By  on May 2, 2005

FLORENCE — The saga of VBH sounds almost like a fairy tale, but instead of bad wolves and magic wands, the protagonist battles tough competition with python totes and alligator clutches.

A handsome American, who has been both a model and executive vice president at Valentino and counts Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Lopez among his friends, sets up his own accessories company and designs classic, stylish handbags in the most precious skins. In three years, he builds a $12.5 million business, sells to top department stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus and opens a brand store-cum-art gallery on Madison Avenue in Manhattan.

VBH, launched by Verron Bruce Hoeksema for fall 2002 and named simply by his initials, has quickly carved its own niche.

“Bruce created a line of accessories of incredible quality, which stands out,” said Jeffrey Kalinsky, owner of Jeffrey Atlanta and Jeffrey New York. “You feel it when you hold a VBH bag. It’s something of substance and it feels expensive.”

Kalinsky added VBH bags “don’t look like anybody else’s.”

“His aesthetic is modern, but Bruce does not chase the next hot bag, which only suggests that it necessarily won’t be hot one day,” he said. “VBH are the ultimate status bags.”

That was exactly Hoeksema’s intent.

“When I started out, I was set on designing evergreen classic models made with the most exclusive materials, not trendy throwaway fashion,” he said.

Hoeksema has been expanding the product offerings from the manila envelope clutch and other evening bags with which VBH first made a splash to a full-fledged collection of totes featuring the most exclusive crocodile, stingray or alligator hides.

“The quality is incredible and the skins show it took time to match them up, and the hides are used in the correct way, as part of the design,” said Debbie Greenberg, owner of Louis Boston, which also carries the line. She praised Hoeksema’s “extraordinary” sense of color.

“Picking color is an art form,” she said, and Hoeksema chooses “just the right” hues. Greenberg said Hoeksema “shows restraint” and “puts only what he needs,” in the bags, a plus in her opinion, as there are “too many overdesigned bags today, which don’t necessarily spell out quality.”

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