood’s bright young things and the established leading ladies, in styles from soft envelope clutches to chic minaudieres. Taylor Swift accessorized with one to the American Music Awards, Alison Pill wore her Merkin clutch at the Golden Globes, Emily Blunt showcased hers at the Emmys and Helen Hunt clutched hers at The Critics Choice Awards. And that’s just the short list.
In short, Merkin has us in her clutches. This seems all the more remarkable when one considers how her bags, which range from about $180 to $525 and are carried at Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, Nordstrom et al., make it onto the red carpet as often — and perhaps even increasingly more — as those from Judith Leiber, Alexander McQueen, Lanvin, Gucci and friends. We don’t know what her secret formula is, but we would venture a guess that it’s similar to this: pretty yet not precious + versatile (garden party to gala) + affordable. After all, affordable is the new exclusive.
We chatted with Merkin on the eve of the Oscars for her take on award-season madness, spring shapes and hot hues and what’s behind minaudieres that cost more than a month’s mortgage/rent/child’s school tuition.
Fashion Trends Daily: We are such fans of the Lucca clutch and its chic shape. Is that the hands-down favorite on the red-carpet for celebs as well?
Lauren Merkin: Thank you! When we launched the minauderies, Lucca quickly become the favorite, but the Zoe has been getting a lot of love lately as well. These styles were truly a labor of love and took years to develop, so we’re thrilled by the reception they have been getting.
FTD: Before the award shows, how many bags are you generally sending out to stylists/celebs and the like? Is it a nerve-wracking process for you?
LM: It has been important for us to build relationships with celebrity stylists and make sure they know that our bags are available not only for awards season, but for their needs year-round. For this reason, we have a good core group of stylists who always look to us for red carpet handbags. We typically have multiple bags going out for 20-25 different celebrities each awards show. Once they’re with the stylists, all we can do is hope that we have the perfect bag to complete the look they’re trying to achieve.
FTD: What colors have been a hit during awards season?
LM: Metallics are always popular, blush, nude, navy and of course black, and lately emerald green and deep red.
FTD: Your line manages to skirt that delicate balance of both fashion forward and affordable. Was this important to you?
LM: Absolutely. I really want our customers to feel like they were getting something beautiful and made in luxurious materials but with a great value proposition as well. I want the experience of purchasing one of our bags to be fun and without the anxiety that comes with a hefty price tag.
FTD: How important do you think price is for today’s woman?
LM: I do think price has become more important to customers but I also think they are looking for styles with longevity and versatility. We really want our customers to feel like they are buying a handbag that will become a staple of their closet and that they can reach for season after season.
FTD: Can you explain why other minaudieres are typically so pricey? Is there some manufacturing secret or is it a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes?
LM: Without knowing their process it is hard to comment on other brands pricing, but I can guess that much of it is simply branding, which carries a lot of weight with consumers. We prefer not to take that approach in favor of bringing our customers a good value. It actually took us a long time to find the right manufacturer for our minaudieres that were at the quality we wanted but that could still fit into our price strategy. But it was worth the wait! We are really happy with the result and the customer response is a great endorsement.
FTD: Do you often know before the shows who will carry your bag?
LM: Handbags are always the last items to be chosen for a red carpet look, so we often don’t know that someone will be carrying one of our bags until they show up on the red carpet with it.
FTD: What shapes are we going to see more of this Spring?
LM: Clutches are becoming more and more of a daytime statement rather than just a going out option. Carrying a clutch makes a woman feel chic without being weighed down by too much stuff. It is also a great way to add a small pop of color to a neutral look.
FTD: Speaking of which, what hot hues can we expect to see a lot of this spring?
LM: From orange to blues to emerald there is a lot of bright color for Spring.