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WWDStyle issue 04/04/2011

NEW YORK — Be & D’s Steve Dumain has managed to turn a Midtown Manhattan office space into an atelier that has the quadruple function of a business, production, factory and gallery space.

This story first appeared in the April 4, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The seven-year-old brand’s headquarters in New York City’s Garment District was the brainchild of founder Dumain, who also serves as the 10-employee company’s creative director. Perhaps best known for the studded and ruffled handbags often seen on the extremities of celebrities, the brand’s taking a more subdued approach in a palette of soft taupe, beige and navy (with the exception of a leopard print) in its current spring and upcoming fall collections. They retail from $55 for a cosmetic pouch to $1,085 for a handbag. There’s an expanded selection of small leather goods including wallets, belts and cosmetic and iPad cases. Shoes were added to Be & D’s offerings three years ago, and sandals, pumps and boots retail from $225 to $695.

Dumain said of the new space that “the original vision was a creative open space with our factory as the centerpiece of all parts of the company, from creative through shipping goods out around the world. The gallery is meant to be something that can change throughout time as we grow and change, but the fundamentals of what we make there — American luxury — will remain a constant.”

Dumain tapped architect friend Nalina Moses to help create the 7,000-square-foot space. Visitors first encounter Dumain’s eclectic art, including Trong Nguyen’s “Lady of the Luke,” a lit-up neon pink replica of Luke Skywalker’s light saber welded to the ground, as well as bronze pillars from the 1800s and ultra-high ceilings.

The tricolor wooden floors were no accident, although the effect is so subtle it’s easy to miss unless pointed out. Carefully partitioned into three sections, much like the atelier itself, the office has black wooden floors, the production portion has brown, and the factory has scarlet.

At a time when actually producing one’s product domestically is a practice that’s nearly extinct, Dumain said the handbags are hand-made in the red-floored workspace (as well as in two other local factories with Be & D sewers and handworkers trained in the higher-end manufacturing process). Staff members even affix each and every stud, grommet and buckle by hand. Up to 250 handbags can be produced per week.

“The reason to keep the production here, as apposed to Italy, for me, is that we have the capabilities in America to improve luxury manufacturing and make small, special productions,” Dumain said. “Having the factory right here in our office and nearby keeps us in direct contact with quality control, and we’re able to look over every small detail.”

The Be & D founder — whose career includes former stints as a sculptor, screenwriter and spin instructor — said he’s always been inclined to gravitate toward work creative in nature, and his latest endeavor for the brand takes the artistic process a step further. After dabbling with customization and personalized handbags to test the waters, the brand will now offer a made-to-order service. Options range from designing a completely custom creation to remaking a bag that’s out of stock, or even just tweaking an existing style with different colors, materials or hardware. While it’s price upon request, customization starts at about $300 more than the average base price for that bag silhouette.

But there’s still another category of the industry that Dumain is determined to conquer, and that’s men’s accessories. The collection’s men’s offerings will be unveiled this summer and will hit stores for spring 2012.

Founder Steve Dumain has managed to render a midtown Manhattan office space into an atelier that quadruples as a business, production, factory and gallery space.

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