For the past few years, legendary accessories designer Carlos Falchi had relied on a secret weapon, his daughter Kate, who has largely stayed behind the scenes as an integral part of the design team that creates the unique made-in-the-USA hand-painted handbags of exotic skins.
The elder Falchi died earlier this year and his daughter is now more in the spotlight as the face of the brand. "All he wanted was for us to continue," she said during a recent personal appearance at Elizabeth Anthony in Houston. "We had been working together for years. When it did happen, we were prepared to take over the line and everything, but obviously it was very sudden."
The handbags, all handmade in New York's Garment District, stand out for their unique look. There is never a logo on a Carlos Falchi handbag; instead, workers paint bright colors, metallics, patchwork designs, even graffiti, onto exotic skins, ranging from alligator to ostrich that are tanned in Italy. The work is meticulous, as multiple layers are added to achieve the rich, multiple-tone shades.
"Because we hand-paint everything it will always be unique and special," Falchi says. "We make and manufacture everything in New York City. Our workers have been with us for 40 years and it's awesome because we have the parents and now we have the kids. It's a tight-knit family."
The product line ranges from a body bag dripping with fringe to a tiny hand-painted nighttime clutch. While Falchi makes all sizes, "no bag makes it out of the office if it doesn't fit a cell phone. It's the only way," she says.
Although the larger bags are really big, they are surprisingly light. "We did our own version of the bucket, it's super soft. One of the hallmarks of our brand is feel how light it is. For ladies, when your bag starts out heavy, it's going to always be heavy," she explains.
Popular colors change each season. This year, the "it" color is hydrangea blue. "This color is extremely difficult to achieve. It's not too purple, it's not too blue. It's just right in between," Falchi says.
Also popular is a new style featuring hand-painted graffiti on a range of bags, from tiny clutches to large totes (prices start at $695). "It's a conversation piece. You put this on the dinner table, and people are talking about it. People like telling a story, like 'This is Bora Bora; I went on a trip there.' 'These are my kids' names,'" Falchi says.
"You have to make it a little ironic and have an extra twist because that's what's going to make you stand out. Our biggest pride is trying to get women to not all have the same bags at the same luncheon. When you go to a luncheon, you want to really stand out and find individuality. There's nothing better than when you match a great bag to a great lady. That's a good feeling."
Though Falchi lives and works in New York, she has some deep Texas ties since her mother is from Dallas. "Texas is very special to me," she says. "I went to Waldemar in Texas for seven years. I come here at least two or three times a year to visit my grandmother, so we have a deep Texas love."
Her handbags are available at Julian Gold in Austin.