Pret-a-Reporter

Introducing the Tesla of Handbags

Courtesy of Von Holzhausen
A von Holzhausen bucket backpack.

Auto industry vet Vicki von Holzhausen, wife of Tesla chief designer Franz von Holzhausen, is building a fashion brand based on minimal style and sustainability.

The latest entry into the minimally branded contemporary handbag category is Malibu-based von Holzhausen, whose attractive pebble-grain totes and bucket bags with knotted drawstring handles and painted edges are carving out a place next to like-minded offerings from Mansur Gavriel, Building Block and Clare Vivier.

The accessories label was started by Vicki von Holzhausen, a former car designer who still has a stake in that industry, since she’s married to Franz von Holzhausen, chief designer of Tesla. The two live in the Coastline Drive community in a modern home they are redesigning together.

"Cars are aspirational products, fashion is the same, so there’s an easy connection to draw people in," says von Holzhausen, who worked in the auto industry for 12 years at Audi and General Motors before transitioning into fashion last year.

When she started, designing a bag was not as easy as she thought. "The engineering that goes into making an auto is so much more complicated, so you'd think a bag would be a piece of cake. But it's been quite a journey," says von Holzhausen, whose sleek personal style (Stella McCartney, Helmut Lang) is reflected in her less-is-more designs.

Her first was a cross-body bag with a cage-like construction. "The idea was for it to be a container, a bag within a bag. And I have taken the same elements and translated them through all the pieces."

"Where you do see my abilities as car designer is our bucket bag," she says. "It's very organic, and has a slight fender shape at the base. But besides that, I'm really not literal about it. Where I do use that expertise is in the technical side of manufacturing, and my understanding of materials."

Although the von Holzhausens don't discuss her collection too much, Vicki says, "We have a similar future approach to things, especially regarding the sustainability concept. There's a consumer who doesn’t want 20 leather hides in a car anymore — or a bag."

That translates into how she sources leather, she says. "Our tannery is a by-product of the meat industry, so they don't kill any cows solely for the bags. We are trying to take a more mindful approach to the process, and letting people know about it. We do manufacture in the U.S., we do paint every edge seven times, this is not just a cookie-cutter thing you'd see at J Crew."

Von Holzhausen also tapped her contacts in the auto industry to source a polyurethane material to create her first vegan bag, in her popular shopper tote bag style, which is remarkably lightweight and stain resistant.

Prices range from $95 for a pouch, to $395 for an oversize drawstring clutch, to $595 for a medium tote, to $650 for a bucket backpack, and colors include black, taupe, sand, burgundy and caramel. Monogramming is available in 20 colors on four bag styles.

She's decided to build her business on the direct-to-consumer model — for now. "I talk to my customers all the time, and you’d be amazed at how much input they want to have."

Next up for the designer? Her first new category: belts, which roll out in the spring. "We're using a simple coil as a buckle," she says.

"I'm thinking of the brand long-term. I could have pitched it to a venture capital firm and built it quickly, and sold it in three years. That was not my approach. I put our name on it, I put my name on it."

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