LOS ANGELES — TV costume designer, clothing and jewelry designer, author.
Now Debra McGuire — known for her wardrobe work on "Friends" and other hit shows — is adding the title of handbag designer.
McGuire has launched ARTe, a line of limited-edition luxury handbags crafted from stingray. The debut collection is called the "The Interior Color Series" because of its tease of moss, lavender and sunburst suedes inside the bags.
Maxfield here and Bergdorf Goodman in New York have picked up the line, which is wholesale-priced $215 to $625. Custom one-of-a-kind models can run as high as $1,700 wholesale.
Maxfield women’s buyer Sarah Stewart was confident that the line would have significant appeal.
"We carry other things in stingray, such as boxes and luggage items, so we have a built-in clientele," she said. She said she was drawn to the collection because it was different, and she focused the buy on smaller bags and totes.
McGuire got stung with the idea to do handbags after a friend showed her a swatch of stingray skin.
"It was so beautiful. It looked beaded," she recalled. "The thing that excites me most about everything in my creative life is materials. I’m just seduced by interesting materials, and I think that is what makes fashion new and fresh."
Its history only further motivated her. Stingray has been found in the Egyptian tombs of Pharaohs, as well as in Japanese armor.
"It was believed to be something that brought strength and power to anyone who touched it," she said. "I loved the idea of using a skin that symbolizes strength and was also beautiful. It’s a great metaphor for women."
She indulged her fascination of stingrays by initially doing what any self-respecting designer does: deconstructing it. She burned it, cut it, weaved and sandblasted it. But finally, for her first line, she decided to present it in its treated state.
McGuire hastens to point out stingray is not an endangered species.
Because the methods of tanning, cutting and stitching it are so specific and difficult, it’s best treated in Thailand.The debut collection of seven bags and four wallets is clean and architectural: McGuire wanting to convey a purity of form. The line will expand into cuffs, hairbands, covers for portfolios and personal digital assistants, and other more affordable accessories, ranging from $25 to $200 wholesale.
Because of the high prices of the handbag line, ARTe will most likely only fit into a maximum of 75 high-end boutiques nationwide, believes Dan Hoffman, chief executive of 2CC, the Los Angeles-based company that licenses ARTe.
"At the end of 12 months, if we did a couple of million dollars in sales, that would be great," said Hoffman, adding that that was a realistic target.
Even as the line gains interest, McGuire doesn’t plan to give up any of her other passions — including the demands of TV costume design. She’s slated to continue dressing the stars of "Friends" and "Crossing Jordan," and is starting work on a new NBC show, "Boomtown."
"There is always a movie or two to seduce me," she said. "But if this handbag collection takes off the way I think it will, I just may have to do less TV and movies."
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