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WWD A issue 10/27/2014

For Hayden Lasher, great-grandniece of Henri Bendel, fashion is in the genes. After a string of high-profile internships (Michael Kors, Marc by Marc Jacobs) and a job designing shoes and handbags for Oscar de la Renta, Lasher has branched out with her own line of handbags, in collaboration with Belgian Shoes.

This story first appeared in the October 27, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Belgian Shoes, founded by Henri Bendel, is a 300-year-old company that produces just one style: a simple loafer embellished with a dainty bow.

“It’s an East Coast cult thing,” Lasher said. “Basically, it’s just this one style done in a million different colors and fabrics.”

Lasher took Belgian’s business model as inspiration for her own brand. “I grew up going to Belgian Shoes and always thought it was crazy that they didn’t have bags,” she said.

Lasher also produces a single design: a structured, top-handle bag offered in colors and materials that vary from season to season. Current options include red crocodile, black calf leather, white crocodile with black patent piping, and vanilla pebbled leather with pink lambskin piping. Each bag features Belgian’s signature bow and includes an interior cell-phone pocket, zipper pocket and key ring. “I liked the idea that it was structured but still feminine and had the Belgian bow on it,” she said.

The bags are manufactured in New York, using Italian leather. “We have two Italian master craftsmen here who are the only two in the city who can touch these bags,” Lasher said.

Though her bags are a riff on Belgian Shoes, Lasher said the two companies work as connected but ultimately separate entities. Since launching in May, Lasher only recently enlisted the help of a p.r. firm, and otherwise runs the company from her Upper East Side apartment. “The more we grow and are on that track, the more I’ll need help,” she said. “But right now, it’s fun to wear all the hats.”

She has kept production and retail distribution intentionally small for the time being. The collection is sold exclusively in Belgian Shoes’ New York store and on Lasher’s site, and each colorway is produced in limited quantities — about 25 for each style. The bags retail for $1,500.

“It’s about keeping the line special and exclusive,” Lasher said. “You don’t want to walk into a room and see 15 people carrying your bag.”

Despite the “insider” nature of the brand, Lasher has managed to nab one famous fan: Taylor Swift. “A friend of mine knew Taylor’s stylist and sent a picture,” she said. “They flipped for it, so I sent a bag over. Next thing I know, she’s wearing it.” The business is already feeling a boost since images of Swift hit the wires. “We did sell our first bag in Malaysia after that,” Lasher said, noting that New York and London are the most popular cities for sales. “All of a sudden, we had all these global hits on our site.”

As for reconnecting with her ancestry, Lasher doesn’t sell at Bendel’s — at least, not yet. “Henri Bendel is one of the great department store brands, and, especially for personal reasons, it would be fun to be a part of its history,” she said, “but we are happy to bloom right where we are planted at Belgian Shoes.”

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