Aurelia, a new handbag brand, is looking to harness the craftsman prowess of Mexico’s charrería cowboy artisans.
The label, retailing at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, matches handmade wooden boxes with decorative woven or belt straps produced by craftsmen who more typically create saddles, whips and leather chaps.
The project is the brainchild of Guadalajara native Andrea de la Torre, who comes to the accessories market with a background in art. After graduating from Parsons with a degree in product design, de la Torre worked in Tom Sachs’ studio, as well as with the Quint Gallery in San Diego and Museo Jumex and Estancia Femsa, both in Mexico City.
“My mom got me a little antique box from the north of Spain and I wanted to wear it, so I attached a vintage belt, and started wearing it a lot. It got a lot of attention so I started drawing and redesigning the concept,” de la Torre said of the impetus behind the brand. She joined with her sisters Paula and Magdalena, based in Los Angeles and New York, respectively, to start the business. Aurelia was the name of their great-grandmother, an independent, creative figure in the family’s life.
De la Torre, herself based in Mexico City, consulted charrería artisans to reconfigure the concept. Woven straps, produced in a variety of colors and embellishments, are created by the same artisans who weave reigns for ranching horses.
“I asked them to make the reins with metallic yarn and thread and I think it was interesting to see what came out of that,” she said. “There are few of these artisans still alive, the art form has been fading away. It’s very special to have direct contact with these artisans, it’s not easy to find them,” de la Torre said.
“The world of charrería is very male driven and macho. It’s very nice to work in this tradition, that’s originally from Guadalajara, and give it a new femininity so women can wear it,” she said.
The artisans were pleasantly surprised by the outcome, she noted. “They were very surprised, they laugh, they are surprised a woman would even want to wear it and actually like it…they never thought this was possible.”
The bags’ wooden box component takes between two and three weeks to make, and is fashioned from a variety of rare woods — including violetta wood and poplar verde. They are produced by an artisan who specializes in restoring antique pieces made from forested and recycled woods.
The bag is priced at $370, while additional straps will range from $100 to $150.
Aurelia looks to maintain a direct-to-consumer relationship for the majority of its sales, while also adding select stockists. The bags are sold at Los Angeles’ Hammer Museum at the request of artist Louis Eisner who has curated a pop-up shop there, Rat Bastards, in partnership with his mother, the jewelry designer Lisa Eisner.