Nicole Hanley and Matthew Mellon are the latest socialites to design for the big-in-Japan accessories line Samantha Thavasa. Today, the husband-and-wife team is launching Samantha Thavasa by Hanley Mellon, a collection of spring handbags which, as of now, is sold exclusively at the Tokyo-based company’s Madison Avenue store. Thavasa has become known for taking marginally famous names such as Paris and Nicky Hilton and Tinsely Mortimer (the latter has worked with the company for five years) and turning them into fashion stars in Japan. Unlike Mortimer, this is not Hanley and Mellon’s first experience with the creative side of fashion, though they are new to bags. Hanley is a former Ralph Lauren stylist, who started (and eventually closed) her own clothing line in 2006. Mellon, meanwhile, was born into the family banking and oil fortune and was instrumental in the launch of Jimmy Choo with his ex-wife Tamara Mellon. The couple also launched a ready-to-wear line called Hanley Mellon in 2008.
The handbags came at the behest of Tobias Buschmann, director of U.S. operations for Samantha Thavasa, who met the couple last year and was “struck by both of their enthusiasm for this business in general and specifically for the creative part of it,” he said. “I had no other choice but to suggest that they work together on a line.” For their part, Hanley and Mellon took a measured approach to designing the collection, which consists of five pieces — a striped hobo, a duffel and three smaller styles — that retail from $225 to $435. “There are so many great bag lines out there. The challenge is how do you create a bag that’s going to stand alongside all these other great silhouettes,” said Hanley. “We had to decide who was going where and why with our bags.” For now, Buschmann is banking on the locals, as there is no plan to launch the one-off Hanley Mellon line in Japan. “It is possible,” says Buschmann. “The Japanese have a lot of lines over there. They say, ‘Why don’t you go ahead in New York and then we’ll see later.’”