In fashion, a little tension is good. Not the kind that causes stress and wrinkles, the kind that causes heads to turn. Like, say, rustic/urban. Or handmade/sophisticated. A perfect example of this design paradox can be seen in these metal cage clutches by Anndra Neen duo Phoebe and Annette Stephens. Soldered together by blacksmiths in the sisters’ native Mexico, they’re the height of chic. Which, given the Stephens sisters’ background, is no surprise. Their grandmother was the artist and jewelry maker Annette Nancarrow and their grandfather was the avant-garde composer Conlon Nancarrow; the two lived in Mexico City in the 1930s and ’40s, where they were friends with the likes of Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and Anaïs Nin.
“Our design philosophy is to always push boundaries,” the siblings, who discuss their creative process in detail in our exclusive video, told AHAlife. “One of our signature pieces was our Cage Cuff, and while we were designing it we came up with the idea of using the same motif in a clutch. We liked the idea that you could see through it, so what you’re carrying becomes part of the bag’s aesthetic.”
Each bag is painstakingly assembled by Filipino artisans, and because every one is made by hand, no two are exactly alike. Sawaya names each one for an Italian city she knows and loves. We’re offering the Portofino (photo 1), a Gehry-esque oval of stainless steel; the San Marco (photo 2), a stainless steel box that’s crossed with shell and resin zig-zags; and the Positano (photo 3), a stainless steel, brass, wood and shell confection that looks like a luxurious take on a crossword puzzle. Each is lined with beige suede and is big enough to hold an iPhone or Blackberry (we checked). Sawaya’s thought of every detail, right down to the sculptural clasps, which were inspired by perfume bottles, and the nice feel the bags have when you pick one up. These rare clutches, available online only at AHAlife, are typically made-to-order, but we have few in stock already, so you can snap them up right away. We can’t think of a more beautiful companion to holiday parties and for ringing in the new year. As Sawaya says of the ideal evening bag, “It must fit in the hand comfortably and when you lay it on the table it must attract the eye of your neighbor.” In this case, done and done.
The design process behind these little gems makes them even more special. The one-of-a-kind minaudieres are entirely handmade in Serpui’s São Paulo atelier, where she creates a mosaic inlay of mother-of-pearl shells that are collected in Brazil and Asia. “The clutches are made by attaching small pieces of the sea shells together, and layering them on top of the resin base,” she says. “It’s a very delicate, handcrafted process.”
For some reason, the word evening clutch seems to equate “an armful of bling” to most designers. Not that we have anything against sparkle, but we rarely have time to run home and switch bags between work and dinner. Hence, we need a bag that can do double duty as a gorgeous after hours showpiece, while still being subtle enough to get us through the day.
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