By and  on March 4, 2002

NEW YORK -- The current economic difficulties aren't stopping eager newcomers from stepping into the handbag scene.

Here, a sampling of some fresh faces:

Leonello Borghi

Many leather goods designers dream of setting up production in Italy. Not so for New York-based Leonello Borghi, who manufactures his new line of handbags in the city.

A Florentine, Borghi came to New York in 1994 and has since been a design consultant for several Italian companies, while also starting his men's clothing and accessories business in 2000.

The men's line is currently being sold at such stores as Barneys New York, Takashimaya New York, Maxfield in Los Angeles and Harvey Nichols in London.

"There was a crossover in customers," he said. "Many women wanted to buy the handbags designed for men, so I felt there was a need. That's why I started women's handbags."

Consisting of 17 styles, Borghi's current collection for women is made of lambskin, goatskin, calf leather and canvas, with water-repellent nylon. Styles include a mini shoulder bag, a large tote shopper in canvas with leather trim combinations, a large soft hobo and a flat napa leather handbag. Each bag also features functional elements, such as exterior pockets, as well as deep vertical pockets on the inside.

"I love totes and satchels because they have a unisex look," he said. "I like to design for women that feel so confident that they don't need something heavily embellished."

The line, which launched with a party at Whitespace Studios in Manhattan during the recent runway shows, is also inspired by the movement of the city, said Borghi.

"A city like New York is about energy, movement and speed," he said. "I wanted to make sure [the handbags] are friendly against the body. I always make sure the bags are lightweight and functional."

Wholesale prices range from $110 to $160, and Borghi said he is projecting first-year sales of about $400,000, with distribution aimed at existing Borghi men's wear accounts and select department and specialty stores.

Suen CooperThe luxury goods industry may have taken a hit of late, but Karen Suen Cooper is convinced that pure luxury will survive any storm. After some hiccups and order cancellations post-Sept. 11, the handbag designer is forging ahead with her line of exotic skin bags, some of which have wholesale prices of up to $2,960.

"I want to redefine luxury for modern women," Suen Cooper said. "When you get into precious goods, it gets so serious. My product is luxurious and at the same time functional."

Suen Cooper's launch collection includes handbags, clutches and totes, in luxe exotic skins, such as crocodile, lizard and French calf leather, as well as canvas. All pieces are lined in red full-grain leather, and many feature side gussets to maximize interior space and compartments for credit cards.

After Suen Cooper graduated from the Parsons School of Design in 1990, she worked as a ready-to-wear designer for A Line Anne Klein. Prior to starting her own line, she was vice president and creative director at Barry Kieselstein-Cord, where she learned to appreciate luxury leathers and the equal importance of a handbag's interior.

"My message to women is that empowerment can come from a place of sensuality, where we feel with our eyes, hands, heart and mind," she said. "In experiencing my product and its environment, the tangible details will excite the eye, invite the hands to touch and feel and appeal to our heart."

Fantasy-lingo aside, Suen Cooper claimed she always thinks of a woman and her needs in the professional, urban world.

"Over-the-top is great, but I like speaking to women and understanding what her needs are," she said. "My interiors feel like luxury, they are designed with cell-phone case and pockets. You can schlepp and at the same time be chic."

Wholesale price points range from $90 to $2,960, and Suen Cooper projects first-year sales of $300,000, with distribution to upscale department and specialty stores.

Gabriella Zanzani

After more than 14 year of designing accessories for someone else, Gabriella Zanzani decided to strike out on her own.

However, the Munich native picked an unfortunate date to start her own business: She officially launched her company on Sept. 10."It turned out to be a disastrous time to launch, but it also made us feel grateful for what we have," she said.

Nonetheless, Zanzani has pressed on to reach her dream.

"I worked for almost everyone I wanted to work for, and I decided it was time to go out on my own," said Zanzani, who had stints at Donna Karan, Calvin Klein and Celine.

Her first collection was recently shipped to Saks Fifth Avenue in time for spring selling, but the firm's real push is this fall. The extensive collection comprises handbags and small leather goods in Italian leather and suede. Many of the colors are in deep shades of red and brown in shapes that include totes, saddle bags, clutches and satchels.

The details are important to Zanzani, whose bags include touches such as solid-brass hardware plated with palladium and linings in genuine suede and faux pigskin. The bulk of the line carries wholesale prices of $200 to $380, with a few price points that go up to $600.

The designer also has other plans. She intends to relaunch her ready-to-wear line, which was in production until recently, but has since been put on hold while Zanzani's focuses on her accessories line.

In addition to her design work, Zanzani is also dedicated to social issues. She recently organized an event held in Manhattan called "The Look of Love," which featured an auction of original works by international photographers. Proceeds from the event went to the non-profit organization Doctors Without Borders.

"I think the work of this organization is extraordinary, and they need the money now to help out after the bombings in Afghanistan," she said.

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