Chitose Abe carries off her first handbag collection for Sacai

Japanese designer Abe works with Briton Katie Hillier on bag collection that reworks classic shapes and adds the signature Sacai twist

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 December, 2016, 5:04pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 December, 2016, 6:03pm

During Sacai’s spring-summer 2017 show in Paris in September, models emerged in various looks inspired by cultural icons, or “game changers”, in the words of designer Chitose Abe, including Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain and Pablo Picasso. There was also another reason why the collection was transformative: it marked the launch of the brand’s first collection of handbags, which lands in stores this December.

Sacai is taking a big leap forward by launching a new category, especially at a time when many brands are consolidating their businesses due to flagging luxury sales. Indeed the debut was long overdue – it’s been 18 years since Abe founded the label, which has become a commercial success thanks to its deconstructed, hybrid-style clothing.

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“It isn’t about expanding the business. I always loved the idea of making accessories, but it took time because I wanted to make sure we did it properly. People may think it’s a business decision but it was a natural step for us,” says Abe.

Rather than design the collection herself, Abe approached British accessories designer and consultant to help bring her vision to life. Hillier, who has her own accessories label, has an impressive CV including stints designing handbags for Victoria Beckham, Loewe and Marc Jacobs.

“We have been designing clothes for almost 20 years, but we’ve never done leather goods so we wanted an expert. I’ve known Katie for a few years through friends and we share many things in common, so it was natural and fun to work together. We met a few times and exchanged e-mails. I would say one word and she would understand exactly what I wanted.”

The resulting collection features only six styles, costing from HK$9,800 to HK$21,900 and made using a range of fabrics including hand-woven straw, Italian leather, exotic skins and suede. According to Abe, many of the styles are based on classics that seem familiar at first glance, but that are made fresh again thanks to clever details and new silhouettes.

For example, a vintage coin purse combines with a duffel bag to form a chic shoulder bag. A traditional horseshoe coin purse is repurposed as a crossbody bag with multiple straps, while a utilitarian satchel comes with a classic hard frame construction. A unisex military-style dry bag is supersized. Finally there is a tote bag in two sizes with design details taken from a traditional satchel.

“Adding handbags didn’t change how I designed the collection, but of course it has to be related to the ready-to-wear. Like the clothes it’s always about creating something no one else has ever seen. We don’t dictate to people how to wear our looks and the same applies to the bags. They look seasonless and you can wear them anytime, but they are also like a puzzle you can have fun with,” says Abe.

As such, each style can be worn in various ways. For example, the tote comes with removable pockets that you can carry separately as a clutch while the XL dry bag can be worn as a tote, shoulder or crossbody bag. The crossbody features three different straps consisting of vintage scarves and chains that can be joined together or worn separately.

While Abe says there are plans to add new styles in the coming seasons, her focus will still be on ready-to-wear that forms the core of the brand.

“Ready-to-wear is always at the forefront, but the handbags complete the Sacai style. It’s a finishing touch. We are thinking of adding more bags or even small accessories. It may take time but if the time is right, I will go ahead and do it. We always strive to create something original – whether it’s clothes or bags.

“For me, I just do what I think people will love, because it’s what I love. It comes from what I want to wear, which is why Sacai is very personal. I don’t need the whole world to wear my clothes – I just want those who love them be able to wear them,” she says.