At the Lanserring Gallery in Manhattan’s SoHo, Katia Luna Benai reached into a tall wood and glass vitrine to show a polyhedral crocodile handbag with solid silver hardware, priced $30,000.
For whomever might own it, “It represents your interest in art. Your interest in culture. Your interest in history,” Benai tells a guest at the gallery.
The bag, named “Nyx” after the Greek Goddess of Chaos, is handmade from 33 pieces requiring 38 hours to assemble, and is part of the debut “Artifacts” collection from the London-based Luna Benai firm, which designs limited-edition wearable objets d’art reflecting the culture of the ancient Amazigh race of Northern Africa.
Benai, the founder and creative director of Luna Benai, as a very young child was raised by her grandmother with the help of six aunts in a traditional Amazigh household in Algeria. She received old and new Amazigh teachings that define her character and design passion. She also traveled much through Africa and East Asia due to her father’s diplomatic profession, ultimately settling at her birth city of London.
At Luna Benai, “The goal is to create unique timeless pieces that are a fusion of fine art, ancient history and contemporary craftsmanship for the luxury market.”
For the launch in the U.S., Benai has brought two distinct exotic leather handbags that double as sculptures when presented in their accompanying sculptural cases. “My designs are inspired by the Amazigh heritage. I’m also very much into sculpture,” said Benai, a graduate of the Royal College of Arts in London who formerly worked for VIP services at Harrods.
“These are heritage pieces that embody history as well as a contemporary look for today. The Amazigh race dates back 4,000 years. There is a very, very long history, in terms of heritage, tradition, handmade crafts and shape, that gets passed on from generation to generation.”
After Lanserring, which is also London-based and known for designing high-end, bespoke kitchen furniture, dressing rooms and lifestyle products, the handbags will be sold on a made-to-order basis at the Maison Gerard at the Winter Show being held inside the former Barneys New York flagship on 61st Street and Madison Avenue through April 10.
Benai will design a custom piece for Sotheby’s in the fall when the auction house launches a new category of artists’ jewelry, curated by Tiffany Dubin, called “Art as Jewelry…Jewelry as Art.”
Luna Benai’s wearable objets d’art can be custom-made by the company’s team of designers and artisans.
Benai said the crocodile skin for the bags is ethically sourced from the same suppliers utilized by LVMH and Kering, and regulated by CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which protects endangered plants and animals.
“If you are in the business of crocodile designs, you really need to educate yourself,” Benai said. “I’ve flown to see the crocodile farms and have spent a long time researching this to launch my company.” The solid silver adorning the handbags originates from Grant Macdonald, silversmith to the Royal Family of England.
“Luna Benai is wearable art, for people that fine art and want something different that inspires and imparts knowledge,” said Benai. “It’s not a practicality. It’s more of a statement. It’s definitely a niche clientele.”