Out Of The Ashes
In 2004, when a fire completely demolished her
production facility in Pennsylvania, handbag designer Wendy Stevens saw
the writing on the wall - literally.
"Everything was destroyed -
equipment, inventory, paperwork," she says. "What remained were two
stone walls, a floor, and twenty years of designing, building, and
selling my product." In a way, the remaining walls stood as a metaphor
for what she would have to do: rebuild everything from scratch. With the
help of her husband, Will Stone, a designer in his own right, Stevens
completely restructured the business into an "even stronger, more
efficient operation," she says. And with a steady clientele base, the
next new series of Wendy Stevens designs is always a welcome thing. Some
of her clients, she says modestly, have several bags.
began designing handbags in 1983 "as a process of survival and
experimentation" with her art. She had just moved to New York, leaving
behind the West Coast and a career in bilingual elementary school
education. Surrounded by friends making art in all realms, she began
exploring her own artistic potential, which she found in the very
substance of the city. For some people a subway car is nothing more than
a fast way to get from downtown to uptown. For Stevens, it was a source
of fascinating sheet metal, as were the telephone booths, elevators,
and construction sites she saw everywhere.
"I hunted through
endless available materials on Canal Street, in hardware stores, and in
the industrial venues of the city," she explains. "Then came the hand
tools: punching holes, cutting, sanding sheet metal in my apartment by
day and working in a nightclub by night, where I noticed an enormous
need for small, durable handbags - just big enough to fit some change, a
driver's license and lipstick." That was the genesis of her first metal
handbags. Henri Bendel, the epitome of uptown fashion at the time,
placed an order. So did cutting edge East Village galleries.
marks her designs, above and beyond durability, is the assortment of
sizes, shapes and metals. Maintaining her integrity as a designer, she
continues to make each piece by hand, with the help of a small staff.
And just when you thought she had exhausted all materials, she comes up
with new ones and new combinations. In fact, she now designs her own
She continues to produce some of the signature
pieces -- like the Drop Bag and the Shoulder Bag -- though she may
change details in hardware and leather. Out of the scraps generated by
the handbags, she began producing belts, picture frames, lamps, and
The originality of her designs has garnered
attention in top fashion and design magazines around the world. And if
the fire did set her back, her flourishing business is a clear
indication of what it means to rise from the ashes.