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Beading All About It — Michael Nelson Launches New Handbag Styles For Fall 2014

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As geographical boundaries become more fluid, largely due to the changing media landscape and the quick growth of social media outlets, we’re all, consciously or not, constantly engaging in a cross-cultural dialogue and becoming better informed about the customs, languages, art forms, cuisine, music, typical fashions and beauty traditions of people in far-off lands. The personal nature of these exchanges — along with the spontaneity of the images shared on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter — allows for a much more intimate way of learning about other cultures, something unlike what you could discover by reading a textbook or watching a travel documentary. This phenomenon, of course, is overwhelmingly positive in as much as it facilitates an appreciation for all cultures, nationalities, ethnicities, religions, and geographical locations.

But there’s a potential downside: capitalists are prone to cultural vampirism. Western fashion designers, for instance, will often usurp a community’s age-old traditions — be it their dyeing methods, intricate beadwork, silk weaving techniques, symbols, or embroidered motifs — and incorporate them into their lines as original ideas. It’s one thing to be inspired by the textiles created by an indigenous tribe in Peru and giving these motifs an original twist, reinventing them by fusing age-old traditions with modern day embellishments or using these textiles in unexpected and interesting contexts. But to attempt to replicate the goods painstakingly crafted by the artisans within that tribe and then pawn off these wares as revolutionary, original ideas, well that’s tantamount to colonization via commerce.

Fortunately, there are those in the fashion community that can clearly discern the difference between the two approaches and, in turn, create ethically minded brands. Michael Nelson is one such designer. Every necklace, bracelet, and handbag offering in his line is the result of his own creative vision, which is itself influenced by both a street-ready, chic and youthful, New York aesthetic and the elaborate patterns and vivid colors evident in the beaded accessories donned by women in Kenya. A true socially conscious designer, Michael Nelson employs a fair trade cooperative consisting of twelve Maasai women who bead all of the pieces using their traditional methods. In addition to offering these women fair wages, Nelson pays them per piece on the same day of work so that there are no lagging waiting times in between paychecks, allowing these women to have steady incomes with which to raise their families and empower their communities.

As Nelson’s colorful and playful designs continue earning popularity, the line is expanding its range of offerings to include not only evening-ready box clutches but also roomier totes and satchels. On October 1st, Michael Nelson will be launching three new handbag silhouettes, each available in two colorways. Made of supple leather, these bags stay true to the Michael Nelson aesthetic by featuring eye-catching, hand beaded handles in bold hues.

Styles include: the Maathai Tote ($1495 at Michaelnelson.eu), shown at top in turquoise leather with two jaunty handles covered in orange beads and featuring black and white stripe details; the Wangari Mini Satchel ($995 at MichaelNelson.eu), shown second and third above in turquoise and black leather; and the Wekesa Shoulder Bag ($1295 at MichaelNelson.eu), pictured fourth above in black with a single handle covered with teal beads and featuring white stripes wedged between thinner black lines.

Each silhouette has its own charm. The Maathai Tote, my personal favorite, is roomy and perfect for everyday use, plus the structure is classic and sophisticated. For an evening out, meanwhile, the Wangari Mini Satchel is just the ticket since it features a classic front flap construction that’s extremely ladylike and even includes a detachable chain shoulder strap so that it can be worn as a cross-body (great for when you want to go dancing!). Last but not least, the Wekesa Shoulder Bag is ideal for all of you Bohemian style lovers who appreciate the laid-back ease and slouchy form of a hobo bag but don’t want the traditional moon-like silhouette.

Come fall, start beading into it!

 

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